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Richard McKenna G00295467


Continuous Assessment No 1 (CA1) ACADEMIC ESSAY






CA Weighting:

(20% out of 100%)

Internal Examiner(s):

Dr. Pauline Logue Collins

External Examiner(s): Dr. Elaine McDonald

Mr. Tom Scott



Higher order thinking and problem solving in the classroom are both extensive and
fascinating concepts with many aspects to discuss. This essay focuses on three main aspects
of approaching higher order thinking in the classroom. Firstly there is a discussion on the
stand alone approach, the dual-agenda approach and ultimately the authentic task approach
and how Vygotskys concepts play a vital role in this. A brief exploration of Blooms
Taxonomy is addressed focusing on the six levels of thinking skills to promote higher order
thinking for students. It then addresses the formal thinking approach to problem solving
followed by the heuristic and metacognitive approaches which are based on the Piagetian
theory. Finally it discusses the new reformed Junior Certificate that is being implemented into
schools in 2014 and how the latter styles apply to this reform.
The research methodology throughout this essay is employed by secondary research.
The authors key findings in this essay are that higher order thinking skills and problem
solving play a vital role in education and these new changes will benefit the future of our
country producing a generation of higher order thinkers and problem solvers.


Firstly I would like to express my gratitude to my lecturer; Dr. Pauline Logue-Collins who
equipped me with great knowledge, wisdom and direction all through this essay and also the
librarians in GMIT who helped whilst I conducted my research. The subsequent people
reviewed different parts of this essay throughout its completion, who were Michelle Dixon
and Sandra Wogan.

Thank you


Heuristic -

Is defined as experience based techniques for problem solving;

discovery and learning that give an outcome that might not be the most
favourable. This met


Higher order thinking

Metacognitive -

Is defined as knowing about knowing, knowing when to apply certain

strategies for learning or problem solving.









1. Introduction

2. Higher Order Thinking

3. Problem Solving

3.1. Formal Thinking Approach

3.2 . Heuristic Approach
3.3 . Metacognitive Approach


4. New Junior Certificate Reform

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

7. Appendix


Appendix 1 24 statements of learning



In recent years, the changes in society have played an important role on the development
within the education system (Science, 2004, p. 5). This has been caused in part by research
that has pointed the link between a students generic thinking skills and their achievement in
school subjects, which has placed an increased emphasis on teaching thinking skills and
problem solving in schools (Muijs, 2001, p. 76). The authors decision to choose higher order
thinking and problem solving was influenced by the new reformed Junior Certificate cycle,
which will commence in 2014, promoting these concepts throughout its new structure. While
highlighting the importance of teaching, thinking skills and problem solving among its core
values (NCCA., 2012, p. 6). It is steering away from a final state exam focusing more on the
individual; promoting the students to become creative thinkers and problem solvers in their
own right. The research conducted will serve an additional purpose as the author has gained a
greater understanding of the rationale being and principles concerned with the topic. It will
allow the author to adapt them more readily/easily in their teaching style on upcoming
teaching practices.


Todays teachers are expected to develop more than the basic skills for students in their
classrooms; one of these expectations is higher order thinking skills (May, 2011, p. 22).
Higher order thinking skills include a variety of critical, logical, reflective, metacognitive,
and creative thinking (Steinberg, 2007, p. 829). These are awakened when a person stumbles
upon unknown problems, doubts, questions, or issues (Lussier, 2008, p. 117). Successful
applications of the skills result in explanations, decisions, performances, and products that are
valid within the context of available knowledge and experience and that promote continued
growth in these and other intellectual skills (King, 2005, p. 1). Some or all of these kinds of

higher order thinking may be easy for some students, but difficult for others. On a positive
note, it would appear that higher order thinking can be learned and the learners higher order
thinking skill can increase with practice.
In a nutshell, Higher Order Thinking is thinking on a higher level than memorizing
facts or telling something back to someone exactly the way it was told to you. When a
person memorizes and gives back the information without having to think about it, we
call it rote memory. Higher Order Thinking, or HOT for short, takes thinking to
higher levels than just restating the facts. HOT requires that we do something with the
facts. We must understand them, connect them to each other, categorize them,
manipulate them, put them together in new or novel ways, and apply them as we seek
new solutions to new problems (Thomas, 2009, p. par 6).
There are three distinct approaches to the instruction of higher-order thinking skills within a
classroom setting, defined by the manner in which this instruction relates to the instruction of
other areas of the curriculum (Berliner, 1996, p. 783).
Stand-alone approach -

Class activities are mainly concentrated on the growth

of higher-order thinking skills. Training in thinking skills is self-governing of

instruction on content-area skills and knowledge
Dual-agenda approach- Teaching in higher-order thinking is shared with
instruction in another area of the course. Instruction in both areas may be provided
self-sufficiently within the course, but the content-area learning tasks offer an
opportunity for applying thinking skills
Authentic task approach- This method requires the application of higher-order
thinking in carrying out activities that lead to the advancement of both thinking
and content-area skills and knowledge.

Rather than being developed

independently, thinking skills are learned through the application within domainapplicable activities (Crabe, 2007, p. 62).
Lessons concerning higher order thinking skills call for precise clarity of
communication to diminish uncertainty and misunderstanding and progress student
perceptions about thinking assignments, Lesson plans must display models of thinking skills,
samples of functional thinking, and modifications for different student needs (King, 2005, p.
1). Muijs and Reynolds talk about Vygotskys concept of scaffolding whereby various types
and levels of support are given to support the learning of students are removed once the
concepts have been understood and stored to memory (Muijs, 2001, p. 25). In Vygotskian
terms that would just involve the student being controlled or regulated by the language of
another (Gallagher, 1999, p. par 3). To discover the individual must internalise the directions
of the other in order to self-regulate (Bentham, 2002, p. 11). This facilitates the students
assisting them with developing their higher order learning skills however, too much or too
little assistance can suppress their development (King, 2005, p. 1).
Higher level thinking skills and teaching strategies include rehearsal, elaboration,
organization, and metacognition (Thomas, 2009, p. 2). Mountain Brook school in America
views the incorporation of these skills in teaching as a crucial element (Schools, 2003, p. 1).
Focusing on the most common model of thinking skills used is that of Blooms Taxonomy
(Bloom, 1956, p. 34). This model focuses on six levels which will help the learner / student to
accelerate their level of thinking skills.
Knowledge Recall or locate information
Comprehension Understand learned facts
Application Apply what has been learned to new situations
Analysis Take apart information to examine different parts
Synthesis Create or invent something; bring together more than one idea
Evaluation Consider evidence to support conclusions (Schools, 2003, p. 1).
The teacher is working within the standards of the curriculum framework by covering
knowledge comprehension and application skills habitually in their delivery and by
incorporating the skills of synthesis; analysis, and evaluation within ones lesson
plans/activities (Skills, 2004, p. 17). These are all means of teaching through higher order
methods and with higher order we have problem solving in the classroom which will be
explored in the next part of this paper.

A day does not pass, that we do not face problems that requires problem solving skills, from
the second the individual wakes up and selects what to have for breakfast, what clothes to
wear to their place of employment; college, or how to justify to the lecturer why his
assignment is not complete or to the manager why his weekly report is not complete, this is
solving problems. Problems can shape many parts of our life, as well as social; private;
wellbeing, and of course school (Thomas, 2009, p. par 17).
Problem-solving is and should be a genuine part of the course not only is problem-solving
skills thinking skills, but also learning and study skills (Barlow, 2011, p. 5). Learners have to
use specific mental operations and procedures to store new data in a way which allows them
to recover it easily when it is necessary, this is the skill to recognize and resolve problems by
applying correct skills methodically (Soden, 1994, p. 27). Problem solving is a process,
which is a continuous activity, when we take what we know to uncover what we do not. This
means knocking down barriers by creating hypotheses, testing those predictions, and arriving
at suitable solutions (Fredericks, 2010, p. 148).
The teacher uses problem-solving tasks to educate students how to set a goal, identify
problems or constrictions to reaching that goal, finding resolutions, predict which solution is
most likely to work, test their prediction, analyse and evaluate the outcome, and reflect on the
process (Marzano, 2012, p. 137). For this reason an increasing number of programmes have
been developed that aim to improve students thinking skills these are usually based on one
of three main learning theories (Muijs, 2001, p. 77). Based on Piagetian theories these are the
formal thinking; heuristic and metacognitive approaches which will be discussed below.
3.1 Formal thinking approach
The formal operational thinker has the ability to consider several solutions to a problem
before starting the task ahead; this will drastically improve proficiency as the individual can
prevent further unproductive attempts at problem solving. The formal operational individual
considers past experiences; present demands; and future outcomes in attempting to exploit the
victory of their adaptation to the world (Cherry, 2004)

3.2 Heuristic approach

In the heuristic approach, the aim is to learn certain problem solving skills, where students
can employ these new skills when they face a particular problem (Manzo, 1990, p. 255). To
do this more simply, the problem-solving procedure needs to be broken down into its
multiple parts (Muijs, 2001, p. 78). It is a mental rule of thumb approach that may or may not
work in particular circumstances, unlike algorithms; heuristics do not always produce the
correct answer. However, using this problem-solving approach allows the person to break
down complicated problems and reduce the total number of possible solutions (Cherry, 2004,
p. par 6).
3.3 Metacognitive approach
"Metacognition" is often simply defined as "thinking about thinking." (Livingston, 1997, p.
par 2). Metacognition refers to understanding of a persons own knowledge what they do and
do not know and ones ability to comprehend, manage, and control ones cognitive thoughts.
It includes knowing when and where to use particular strategies for learning and problem
solving as well as how and why to use specific strategies (Staff, 2012, p. par 2).
The goal of teaching metacognitive strategies is to help learners become comfortable
with these strategies so that they employ them automatically to learning tasks,
focusing their attention, deriving meaning, and making adjustments if something goes
wrong. They do not think about these skills while performing them but, if asked what
they are doing, they can usually accurately describe their metacognitive processes
(Staff, 2012).

A statement from Bruner is figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go
beyond what you already think This can be achieved by teachers setting problems for
children, who then seek solutions either by themselves or with the assistance of their peers
(Walsh, 2011, p. 143).
When problem solving, it is important to remember the steps we need to take. First,
define the problem and give it definite edges by drawing a mental box around it. Be
creative and think up lots of alternative strategies or solutions. Try out solutions
without worrying about making mistakes. Mistakes are learning opportunities - we
learn what doesn't work! Thomas Edison was asked once how he kept from getting
discouraged when he had made so many mistakes before he perfected his idea of the
light bulb. He had tried over 2,000 ways before one worked. Edison responded that he

had not made 2,000 mistakes. He had had over 2,000 learning experiences that moved
him closer to the answer! (Thomas, 2009, p. par 22).
After discussing higher order thinking; problem solving and the importance of this in the
classroom, this paper will now discuss how the framework for the new Junior Cycle places its
core values on the latter which will be explored in the next section of this paper.


In November 2011, the NCCA published Towards a Framework for Junior Cycle Innovation
and Identity, Towards a Framework sets out a vision; values and principles for the junior
cycle (Quinn, 2012, p. v). The NCCA state the eight principles being; quality; wellbeing;
creativity and innovation; choice and flexibility; engagement, relevance and enjoyment;
inclusive education; continuity and lifelong learning, all of the latter focuses on giving each
student a high quality of education at the same time having a broad curriculum that meets the
needs of the students allowing each individual to develop their abilities and talent while
promoting creativity in each student (NCCA, 2011, p. 10).

In contrast to the junior certificate that is in place at the minute, this is a radical change in the
education system taking the focus off the final state exam after third year, placing an
emphasis on continual assessment taking the pressure off students which allows them to settle
into 1st year and get use to the format of post primary school, as if focuses on the program
and not just the exam (NCCA, 2011, p. 19). The 40% for the continual assessment will
promote active learning in the classroom, as Aristotle said you learn more by doing (Broadie,
1991, p. 104) the remaining 60% will be a final year exam at the end of 3rd year. (NCCA,
2011, p. 4). This will help the students connect with the learning while improving the quality
of learning that takes place, the minister of education as implemented 24 statements of
learning describing what each student will learn (See appendix 1).

The key features involved in the new Junior Cycle Reform focus on learning; curriculum;
assessment and qualification (NCCA, 2011, p. 7). Within the main features there are six key
skills these are managing myself; staying well; being creative; communicating; working with
others and managing information and thinking, these have become priority in a vast number
of educational institutes around the world, other countries that have adapted this approach are

New Zealand; Australia and Canada (NCCA., 2012, p. 17). These key skills have a role to
play in deepening the students learning and making them more self-aware as learners
(NCCA, 2011, p. 19). which emphasises the importance of the metacognitive approach in
problem solving. The development of these skills need to be addressed in a variety of
contexts and in a way that will lead to action, requires a creative approach to teaching and to
learning (NCCA, 2011, p. 21). This aim is to produce creative thinkers in our schools,
allowing each student to self-actualize as a person while highlighting the universal
importance of higher order thinking skills and being able to problem solve as being vital for
the learner and their potential life chances.

Upon completion of this paper I have found that there is a vast discrepancy with lower order
and higher thinking skills. Generally lower order and higher order thinking skills can be told
apart, then again this is not always the case as what may appear to be lower order thinking
skills to one student may be higher order thinking to another, depending if there was a SEN
It would appear that higher order thinking and problem solving are very much part of each
other. Both play a major part in the Irish education system today, with the various methods
and concepts that surround these areas. For example the new Junior Certificate reform stands
out, as it is based on how we as teachers can get the students to engage and become creative
thinkers in their own right. The six main key skills previously mentioned represent this, all of
these key skills are moving away from the pressure of the state exam, which in turn allows
the students to self-actualize and become the creative problem solvers this country needs.
As a teacher it is imperative that we help learners develop higher order thinking skills as well
as an adaptable knowledge base. Research in cognitive science and education suggests that
both of these aims can be accomplished by having students learn through solving problems.


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Statements of Learning
The student
1. Communicates effectively using a variety of means in a range of contexts in L1
2. Reaches a level of personal proficiency in L2 and one other language in reading,
writing, speaking and listening
3. Creates, appreciates and critically interprets texts (including written, oral, visual and
other texts)
4. Recognises the potential uses of mathematical knowledge, skills, and understanding in
all areas of learning
5. Uses mathematical knowledge, reasoning and skills in devising strategies for
investigating and solving problems
6. Describes, illustrates, interprets, predicts and explains patterns and relationships
7. Improves their observation, inquiry, and critical-thinking skills
8. Develops an understanding of the natural world
9. Values what it means to be an active citizen, with rights and responsibilities in local
and wider contexts
10. Learns how to think and act sustainably
11. Understands the distribution of social, economic, and environmental phenomena
12. Values local and national heritage and recognises the relevance of the past to current
national and international issues and events
13. Makes informed financial decisions and develops good consumer skills
14. Takes initiative, is innovative and develops entrepreneurial skills
15. Uses appropriate technologies in meeting a design challenge
16. Applies practical skills as they develop models and products using a variety of
materials and technologies
17. Creates, presents and appreciates artistic works
18. Brings an idea from conception to realisation
19. Uses ICT effectively and ethically in learning and in life
20. Takes action to safeguard and promote their wellbeing and that of others
21. appreciates and respects how diverse values, beliefs and traditions have contributed to
the communities and culture in which they live

22. Develops moral, ethical and responsible decision making and a sense of personal
23. Understands the importance of food and diet in making healthy lifestyle choices
24. Participates in physical activity confidently and competently (NCCA, 2011, p. 15)