When a person memorizes and repeats back the information without having to think about it, we call it rote memory. That’s because it’s much like a robot; it does what it’s programmed to do, but it doesn’t think for itself. Higher level thinking takes thinking to higher levels than restating the facts.
Higher level thinking requires that we do something with the facts. We must understand them, infer from them, connect them to each other, categorize them, manipulate them, put them together in new or novel ways, and apply them as we seek new solutions to new problems.
Higher level thinking includes concept formation, concept connection, getting the big picture, visualization, problem solving, questioning, idea generation, analytical (critical) thinking, practical thinking/application, and synthesizing/creative thinking. It includes being able to construct similes, metaphors and analogies that represent concepts. Robert Sternberg, a well-known professor of psychology, says that successful people consistently and interactively use analytical, creative, and practical thinking.
As students move from elementary to middle to high school, the complexity of thinking increases. Teachers may ask students why a certain character in a story behaved in a particular way, and to show evidence in the text to support their response. If the students are studying sound in science, they might be asked to apply their knowledge sound by designing and constructing a new type of musical instrument. They may be asked to explain how a particular scientist clarified a scientific phenomenon by accurately tracing his supporting details in a scientific article. In history, they may be asked to compare and contrast primary source materials against a secondary synthesis. They may be asked to write an extensive research paper on a specific subject. All of these tasks require higher level thinking.
Metacognition means thinking about thinking. There are two basic parts to metacognition: thinking about your own thinking and knowing about knowing. Generally speaking, good students understand the way they think. Knowing about knowing encompasses understanding the difference between memorizing and understanding and between surface and deep knowledge.
A person needs to know his mental strengths and weaknesses. Am I good at solving problems, understanding concepts, and/or following directions? Am I more analytical, creative or practical in my thinking? Do I learn best by listening, seeing, or doing – or by a combination of all three? Which memory techniques work best for me?
The second part of metacognition is knowing how to monitor and regulate how one thinks and learns. It is deciding how to best accomplish even a simple task by using specific strategies and skills effectively. For example, how would you go about the simple task of learning new spelling words? By analyzing them by phonemes or by syllables? By writing them several times? By spelling them aloud a number of times? By spelling them aloud while simultaneously writing them?
Sternberg states that metacognition requires mental self-management. Mental self-management can be described as an expanded view of metacognition. According to Sternberg, mental self-management is composed of six key steps:
- Knowing your strengths and weaknesses
- Capitalizing on your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses
- Defying negative expectations
- Believing in yourself – self-efficacy
- Seeking out role models – people from whom you can learn
- Seeking out an environment where you can make a difference
We often think that a student’s ability to engage in higher level thinking is determined by IQ, but this is not the case. Higher level thinking skills can be taught and learned.
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