The best strategies to promote HOTS with Tech in the classroom today

By Michael Hilkemeijer


Between ICT skills and ICT capability, there is one key component that makes one more empowering than the other.

That is it has higher order thinking skills and whilst ICT skills may be the norm for many teachers teaching with technology, it does not constitute capabilities in ICT.

A few years ago, I wrote an article highlighting the differences between these two and the reasons still stand the same.


However, today you will learn the significance of higher order thinking skills when providing ICT tools for learning in your classroom.

You will discover how to assess higher order thinking skills and why they are so important. The foundation of what makes an ICT capable child will be laid out in front of you and should give you an understanding of why you should not teach ICT skills anymore.

It's all about using technology to promote higher order thinking skills.


In the next few paragraphs then, I will introduce you to higher order thinking skills strategies in order to develop ICT capability alongside context-driven activities.



So what are higher order thinking skills (HOTS)? Well, it distinguishes critical thinking skills from low-order learning. It includes synthesing, analysing, reasoning, comprehending, application, and evaluation.

Bloom's taxonomy is well known in relation to higher order thinking skills and is promoted within education circles. It was designed with 6 levels to promote HOTS. You can learn more about the importance of higher order thinking skills here



Higher Order Thinking Skills Primary School


HOTS and ICT Capability: Understanding the Connection

There is a real connection between ICT capability and HOTS. To begin with, whilst ICT skills are important, if a student only has knowledge of the processes and ICT techniques, then it isn’t sufficient for the successful application of ICT to solve problems.

A student must choose to use that knowledge, to monitor the progress being made, and to evaluate the ICT solution gained.


When students use ICT for their learning, its effective use demands that they:

  • Recognise the use of ICT might be appropriate or effective.
  • Plan how ICT techniques, resources, and processes are to be used in tasks.
  • Conjecture, discuss and test strategies and data to be used.
  • Monitor the progress of problem-solving activities.
  • Make and test hypotheses.
  • Evaluate the outcome of using ICT for tasks.
  • Explain and justify the use of ICT in producing ICT solutions to problems.
  • Reflect on their ICT learning.


These are all examples of higher order thinking skills when technology in the classroom is scaffolded and supported correctly.


Higher order thinking skills are significantly developed when students use ICT effectively in the classroom and all this helps them make independent choices.


Metacognition put simply is knowing that you know and forms a crucial part of a child’s development in ICT capability. It is often said, that is not whether a student knows an ICT technique, but whether they know that they know it and thus are able to decide whether to use it.


This forms a vital part of a students’ study skills.


Let’s look further into this by examining this example of this in action.

What if a student was going to use a sequence of ICT techniques with a desktop publishing program to produce a publication?

Some examples of ICT techniques would include:

  • Selecting a page to work on;
  • Creating a number of frames;
  • Entering text into frames etc.


The decision that a person would have to make might include:

  • Making choices as to how many frames, in what position, and what size to create;
  • Making choices as to which text styles to use in different places;
  • Making choices as to which images to import etc.


QUESTION FOR YOU:  From the HOTS list above, can you decide which two would fit best for these?


It is in using these higher order thinking skills, in order to make choices as to how to apply the ICT techniques the person had learned, that would enable them to execute the process.


By doing this, it is only THEN that they will be demonstrating their ICT capability! This is the reason why higher order thinking skills are important.


Example of Higher Order Thinking Skills when using a spreadsheet in an activity:

  • Organise and retell ideas that have been shared by students or read on Web pages.
  • Evaluate personal ideas and choose one to write about.
  • Explore a significant event.
  • Analyse ideas and classify items according to given criteria.
  • Identify similarities and differences and make comparisons.


Higher order thinking skills


Facilitating HOTS in the Classroom

Understanding the importance of higher order thinking skills is what will unlock the potential of integrating digital technologies in the curriculum and furthermore, develop student ICT capability.

Now that you do know why you shouldn’t just teach ICT techniques, I am going to help you move onto the next step which is discovering how to teach higher order thinking skills in an ICT capable classroom.


First, I believe it is important for you to grasp what it is you are aiming for in terms of outcomes.


The development of ICT capability is more than just the teaching of ICT techniques, it comprises of 5 key components – routines, ICT techniques, processes, concepts, and higher order thinking skills.

It is a child’s ability to carry out these which constitute ICT capability.


As a teacher, what attributes can you see in relation to ICT capability?


Findings in the UK indicated that highly ICT capable students possessed these:

  • Use ICT to support their learning in key learning areas;
  • Use common ICT tools in lessons;
  • They took responsibility for their own learning and they developed strategies to help them learn how to use unfamiliar ICT tools in the classroom and worked collaboratively;
  • They used current hardware and software and understood the potential and limitations;
  • Understood that using ICT affects social processes.



To develop higher order thinking skills you would need to first manage students’ planning, monitoring, and evaluation of work.

You would also have to involve them in the process during whole-class teaching. Eventually, the students themselves will take over some of the thinking about their ICT work and about their ICT learning.

Through strategic and evaluative questions you can encourage them to ask these questions of each other, and then also to ask these questions of themselves.


IMPORTANT NOTE: When planning the development of higher order thinking skills and understanding, the affordances for planning, monitoring, and evaluating the ICT activity must not be too great. The manipulation of these affordances is central to your role as a teacher.


As a teacher then, your teaching approaches and methods should emphasise:

  • Significant student autonomy in the selection of ICT tools and resources;
  • Active participation by students in the process of planning and evaluating the use of ICT in problem situations;
  • Teacher intervention in the form of focusing questions;
  • Students articulate their thoughts about the opportunities and constraints offered by ICT techniques, processes, and strategies;
  • The enthusiasm and confidence about using ICT and;
  • The learning of higher order thinking skills through student reflection on ICT learning.


Higher order thinking skills

Monitoring Student Learning

When students use technology in the classroom, your aim as a teacher should be to enable them to reach the stage where the technology they use becomes sufficiently transparent that they are almost unaware of its existence.

Monitoring student ICT learning is important for this to occur as it is how to improve higher order thinking skills.


You can consider in your planning questions such as:

  • What do you expect students to be doing at each stage?
  • How can you judge whether they progressing as expected?
  • How will you recognise when students need prompting or explanation?


As your students begin to develop ICT capability whilst using technology to support their learning, higher order thinking skills enable them to carry out complete processes themselves when the scaffolding provided is taken away.

There are a number of teaching strategies with technology that promotes its development in learning:

  1. You can model the techniques of strategic planning by thinking out loud to show the questions which might be asked;
  2. You can give groups of students responsibility in planning a task and coach them by asking then focusing questions at intervals to guide them to a viable outcome and;
  3. You can involve the students socially in the planning, monitoring, evaluating, and reflecting through whole-class teaching.



I would also encourage you to intervene as a teacher and you will be able to determine the opportune moments through effective monitoring.

By doing this, you will be stimulating ICT learning at important moments by providing them with feedback, praise and support that includes guidance on how to improve.

Your timely intervention will benefit the development of their technical skills and knowledge of ICT.



Strategies to Assess

So now the question is how to assess higher order thinking skills that you have learned the above examples of strategies to implement in your classroom practice.

Higher order thinking skills are developed with technology in the classroom when there is a learning environment that encourages exploration when opportunities are presented to decide which software to use and how to use it, to make plans, to monitor progress during extended tasks, to evaluate and to reflect on ICT solutions and of course, the contribution made by ICT.


ICT capability is inextricably linked to practical outcomes in meaningful subject-related contexts such as literacy learning. This means that higher order thinking skills fit with this character as well.

So in order for you to discover how to assess higher order thinking skills in your classroom, it is appropriate that I explore with you formative assessment options.


In the past, teacher observation was used to assess HOTS, however, they resulted in systematically collected sets of work that demonstrated development from draft to final versions of work. Oral questioning was also conducted.


HOTS can only really be assessed if children carry out a task. If you use questioning and discussion about how and why they did something it should assist you in the assessment decisions.

In other words, it is better to assess them along with the processes.


Let me explain further.


An assessment of a finished product will only provide partial and often very limited evidence of a child’s ICT capabilities. A finished product will not reveal the decisions used to complete it.


You can only judge if a student can carry out a process if you can determine that they can make decisions and HOTS are assessed to the extent to which scaffolding is necessary.


For example:

  • Which media to combine, and in what way, in order to present some particular information to a specific audience or;
  • Which series of ICT techniques to use in order to follow a line of enquiry to prove or disprove a hypothesis.



The most effective way to assess ICT capability is to give children something interesting to do and then monitor the approaches they use to complete the task.


What you need to judge is the decisions they made in order to create a finished product. This would involve you:

  • Assessing their logic and reasoning – in using a particular ICT technique or software to complete a task. Were there any deductions made? Did you identify any assumptions? What about inductions?
  • Assessing their problem solving – an ICT capable student is someone who can construct ICT solutions to problem situations. So did they identify the problem? Did they explore possible strategies? Did they act on the strategies?
  • Assessing their judgement – did they exercise good judgement in using an ICT technique or software?



The benefits of higher order thinking skills can be obtained when you promote the development of ICT capability in your classroom using the strategies listed above. You can learn more about assessing student ICT capability here or you can build your capacity as a facilitator of ICT capability by joining our online professional learning community.

Higher order thinking skills in primary school can be developed as you aim to integrate digital technologies into key learning areas and develop learning progression in ICT capability. Using technology to promote higher order thinking skills can be made with less stress and careful and thoughtful planning when making instructional decisions that apply these higher order thinking skills strategies.


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