Developing thinking skills: what Socrates would say to Bloom

I do not know whether you have read a superb book that was awarded the Espasa Essay prize in 2003: "Lo que Sócrates diría a Woody Allen", by Juan Antonio Rivera. Each of the chapters of this book focuses on a film that arises an ethical issue/dilemma and the reader is offered several possibilities to make him/her take a stand on it.

Why am I  writing about this book today? We started our seminar sessions last October and it is time to reflect on the work we have carried out to contribute to develop the so-called "thinking skills" in our students. For instance, have we used the Socratic method  and exploited  its benefits by questioning our students to help them  develop their own understanding? Let me give you an example for a Geography class. 

Why are questions so important in teaching? 

Research  leaves no doubt that instruction which includes posing questions during lessons is more effective in producing achievement gains than instruction carried out without questioning students.

When we  think about the nature of our questions,  we also need to consider the purpose of those questions, that is, what are we trying to achieve in questioning students at any particular point in our teaching time?

There are a number of purposes in asking questions, among which I would highlight: 

  • to determine the level of knowledge students bring to the lesson to help activate prior learning
  • to encourage motivation through active, democratic participation in the classroom
  • to demonstrate  that we (teachers) have an interest in students' thoughts
  • to foster cooperative learning, by helping  students learn from one another
  • to help us (teachers) with classroom management since students get so involved with the task that behaviour issues are reduced significantly 
We cannot ignore the huge difference between "skinny" questions and "fat" questions, i.e. LOTS (Lower Order Thinking Skills) and HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills). The following video summarizes Bloom's everlasting theory  in a very visual  way:

Tomorrow I  will deepen on the use of  "fat" questions that stimulate critical thinking in our students  and I will show you some activity types that are bound to fulfill the same purpose of strengthening thinking skills. For an appetizer, click here to see an example on  a Technology lesson on  batteries.

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