Optimising Students Learning

“Educators often talk about the importance of higher-order thinking skills, but educational programmes that emphasise thinking skills are often not based on scientific research. Instead, they are based on one or another intuitively-based taxonomy of thinking skills, with almost no scientific justification of why this specific set of skills should be taught in schools.” (Sawyer, 2009, pg. 5)

When I think of higher-order thinking skills, I immediately think of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Although, it has gone through several modifications, the basic understanding has remained the same, with the goal of supporting students to achieve a high level of creativity and evaluation. There are two thoughts that come to mind when I envision how this would look and play out in my classroom: Is it essential that students reach the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy (which I would agree is), and if so, academic language and learning support is essential in this process.

I teach in a high English language learner (ELL) populated school, where 60% of my students this year alone were coded ELL. As I think about the support and scaffolding that they need, yet the urgency of language skills in order to be successful throughout their school career, this leads me to disagree with Sawyer’s statement above. If schools and businesses desire our students to be prepared to enter the workforce, we need to teach them these higher-order thinking skills in order for that to happen. However, to reach these levels I believe that students need to be proficient in academic language.

Since 2012 through our AISI project, the school district that I work for has turned to the aid of Hetty Roessingh to assist in developing academic language for our students. Roessingh has recognized that a critical threshold of learning occurs around the age of nine, as students begin to shift from learning to read to reading to learn (Roessingh and Elgie, 2009). Being a teacher of grade four, at this crucial age level, I can’t help but wonder how to support students in improving their language skills. Our district took on the challenge whereby each grade/subject level selected around ten academic words that they would be responsible for explicitly teaching their students in hopes of improving their academic vocabulary. Although our project is currently still in progress, from personal anecdotals, I have noticed substantial improvement in students understanding. It has shifted from a surface level to a much deeper and thorough level of comprehension.

With ELL students’ inability to read at the appropriate grade level, these students become at risk learners (Roessingh and Douglas, 2012). Roessingh’s research supports the idea of teaching a specific skill set in order to achieve higher-order thinking skills. I would agree that these thinking skills are essential for student success and will continue to assist my students in reaching them. If we want our students to be creators, and use evidence to support their critical thinking, they first need to have a deep understanding of these academic words.

Roessingh, H., Douglas, S. (2012). English language learners’ transitional needs from high school to university. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 13(3), 285-301. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/docview/1024202389/fulltextPDF?accountid=9838

Roessingh, H., Elgie, S. (2009). Early language and literacy development among young English language learners. TESL Canada Journal, 26(2), 24-45. Retrieved from http://www.teslcanadajournal.ca/index.php/tesl/article/viewFile/413/243

Sawyer, R. K. (2009). Optimising learning: Implications of Learning Sciences research. Paris, FR: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/40805146.pdf


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