Productive teaching is intellectually rigorous

Critical & creative thinking

The goal

Successful learners, confident & creative individuals and active & informed citizens

Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, MCEETYA, 2008

The ‘critical and creative thinking’ general capability in the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, n.d.) supports students to ‘generate and evaluate knowledge, clarify concepts and ideas, seek possibilities, consider alternatives and solve problems’.

Examples of [critical] thinking are interpreting, analysing, evaluating, explaining, sequencing, reasoning, comparing, questioning, inferring, hypothesising, appraising, testing and generalising (p. 1).

…Creative thinking involves students in learning to generate and apply new ideas in specific contexts, seeing existing situations in a new way, identifying alternative explanations, and seeing or making new links that generate a positive outcome (p. 1)

Importantly the Australian Curriculum proposes that critical and creative thinking includes ‘dispositions'; ‘taxonomies of skills'; ‘habits and frames of mind'; and ‘thinking strategies’ (p. 3).


The focus here is on taxonomies, that is, frameworks that classify thinking according to complexity—from lower-order thinking to higher-order thinking. See three taxonomies shown below:

Bloom’s Taxonomy Updated Bloom’s Taxonomy Three-storey intellect (Specific processes following)
Knowledge Remembering Gathering
Comprehension Understanding
Application Applying Processing
Analysis Analysing
Evaluation Evaluating Applying
(Bloom et al., 1956) (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) (Bellanca & Fogarty, 1991)
Productive teaching involves teachers’ explicit scaffolding of learners':
  • use of the range of levels of thinking with a focus on higher-order thinking
  • awareness of the type of thinking they are using (i.e. lower-order thinking and its form, such as remembering or counting, or higher-order thinking and its form, such as evaluating.

Explicit teaching of thinking occurs when students are supported to articulate and investigate openly the type of thinking they have used or could have used, the degree of usefulness of particular thinking and so on.

Using thinking skills taxonomies

  1. Teacher designs questions (on the targeted topic) related to ‘gathering’, ‘processing’ and ‘applying’ (or categories in other selected framework).
  2. Learners design questions (on the targeted topic) to reflect various levels of taxonomies used to demonstrate that they know and understand what is involved in each.
  3. Invite learners to identify the types of questions asked and whether other types of questions would be more useful in the context.
  4. Teacher plans activities (apart from questions) that reflect each level e.g.
    —brainstorming to ‘gather’
    —Venn Diagram to compare and contrast to ‘process’
    —use of rubric or criteria sheet to evaluate specific phenomenon to ‘apply’.
  5. Learners and teachers utilise ICTs (as they investigate a topic) and note the type of thinking involved e.g.
    —’gathering': bookmarking, highlighting, searching the web
    —’processing': linking documents/web pages, identifying themes through Wordle or Tagxedo
    —’applying’ e.g. creating podcasts or vodcasts or other forms of publishing, wiki-ing and so on.
  6. Design your own thinking skills poster/placemat so that teacher/learners can be reminded/challenged to think about their thinking and to think better! (See example following.)

Specific processes that constitute each level of thinking in the ‘three-storey intellect’

(Bellanca & Fogarty, 1991)

Gathering Counting
Processing Comparing
Explaining (why)
Applying Solving
[Responding] to If…/then…

Why use thinking skills taxonomies explicitly in your classroom?

There are one-storey intellects, two-storey intellects, and three-storey intellects with skylights.

All fact collectors who have no aim beyond their facts are one-storey [people].

Two-storey [people] compare, reason, generalize, using the labor of fact collectors as their own.

Three-storey people idealize, imagine, predict – their best illumination comes from the skylight.

Oliver Wendell Holmes quoted in Bellanca & Fogarty, 1991, p. 231.

Create your own ‘three-storey intellect’

The version below was created by N’deen and Liyah with support from Janet Wigan, St Michael’s, Palm Island. (Thanks to St Michael’s for permission to use the image below.)

Three Storey Intellect by St Michael's Palm Island'
A poster, placement, bookmark or other artefact—created by your own learners for their own context—is a powerful way to support learners to think about their thinking and to strive always to think better!

* See learning ajency resource: Critical & creative thinking through questioning frameworks for specific questions aligned to ‘three-storey intellect’ and other frameworks.

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Critical and creative thinking through thinking skills taxonomiess

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Critical and creative thinking through questioning frameworks

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