Key messages

Skills for the 21st Century: teaching higher-order thinking

Robyn Collins

  • The way in which higher-order thinking skills are taught seems to be an area of debate with many teachers expressing their concerns with young people not being about to ‘think’.
  • higher-order thinking being categorised into three categories (1) transfer, (2) critical thinking, (3) problem solving.
  • problem solving is the general mechanism behind all thinking, including recall, critical thinking, creative thinking, and effective communication.
  • higher-order thinking is divided into three domains of educational activity: (1) cognitive:mental skills (knowledge). (2) affective: growth in feelings or emotional areas (attitude or self). (3) Psychomotor: manual or physical skills (skills).
  • teachers should be able to explain why higher-order thinking skills are necessary for them to problem-solve at school and in everyday life.
  • teachers should encourage students to reflect on their learning so they can understand their thinking strengths and weaknesses.
  • some students need to be shown how to problem solve, some students need to be told, where as some students need both.
  • higher-order thinking skills shows to assist disadvantaged students.

Thomas and Thorne: A multi-step process for teaching and learning concepts

  1. name the critical features of the concept
  2. name some additional features of the concept
  3. compare the new to the already known
  4. name some false features of the concept
  5. give the best examples or prototypes of the concept
  6. give some non-examples or non-prototypes
  7. identify other similar or connected concepts


Collins, R. (2014). Skills for the 21st century: teaching higher-order thinking. Australia: independent schools queensland.

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