Getting beyond the surface: higher order thinking

Students typically find critical analysis the trickiest of all skills to master, for good reason: it’s tricky. Really, really tricky.

Critical analysis requires you to apply critical thinking. It means pushing beyond the surface; going beyond description; further than memorising; and even further than demonstrating an understanding. It’s about pulling things apart and turning them around and examining them really, really closely.

In education speak, we might call this using higher order thinking, and one of the best ways to understand different levels of thinking is by looking at Bloom’s taxonomy.

Bloom’s taxonomy

Without going into a great big definition of Bloom’s (I recommend Wikipedia for that), I want to draw your attention to one of the three domains of Bloom’s taxonomy: the cognitive domain. In the cognitive domain, Bloom’s deals with ways of thinking. There are six categories in the cognitive domain: remember; understand; apply; analyze; evaluate; and create. The first three are lower order thinking categories, and the second three are higher order thinking categories. The idea is that you need to attain the lower order thinking skills to get to the higher order skills.

At a Masters level, we expect you to be working at the higher order thinking skills level.

How Bloom’s can help you with critical reflection

In this unit, you will decide on your own topic for some of your critical reflection posts. To write a good critical reflection, you need a good foundation. And the best foundation you can have is one or more questions that promote higher order thinking skills.

In the table below you’ll find a whole bunch of prompt questions for the different levels of thinking. To set yourself up for a good critical reflection, write yourself some questions, drawing on the prompts in the higher order thinking skills column.

Lower order thinking skills

Higher order thinking skills

1. Remember

  • What is…?
  • How is…?
  • Where is…?
  • When did ___ happen?
  • How did happen?
  • How would you explain…?
  • Why did…?
  • How would you describe…?
  • Can you recall…?
  • How would you show…?
  • Can you select…?
  • Who (what) were the main…?
  • Can you list three…?

4. Analyze

  • What are the parts or features of…?
  • How is ___ related to…?
  • Why do you think…?
  • What is the theme…?
  • What motive is there…?
  • What conclusions can you draw…?
  • How would you classify…?
  • Can you identify the different parts…?
  • What evidence can you find…?
  • What is the relationship between…?
  • Can you make a distinction between…?
  • What is the function of…?
  • What ideas justify…?

2. Understand

  • How would you classify the type of…?
  • How would you compare…? contrast…?
  • How would you rephrase the meaning…?
  • What facts or ideas show…?
  • What is the main idea of…?
  • Which statements support…?
  • Can you explain what is meant…?
  • What can you say about…?
  • Which is the best answer…?
  • How would you summarize…?

5. Evaluate

  • Do you agree with the actions? the outcomes?
  • What is your opinion of…?
  • How would you prove (disprove)…?
  • Can you assess the value or importance of…?
  • What would you recommend…?
  • How would you rate or evaluate the…?
  • What choice would you have made…?
  • How would you prioritize…?
  • What details would you use to support the view…?
  • Why was it better than…?

3. Apply

  • How would you use…?
  • What examples can you find to…?
  • How would you solve ___ using what you have learned…?
  • How would you organize ___ to show…?
  • How would you show your understanding of…?
  • What approach would you use to…?
  • How would you apply what you learned to develop…?
  • What other way would you plan to…?
  • What would result if…?
  • Can you make use of the facts to…?
  • What elements would you choose to change…?
  • What facts would you select to show…?
  • What questions would you ask in an interview with…?

6. Create

  • What changes would you make to solve…?
  • How would you improve…?
  • What would happen if…?
  • Can you elaborate on the reason…?
  • Can you propose an alternative…?
  • Can you invent…?
  • How would you adapt ___ to create a different…?
  • How could you change (modify) the plot (plan)…?
  • What could be done to minimize (maximize)…?
  • What way would you design…?
  • What could be combined to improve (change)…?
  • How would you test or formulate a theory for…?
  • Can you predict the outcome if…?
  • Can you construct a model that would change…?
  • Can you think of an original way for the…?

From: Bloom’s Critical Thinking Cue Questions

You can see how these questions push you to go beyond description and understanding, and into the realms of analysis, evaluation, and creation. Push yourself by aiming to write critical reflections that demonstrate these skills and you’ll do a great job of your first assignment.