Friday, March 16, 2012

Higher Level Thinking

This week my school finished administering the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, more commonly referred to as ISATs.  When all the required tests are finished, all fourth graders will have spent 440 minutes reading, writing, crunching some numbers and analyzing pictures, graphs and charts... and yes, using pencils to fill in bubbles.  Say what you will about standardized testing but until something significant happens, public school children will be required to complete these tests.  Here is a rambling of mine from last year prior to ISATs.

The whole testing process has provoked me to think more deeply about what it is that makes learning experiences valuable for children, how to assess them and, furthermore, what makes great teaching.  (All the thinking might be a product of my inability to do kind of real teaching during the 440 minutes of testing.) In a recent article I read about standardized tests, the author tried to play devil's advocate to examples of standardized test questions.  With many of the answers seeming cynical, I took the point to be that just about any question can be interpreted differently by any one person at any time.  I believe there is some truth to that.  Some of the responses really put into perspective the unique nature of thinking and the critical lens I believe all educators should strive to develop in their students.  How do we get children (and adults for that matter) to engage in higher level thinking?  What does that look like in the digital world?

Through further investigation, and a timely Twitter feed, I stumbled up this interpretation of Bloom's Digital Taxonomy.  There can be a very structured design to developing higher level, critical thinking sequences of learning in any classroom.  Digital tools can be used to enhance the learning and materialize student (and teacher) objectives and learning outcomes.  Although the level names aren't identical to Bloom's original taxonomy  the goal is: Students need to be the ultimate driver of their own learning and the pinnacle of their learning process can be evidenced by a tangible creation.  Can we standardize that in a way that is suitable for every child in every school all across the country?  Probably not.

Which leads me to my lasting thought for this post... teachers have an effect on the thinking of their students.  Positive or negative the reality is true.  Teachers spend more time with their students that some parents do in an average school day.  How teachers authenticate learning in their classrooms can be just as unique as the children they teach and no set of standardized tests, curriculum or projects can ever fully capture that.  However, one thing I do believe can be streamlined is thinking and the process by which a teacher engages a student to think on higher levels, inquire with greater depth, and create with better understanding.  Now let's try and standardize that!