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Extending and developing your thinking skills
Extending and developing your thinking skills

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3.1 Thinking in a higher gear

While we can all think, it is important to recognize that the thinking skills we have looked at so far are not all required or equally valued in academic work. Common to all subjects and levels is the concept of higher and lower order thinking skills. Higher order skills are considered to be more complex than lower order skills. The triangle model (Figure 1) provides a useful way to visualise the relationships between some of the key intellectual skills valued in education. The complexity of the skills increases from the base to the top of the triangle.

This diagram shows a triangle made up of six layers, depicting the different skills levels. The bottom layer is headed ‘know’, with the explanation ‘be aware of something, recall information’. The next layer up is headed ‘comprehend’, with the explanation ‘have understanding’. The third layer from the bottom is headed ‘apply’, with the explanation ‘use knowledge’. The fourth layer from the bottom is headed ‘analyse’, with the explanation ‘make a methodical and detailed examination of the constitution of something’. The fifth layer from the bottom is headed ‘synthesize’, with the explanation ‘combine information or ideas into something new’. The top layer of the triangle is headed ‘evaluate’, with the explanation ‘make judgements about the value of ideas or information’.
(Adapted from Bloom, 1956)
Figure 1: Levels of intellectual skill — the thinking triangle

Although the skills in Figure 1 are arranged in a hierarchical way, they are all important. Much of the thinking we do involves a mixture of skills at different levels. We develop and use them simultaneously, for example, when we are solving problems and analysing case studies. One of the key aims of education is to extend and develop higher order thinking skills - to develop thinking at a qualitatively higher level, to move into a higher gear.

When you are studying, it can be helpful to recognise the words people use to describe thinking at these different levels.

Activity 4

Try making a list of verbs that might describe or demonstrate thinking at each level of the triangle shown in Figure 1.

Discussion

Here are some examples.

Evaluatejudge, appraise, choose, rate, assess, estimate, value, measure, criticise
Synthesiseformulate, teach, design, develop, re-define, propose, create
Analysedistinguish, differentiate, calculate, debate, relate, compare, experiment, contrast, examine
Applydemonstrate, schedule, operate, sketch, employ, use, practice
Comprehendrestate, identify, discuss, locate, recognise, review, explain, tell, clarify
Knowrecall, define, state, list, repeat, name, recount, present, find
(Adapted from Latimer and Noble, 1996)