How can I promote higher level thinking?

A mom recently emailed me at PACESuccess with this great question about what she could do to help her son develop higher level thinking skills. I wrote a separate article explaining what we mean by “critical thinking” and what the ACE curriculum does to incorporate and teach those higher levels of thinking. But this question posed by Amy leans more toward what a parent can do to supplement and complement the PACES to develop thinking even better.

Here’s how Amy worded her question to me:

“As I was doing some research, there was some criticism that I thought could be valid and I wanted to have settled in my own mind so I could move forward with more confidence.

“There seemed to be a theme that PACEs don’t encourage higher level learning (from the Blooms Taxonomy pyramid). I am not as familiar with the high school PACEs and wanted to know if you felt these concerns are valid or not.

“What I don’t want to do is not trust the curriculum. I don’t want to be adding things here or there because I think it’s not doing a good job. I read an article here on the PACESuccess site about being students being prepared for college and some examples of how to get students who use PACEs ready and I can see that those were very easy ‘fixes’. So, I was thinking, If I really felt like they weren’t being stretched by some of the questions, I could always throw those in. However, if you feel like the students will get those types of higher level questions, I won’t even worry about it because I know they will be coming.

“I did add these two items into one of my son’s upcoming school days. It’s from World History PACE 99 p 4 – 5. As I was skimming over the PACE, the fact that the Minoans didn’t believe in any type of hell was just very interesting to me, so I thought I could use that fact and ask this higher level question: How do you think not believing in a “hell” for your after life would alter someone’s behavior? Why do you think most religions have a “heaven” and “hell” after they die? Then I thought he could create (draw) his own elaborate beehive tomb. These two simple items would take care of the “top of the pyramid”.

“So, what do you think? Do you think these quick questions and maybe some creating  are necessary here and there, or will these types of questions and projects come up in the course of just doing the PACEs?”

My response to Amy

Dear Amy,

You can trust the ACE curriculum to lay a good foundation for critical thinking for two main reasons:

1.      Different types of thinking skill questions and activities are included in the curriculum as appropriate to the maturation of the students. Elementary levels put more emphasis on knowledge, and the higher levels of thinking are integrated into the high school level courses.

2.      The best preparation for “right thinking” as young adults is a proper World View, and the PACE curriculum does an excellent job of laying that foundation.  A goal of critical thinking is to decide “what to believe” or to discern truth from error. We need a standard for doing that. Will it be science and secular “experts”? or will it be the absolute truths of God’s revealed Word?

You can read my article about how the PACES help develop higher levels of thinking to learn specific ways the ACE curriculum does that and how you as a parent/teacher can capitalize on that.

I love the proactive way you are trying to supplement the World History content with some good open-ended questions and a project. If a parent has time and motivation to do that, those higher levels of thinking will certainly be exercised all the more. (Just as an aside, of all the high school PACE courses, the World History is probably the weakest on incorporating higher levels of thinking and relies heavily on memory recall, so whatever you can do to supplement that course would be good.)

20 Specific Ways you can Encourage Thinking Skills

In addition to the techniques included in the PACES, here are some other strategies you can use with your child if you want to spur further development of higher thinking skills. I am not implying that I think any parent should necessarily do all of these, or that the their child will get an inferior education if they just focus on using the ACE curriculum. But for the motivated parent and the child who could use some extra challenge, here you go!

1.      Encourage students to ask questions and express curiosity, then guide them to find the answers.

2.      Ask what can be inferred from what they are learning or what they hear.

3.      Create graphic organizers like diagrams, flow charts, outlines, or mind-maps while preparing for Check-ups and tests (demonstrating analysis, synthesis, understanding).

4.      Have them explain answers in their own words and in greater detail (demonstrating understanding).

5.      Explore metaphors to better understand concepts. (For example, how is photosynthesis in a leaf like a factory?)

6.      Encourage students at the high school level to become skeptical readers – to learn to discern between what is fact, opinion, and out-right lies and to learn to detect biases based on world view (exercising analysis and evaluation).

7.      Discuss current events and the way stories are reported on social media and in magazines. How does the choice of words reveal the bias of the news source? (Subscribe to World Magazine and their daily podcast to get a Christian perspective on the news.)

8.      Read aloud a story as a family and ask questions about the characters, what students anticipate will happen in the next chapters, how they would have liked to see the story end, what loose ends they wish had been wrapped up. Maybe have them write their own sequel epilogue or sequel chapter.

9.      Do projects – science fair, history research, geography – with some type of presentation that must be given to an audience outside of mom/teacher (nursing home, group of other students, homeschool co-op, etc). This involves many levels of higher thinking including synthesis.

10.   When baking or doing household projects like renovations, or planning a major trip, capitalize on the opportunity to involve your teen in doing the real life math involved.

11.   Complete a course about Logic, such as The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Eight Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning, which is written for junior high and above.

12.   Answers in Genesis has put out a “Pocket Guide” entitled, Logic & Faith: Discerning truth in logical arguments by Jason Lisle which covers over a dozen errors people make in arguing about issues such as abortion, immigration, evolution, etc.

13.   In math and science, have students show their work and explain how they got their answers. Don’t accept guessing, short cuts, copying from scorekey or friends, etc.

14.   With writing assignments, have students reflect and revise after writing a rough draft.

15.   In 11th or 12th grade, do some explicit World View teaching using a curriculum or assigned reading.

16.   Do role-playing or discuss “what if” scenarios with your students.

17.   Work on word puzzles, math games, and strategy table games instead of watching videos and TV.

18.   Read a chapter of Proverbs every day and talk about how you could apply it.

19.   Listen to Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing” podcast to learn how the news of the day reveals our society’s culture and world view

20.   Last but not least, READ, READ, READ!! I firmly believe one of the best things to develop your child’s imagination, thinking, grammar, vocabulary, and background knowledge is reading a wide variety of age appropriate literature, including classic books. A few years ago I tested a 5th grade homeschool boy with an achievement test. His mom was not happy with the results. He came back the next year and retook the test and had jumped 3 grade levels! I was suspicious she had somehow been “teaching to the test” or had gotten a copy of the test somehow. She explained that she instituted a rigorous reading schedule for him for the summer and next school year. The reading replaced gaming and resulted in amazing mental growth!

Again, I don’t want a parent reading this to feel overwhelmed, trying to figure out how to incorporate all of these. Some are geared more for teens. Some are a once a year type of activity. Others are part of a lifestyle change in interacting with our children (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9). I would like to challenge you to find a way to incorporate #20 this year (maybe a contest or reward system?).

Any other suggestions or comments? Post them below!

One Comment to “How can I promote higher level thinking?”

  1. A colleague shared that this website,, will send you a worksheet every day that you can use with your students.

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