Higher-Order Thinking Skills

May 01, 1992 2 min read

In the early 1980s, Stanley Pogrow, an associate professor of education at the University of Arizona, watched Chapter 1 students make modest gains in basic skills through drill-and-practice yet remain unable to retain or apply what they learned.

He saw what elementary teachers have long noticed--that many disadvantaged students seem to do well in the first three grades then begin to fall behind in the 4th grade.

As he watched, Pogrow reached an important conclusion: Students remember concepts only when they are linked to existing knowledge, and at-risk students have trouble making such linkages.

The approach of traditional remedial programs--teaching the same content over and over again until it “sinks in’'--didn’t make any sense to Pogrow.

Students who do not understand how to understand, who have no idea how to begin thinking about the types of symbolic concepts used in school, need to learn strategies as well as content. In other words, they need to learn how to think.

So, in 1983, Pogrow and his assistants, including numerous teachers, constructed a program to help at-risk students develop higher-order thinking skills.

Through the program, known as HOTS, students are taught thinking skills for 35 minutes a day for two years, using computers and Socratic techniques.

The program has been thriving ever since with funding from the federal government and a number of foundations.

HOTS requires participating teachers to undergo an intensive week-long training session and then follow a detailed daily lesson plan.

Teachers must reorient their own thinking and teaching techniques. Constantly asking their students questions is one of the keys. Instead of telling a student, “That’s not right,’' says HOTS teacher and trainer Donna Uebler from Chillicothe, Ill., “I’ll ask: ‘How does your answer fit my question?’'

Pogrow has developed computer software with Apple that drives the HOTS curriculum. He says he uses computers for a number of reasons:

  • They provide a private learning environment for students to test their ideas.
  • They allow students to move at their own speed.
  • At-risk students do not associate them with their failures in the classroom.

Teachers and students must have found the program effective. From a single site in 1983, HOTS has now expanded to serve roughly 50,000 students in 1,300 schools across 47 states.

Pogrow is currently developing a HOTS approach to teaching mathematics and science in the middle grades.

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Higher-Order Thinking Skills