Why Implementing Higher Order Thinking in Middle School is Always a Good Thing

It is true that the brain is not ready to perform metacognition, and other higher order cognition skills until mid-adolescence. Around the age of fifteen or sixteen. Studies (Weil, et al. 2013) show that only about 45% of fifteen or sixteen year old adolescents actually use higher order thinking skills when thinking about a problem that ahs been assigned to them. This same paper, however, stated that although the other 55% of students do not use higher order thinking skills, and while some of the 55% will not be able to perform higher order thinking even into their twenties, the majority of the 55% have the brain development needed for healthy higher order cognition, but were simply never taught how to deal with problems in an in depth way. This is due to our current system of education which focuses on only the two most basic levels of higher order thinking: recalling information, and representing information. Very rarely in middle school will teachers focus on higher order thinking strategies such as analyze/reason, and application of knowledge.

My classroom of choice falls within the realm of a grade seven/eight middle school classroom. The age range of these kids is between 12-14. This is one to two years earlier than the optimal time to use higher order thinking skills in the classroom, as only as few as 20% of grade seven and eight students will be able to use higher order thinking to their advantage at all. I propose, however, that the fundamental issue in traditional education is that the majority of elementary and secondary school teachers do not prepare their students with the kinds of questions they will need to ask when it comes time to be able to use their higher order thinking skills. In lay men’s terms, we can teach kids to perform higher order thinking exercises long before the neural architecture has been developed.

In general the discussion based learning style we have been exploring over the past week can foster higher order thinking as long as certain questions are being asked. As a former thirteen year old boy myself, I loved asking questions in hopes that it would spark a class discussion. If there had been higher order thinking exercises implemented into our lesson plan, I would have got a lot more out of middle school. A dissertation written by Murray (Murray 2012) explored “The Concept of Higher Order Thinking in Middle School Mathematics”. She writes that when teachers implement pedagogy that helps develop students’ higher thinking skills, they are able to improve student achievement. She goes on to state that learning tools such as problem solving, conjecturing, and explanation and justification of ideas that were applied to the study of middle school mathematics gave students a better attitude towards the subject, and were more likely to take advanced math in higher level classes.

Murray addresses an issue raised in our discussion in class, which was why teach higher order thinking when not all students will understand the methods being implemented. Murray claims that some teachers are skeptical to teach higher order thinking practices when lower ability students may find them frustrating. Murray states that higher order thinking involves a lot more group work and question time, and that a middle school class that implements higher order thinking will only be as good as the teacher teaching it. It is the teacher’s responsibility to grasp who is not understanding, and intervening before the student falls behind. What higher order thinking does teach, even for those students who don’t benefit from the knowledge, is what skills the students will need when they tackle higher order thinking in an older grade. In summation, using higher order thinking in a grade seven or eight lesson plan will give all the students the scaffolding to really be able to make use of higher order thinking in grades nine and above. As for the 20% who are ready for the challenge of higher order thinking, teachers can foster that intellectual curiosity at an earlier age to help them continue to be stimulated by school.


Murray, E. C. (2011). Implementing higher-order thinking in middle school mathematics classrooms. Dissertation
Submitted to Graduate Faculty of The University of Georgia, Georgia. Tersedia di: https://goo.gl/BfTS0Y

Weil, L. G., Fleming, S. M., Dumontheil, I., Kilford, E. J., Weil, R. S., Rees, G., … Blakemore, S.-J. (2013). The development of metacognitive ability in adolescence. Consciousness and Cognition, 22(1), 264–271.


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