David Parkins of Howard University has very explicitly expressed the paradigm shift in the current educational scenario: “Everyday thinking, like ordinary walking, is a natural performance we all pick up. But good thinking, like running the 100 yard dash, is a technical performance… Sprinters have to be taught how to run the 100 yard dash; good thinking is the result of good teaching, which includes much practice”.
The National Curriculum Framework 2005 emphasises upon the shift from testing rote learning to testing the higher order thinking skills (HOTS) of learners. This will stimulate the higher faculties of a child’s mind and enhance his/her inherent skills.
This higher order thinking by students involves transformation of information and ideas, and this phenomenon occurs when they combine facts and ideas, synthesise, analyse, explain and arrive at some conclusions or interpretations. Undergoing these processes lets them solve problems, gain understanding and use it fruitfully in their day-to-day work.
Components of HOTS
Higher order thinking comprises basically of the following: Critical thinking (interpreting, testing, judging, justifying, evaluating, speculating, concluding and deciding); creative thinking (hypothesising, designing, creating, modifying, imagining, brainstorming, devising, generating and solving); and analytical thinking (comparing, contrasting, choosing, determining, identifying, researching, experimenting, specifying and deducing).
Role of institutions
It is now the job of teachers, principals and institutions to provide the opportunity for realigning the curriculum so that it focuses on HOT Curriculum, HOT courses to utilise hands-on-technology, HOT instructions to promote cognitive development and HOT classroom environment to reflect such interactions and activities.
HOTS in the classroom
How can HOTS be used in the classroom every day? Not without constructivist teaching. The CBSE has, over the years, formed many strategies to this end — introducing new subjects and newer contents; organising programmes for motivating and updating teachers; focusing on experimentation, exploration, improvement of communication skills, self-confidence and life skills; bringing out publications on ‘Learning by doing’ and ‘Science is doing’; introducing math labs, eco clubs, health and wellness clubs and adolescence education programmes.
The classroom of today has to be one where students are not passive recipients nor teachers the givers of all knowledge. A plethora of information is now just a click of a mouse away, and children are more tech-savvy than their parents. So, it is high time that we moved from a rigid approach to a constructivist approach involving joyful learning.
In the constructivist approach, the teacher is the mediator between the learner and knowledge through collaborative learning, sharing their experiences. The collective knowledge transforms the teacher to a learner; and ultimately teacher and taught become one entity. The teacher is now a facilitator who encourages the autonomy of learners.
The student response guides the instructional strategies and provides tools like problem-solving, inquiry-based learning activities where students formulate and test their ideas, draw conclusions and experiences. The social and communication skills of a heterogeneous group of learners are promoted and learning translates from rote memorisation to better thinking and understanding.
The strategies required
What are the possible strategies that can help develop HOTS teaching? These would be the use of real life situations and contexts; collaboration and integration of teachers, disciplines and students; encouraging exploration, natural curiosity and investigations through research-based project work; encouraging students’ sense of responsibility for self-learning; and appreciation of performance-based displays.
The teacher needs to create a classroom rich with all kinds of materials and resources to encourage flexible grouping for co-learning, to nurture the instinct for adventure and experimentation, to appreciate and encourage out-of-the-box thinking and to allow both genders free participation.
Students should be encouraged to come up with questions, and the teacher has to accept that s/he does not have answers to all questions, to use a variety of methods for assessment that match teaching strategies.
HOTS are not a miracle, and mastery over this mental discipline will not happen overnight. The right atmosphere, the right attitude is required.
Initially, students are likely to only engage in lower order thinking. Gradually, the teacher will engage them in routine lower order thinking for a major part of the lesson. S/he will then introduce one or two questions or activities requiring students to perform higher order thinking. Slowly, most students will become familiar with the practice.
Changes in assessment
Only appropriate changes in assessment systems can make the promotion of HOTS possible. Thus, the introduction of HOTS questions by CBSE in the board examinations with effect from March 2008. Over time, the methods and tools of assessment have been based on the KUA (knowledge, understanding and application) model, which is rigid and inflexible.
But the focus is now shifting towards HOTS in both classroom transactions and assessment.
The author is the principal of Hans Raj Model School, Punjabi Bagh, New Delhi