Thinking Skills: A Common Thread

What do Project Based Learning, 21st Century Skills, SCANS Skills (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills), CDOS Standards (Career Development and Occupational Studies) and NYS Learning Standards all have in common? Hmmmm, you have probably deduced from the title that it is “thinking skills”…..and, if so, you have just used your own basic thinking skills to conclude, infer, or reason this out.

In order to engage in higher-order thinking, students must do more with information than just memorize it. They need to interact and use information. This means they must be able to understand facts, connect information, categorize items, and manipulate facts and ideas in ways that create brand new ideas and products. Students should be asked to put things/ideas together in novel ways or apply them in such a way that lead to new solutions and helps to solve problems.

Although higher-order thinking skills are associated now with our Common Core Learning Standards, none of this is really new. I remember emphasizing thinking skills over 20 years ago when SCANS skills and the “School to Work” movement was afoot. Back then, we focused on creative thinking, decision making, problem solving, being able to see things in one’s “mind’s eye”, knowing how to learn, and also reasoning skills. When I was introduced to C-DOS, thinking skills was listed as a “universal foundation skill” under that set of standards. Fast forward to a few years ago and we see “critical thinking” as one of the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills. And, currently, according to the Buck Institute for Education, project based learning integrates higher-order thinking skills to:

  • support student autonomy and foster a community of inquiry
  • provide opportunities for work and learning to be more students directed
  • let students encounter obstacles, seek resources, and solve problems as they make their own connections among ideas and acquiring new skills
  • use authentic tools and multiple resources,
  • provide feedback from expert sources,
  • provide realistic assessments and real world outcomes, and
  • allow for students to generate complex intellectual products to demonstrate their learning

So, as an educator, if you were thinking at any point “ah, this too shall pass,”…. it really doesn’t. If it is good for our students….ALL of our students….it doesn’t pass away to be forgotten. It may be repackaged and “re-branded”, but explicitly teaching and giving students opportunities to learn and use thinking skills is crucial to their success. (Plus, students often find these learning opportunities to be highly engaging!)

To find out more about how to integrate thinking skills into your lessons, please visit any of the links in this post. You may also contact myself or anyone in the instruction support services department at OCM BOCES and we would be glad to assist you.

Ohora_SiobhanSiobhan O’Hora
Special Education School Improvement Specialist

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