Higher-Order Thinking Skills (1985-86)

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Respected educational researcher Benjamin Bloom is probably best known for his work in the 1950s on higher-order thinking skills, but his study of learning stretched out in many related directions over the course of his long career. In the February 1986 issue of Educational Leadership and in an interview published in the magazine in September 1985, Bloom discusses his research on talent development and mastery—topics that speak to how students acquire and hone skills and the support systems that foster this development.

Read the articles:

Automaticity: “The Hands and Feet of Genius” (PDF)

On Talent Development: A Conversation with Benjamin Bloom (PDF)

For almost five years, Bloom and his colleagues studied extremely talented individuals—including concert pianists, Olympic swimmers, and research mathematicians—and took note of their commonalities. Central to his findings is the notion of “automaticity,” the ability to perform a skill without conscious attention. Bloom found that, regardless of their particular skill, masters use automaticity to free up brain space to engage in higher-level skill refinement and reach new levels of learning.

This process, Bloom observes, is not unique to those at the top of their field but is, rather, a fundamental part of the learning process. Noting that “the basic differences among human beings are really very small,” he posits that learning and support conditions are major factors in predicting students’ ability to develop automaticity and further their skills. Bloom’s research in this area lies at the foundation of what is commonly called “mastery learning,” an instructional approach that focuses on advancement through demonstrated proficiency.

More than 20 years later, Bloom’s indelible mark on education remains. As an educator in the field, do you use Bloom’s analysis and insight in your daily work? Do his research findings resonate with your experience as a teacher or principal? Let us know your thoughts in the comments field below.

In “My Back Pages,” we look at important issues through the historical lens of the Educational Leadership archives. ASCD members can access EL issues from 1943 to the present by signing in at www.ascd.org.

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