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Higher-order thinking, known as higher order thinking skills (HOTS), is a concept of education reform based on learning taxonomies (such as Bloom's taxonomy). The idea is that some types of learning require more cognitive processing than others, but also have more generalized benefits. In Bloom's taxonomy, for example, skills involving analysis, evaluation and synthesis (creation of new knowledge) are thought to be of a higher order, requiring different learning and teaching methods than the learning of facts and concepts.
Higher-order thinking involves the learning of complex judgmental skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. Higher-order thinking is more difficult to learn or teach but also more valuable because such skills are more likely to be usable in novel situations (i.e., situations other than those in which the skill was learned).
It is a notion that students must master the lower level skills before they can engage in higher-order thinking. However, the United States National Research Council objected to this line of reasoning, saying that cognitive research challenges that assumption, and that higher-order thinking is important even in elementary school.
Advocates of traditional education object to elevating HOTS above direct instruction of basic skills. Many forms of education reform, such as inquiry-based science, reform mathematics and whole language emphasize HOTS to solve problems and learn, sometimes deliberately omitting direct instruction of traditional methods, facts, or knowledge. HOTS assumes standards based assessments that use open-response items instead of multiple choice questions, and hence require higher-order analysis and writing. Critics of standards based assessments point out that this style of testing is even more difficult for students who are behind academically. Indeed, while minorities may lag by 10 to 25 points on standardized percentile rankings, the failure rates of minorities are two to four times the best scoring groups on tests like the WASL. It is debated whether it is correct to raise the importance of teaching process over content.
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