Engaging students in higher order thinking

Students’ higher-order thinking and their lived experience get connected with important texts and ideas with the help of essential questions, which are a staple of project-based learning. There are ten essential questions carefully curated in a set in a thinking inventory. But it is more than a questionnaire. Like taking inventory means taking stock of where things stand at a given moment in time, thinking inventory means at the beginning of the course we are taking stock of thinking, sense-making, and experiences of the students. 

Throughout the course, a thinking inventory which is well designed and formalized with essential questions serves as a touch point for both teacher and scholars — separating the essential from non-essential while planning can be easier when the teacher writes a course’s thinking inventory. Students get signaled that higher-order thinking is required and valued when the class begins with the thinking inventory. 

How to design an effective thinking Inventory

Teachers should tell the students, thinking inventory is a document that will be revisited and will often be referred to, so before writing the answers, they should mull them before. The questions in the inventory should be such which help students to share their relevant experiences. You can ask perennial questions or may ask them to imagine scenarios or ask about their current knowledge or life experience. 

Given below are a few questions which could be asked from the students at the start of a course.

  • Who is the most visionary person you know? How do you know they’re visionary? Is there anything about them you want to emulate? Anything about them that frightens you?
  • What are the risks of rebelling? Of not rebelling?  Explain.
  •  How would the world, and your world, be different if there were no outsiders?
  • Do you think there are any ongoing conflicts between groups that are intractable—that will likely never be resolved? What is the root of the intractability? What would need to happen to resolve the conflict? Be specific.
  • Who is the most deviant, threatening outsider you can think of? 
  • To what extent do you think that teenagers, as a group, are (by definition) outsiders?

How i use thinking Inventories

To get well-thought-out answers and generative thinking, you can give the inventory for homework on the first day of the class by assigning it in chunks over two nights. Then discuss the answers on the second and third class meetings.

Inventory should be used both implicitly and explicitly, and questions can be purposefully weaved into discussions. Inventory questions can be used as prompts for formal writing, journalist and as a framework for pre-and post-reading activities.

Inventory helps in documenting each student’s opinions, habits of mind, etc. And at the midpoint and the end of the course, students return to their inventory and choose a question which they would now answer in a different way, reflecting how their thinking has changed. 

The Inventory as a Bridge between students and content

The inventory includes a variety of essential questions and making a course’s aims explicit; it invites all students into the conversation from day one. Students who consider themselves as high achievers are challenged by the inventory to respond to the thorny questions which have no right answers.

Using a thinking inventory gives an entry point to the anxious and introverted students by asking good questions, thus cultivating a community of learners connected by real, worthwhile inquiry and communal discourse.

Once a student reflected on his inventory at the end of a course, he wrote that just a few months before his inventory he was taken aback by how intolerant of “loser characters” he’d seemed. Since then he noted that he had been through some upheaval. And at the end of the paper, he observed that empathy grows when you know the backstory of people and characters.

This article is contributed by Ecole Globale International School.