Bloom's taxonomy is a very well-known classification of learning. Educators use Bloom's when creating curriculum as a way of defining the level of cognitive thinking skills they want students to exhibit when learning specific material. Higher order thinking skills like application and analysis are generally tied to more upper-division curriculum, while lower order thinking skills like knowledge and comprehension are found in objectives of lower-division courses. Critical thinking skills are an essential part of the thinking classification levels in Bloom’s.

Bloom's Lower Order Thinking Skills


Lower order thinking skills as evidenced on the classification pyramid developed by Benjamin Bloom in 1956 include knowledge, comprehension, and application. Activities that utilize these kinds of thinking skills will show that the student can recite information, facts, and dates and organize the information to solve problems by applying basic concepts to reach solutions. Keywords associated with lower order thinking skills are "recall," "choose," "find," "define," "demonstrate," "explain," "build," "develop," and "utilize." These keywords are often used when defining learning objectives for lower-division courses.

Bloom's Higher Order Thinking Skills

College student

Bloom defined higher order thinking skills as those that require analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Someone exhibiting cognitive skills of this level will categorize or classify information, comparing and contrasting it in order to make a decision. Other characteristics of higher order thinking include: combining, creating, designing, developing, evaluating, justifying, and measuring. A student in an upper-division course should be able to demonstrate all of these cognitive skills when thinking and reasoning through problems.

Critical Thinking Skills

Students studying

Critical thinking skills are an integral part of both higher and lower order thinking as defined by Bloom. Critical thinking itself is defined as having two components: 1) skills to generate information (lower order thinking) and 2) using those skills to guide behavior (higher order thinking). Critically thinking about a set of facts or other information in order to make an informed decision requires the thinker to go through the six levels of cognitive thinking defined by Bloom: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Major or life-changing decisions that are made without going through this process may not be the best, most informed decisions and may exhibit less than satisfactory results.

Questioning and Thinking


The most effective way to facilitate critical thinking in an individual is to ask questions. Refer to the cognitive levels in Bloom's to formulate the questions. Questions that will ensure a student is using lower order thinking in problem solving start with keywords such as "who," "what," "why," and "when." These questions will get a student to start thinking on a basic level about a problem. You move up the scale by asking questions such as "How would you_?" or "What evidence can you find?" other questions designed to make a student think critically at a higher level might be "Do you agree with?" or "How would you rate?" Questions of this kind will help a student learn how to analyze and evaluate information so he or she can make informed decisions that will present satisfactory results for all involved.

Misconceptions about Critical Thinking


There are some universal misconceptions about critical thinking that must be discussed when you try to develop these skills. First, critical thinking is said to be a negative process that tears down ideas, but it is actually a process that puts ideas into perspective. Second, critical thinking has sometimes been equated with over-thinking or an inability to make a decision because of unending analysis of the information being presented. In reality, critical thinking ensures that commitments and decisions are informed ones because there is analysis and reflection taking place. Another misconception about critical thinking is that it renders the thinker cold and unfeeling; actually, this process frees a thinker from past assumptions and self-doubt. Once a thinker gets past these misconceptions, he or she will be able to climb Bloom's pyramid of cognitive thinking levels to become a critical thinker.