Process for the Development of Higher Level Thinking Skills in a Learner-Centered Environment
Dr. Barbara Limbach, Professor, Chadron State College
Dr. Wendy Waugh, Professor, Chadron State College
Using antiquated teaching methods in modern day learning environments is no longer acceptable. The challenges of the 21st century demand that educators seek out and utilize new methods to enhance the education of students where teachers empower learners to solve problems and think critically. A five-step pedagogical process to transition courses, in any discipline, toward one that develops critical thinking skills in a learner-centered environment is presented.
Step 1: Determine Learning Outcomes and Objectives
Considering the importance of a course, course placement in a program, and the course role in providing a base of discipline knowledge, a teacher should carefully identify key learning outcomes and objectives that recognize what learners should know when they exit the course. The development of well-written outcomes and objectives will greatly accelerate a learner’s movement into higher level thinking (Ball & Garton, 2005). To make critical thinking happen, these learning outcomes and objectives, as well as the linked activities and assessments, must require students to perform and demonstrate higher level thinking.
Step 2: Facilitate Learning through High-Impact Activities
To make learning more meaningful, teachers should develop high-impact activities. Activities, experiences, or interventions that are focused around clear objectives develop more engaged learners, with deeper learning, and a greater ability to think critically (Smart & Csapo, 2007). For learners to foster understanding and stimulate intellectual growth, they must pose arguments, state opinions, and critique evidence using primary and secondary sources. The art of interactive discussion begins with establishing what is known and allows the teacher to extend beyond to develop new ideas and understandings. Clasen and Bonk (1990) posited that although many strategies exist that can impact learner thinking, teacher questions have the greatest impact. They went on to indicate that the level of learner thinking is directly proportional to the level of questions asked. When developing high impact activities consider: collaborative assignments and projects, community-based learning projects, capstone projects, and/or internships.
Step 3: Allow Frequent Opportunities to Practice before Assessment
Practice is necessary to master any skill; learners must have the opportunity to practice the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will be evaluated. Learners become responsible for their own learning when teachers create a supportive environment by providing clear expectations, monitoring class activities, and carefully tracking student participation. Collecting feedback from students about what they have, or have not learned, may present the need to offer opportunities for re-learning and expose areas in need of improvement. Practice improves learning; making the learning more permanent.
Step 4: Continue to Review, Refine, and Improve
Teachers should strive to continually refine their courses to ensure that their instructional techniques are in fact moving learners toward critical thinking. Feedback, like assessment, compares criteria and standards to student performance in an effort to evaluate the quality of work (Ko, 2004). When assessing a course, and prior to providing opportunities to practice what is to be assessed, learners must first understand the standards by which they will be assessed. Next, learners should be provided with constructive and relevant feedback by the teacher and peers, as well as assessing their own performance. Learner feedback can then be used to improve instruction and learner performance.
Step 5: Assess Learning Outcomes and Objectives
Learner achievement should be measured based on learning objectives, course and program outcomes, and specific discipline knowledge. This measurement can provide an immediate and significant source of information for the outcomes-based assessment process in evaluating a particular course, departmental program, curriculum, instructional techniques, specific learning activities, and learner achievement. This step facilitates the continuous review of the course outcomes and learning objectives to ensure they are still relevant. When reviewing the course, teachers should pay particular attention to alignment.
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