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Higher Order Reflection

Work on developing students' ability to reflect and use higher order thinking skills as much as possible. Studying diversity-related material and remembering/repeating it on exams may not lead to students being able to meet diversity-related objectives.

Assumptions, the taken-for-granted beliefs about how the world works and our place within it, are so obvious that people don't think about them. Fish are not aware that they are swimming in water. Two of these kinds of assumptions, according to Brookfield 1 are prescriptive and causal. Prescriptive assumptions are assumptions about what we think should be happening at any particular moment-how people should behave, what expectations people should have of each other, for example. Causal assumptions are assumptions about the interrelationships between parts of the world, and the cause and effect relationships between them. An example would be the statement "If people work hard, they will be successful."

People can "know" factual material within the context of a course and this material may have little or no impact on pre-existing prescriptive or causal assumptions related to race, ethnicity, class, power, and poverty in the United States . Assignments that challenge students to analyze and apply information and to reflect on the impact of course content on their lives are more likely to have an impact on assumptions.

Application and Analysis
Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive domains 2 is a classic and useful categorization of ways of knowing and learning:

  1. Remembering Information-- student memorizes information, repeats back on tests.
  2. Comprehension-- student is able to demonstrate concepts, compare and contrast.
  3. Application-- student can use knowledge to solve problems; student puts various sources of information together and applies this to understand situations and address problems.
  4. Analysis-- student can use concepts and information to critique statements, understand complex situations.
  5. Synthesis-- student can integrate various sorts of information together to formulate original explanations for situations.

Application, analysis, and synthesis are considered higher order thinking skills.

Students can be asked to apply course material to understand current situations. One example is an assignment used by a number of multicultural/diversity classes nationwide which asks students to compare the situation of Irish immigrants in the19th century to African-Americans in the 20 th -21 st centuries:

  • What are similarities in the ways that Irish immigrants were discriminated against in the 19 th century and the ways that African-Americans have been discriminated against in the 20 th -21 st centuries?
  • What are differences in the ways that Irish immigrants were discriminated against in the 19 th century and the ways that African-Americans have been discriminated against in the 20 th -21 st centuries?
  • Discrimination against individuals with Irish ethnicity has largely faded in the USA . What are three reasons for the persistence of a degree of discrimination against African-Americans while discrimination against Irish-Americans has diminished greatly?
  • What are implications from those three reasons as to the nature of discrimination in the USA ?

Another assignment employing higher order thinking skills comes from A UW-Whitewater history professor teaching "U.S. Social History, 1865-Present." She assigned a 2002 newspaper article on a 1600% increase in hate crimes against Muslims since September 11, 2001:

  • Read the newspaper article.
  • Then write an analysis that places the story in the historical context of race/ethnic relations in the United States since the late 19 th century.
  • Note that the news article attributes the increased hate crimes to "the fear and suspicion that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks." While the increase in these particular kinds of attacks are undoubtedly related to the September 11 attacks, can this be understood as anything more than a direct response to September 11? In particular, how does an understanding of race/ethnic relations in the late 19 th century offer a broader historical perspective and context within which to understand these attacks on Muslims in the United States ? Do these increased attacks on Muslims in the United States reflect anything more about American society than a specific reaction to a specific incident?
  • Be sure to include specific historical references and example to support your historical analysis.

Students can also be asked to write brief papers on a reading assignment that can then serve as the basis of class discussion. Stephen Brookfield 3 (58-60) advocates critical reading to uncover unvoiced assumptions, sources of information, and the ways that the writing represents certain interests and challenges others. Questions that can be used for this include:

  • To what extent does the writing seem culturally biased?
  • To what extent are the central insights grounded in documented empirical evidence?
  • What is omitted in the writing that strikes you as important?
  • Whose voices are heard in the text?
  • Whose interests are served by the publication and reading of this writing?
  • To what extent does this writing challenge or confirm existing ideologies, values, and structures?

When students' experience with a group with minority status or a group member with minority status has been negative, this should not be discounted. However, the students in this situation can be challenged to put their experience in larger contexts and to examine whether their experience is closer to the "exception" or the "rule."

Reflective thinking
Higher order thinking skills in Bloom's Taxonomy are to be used to better understand a situation, event, or phenomenon. Reflective thinking, according to John Dewey 4 , is turning a subject over in one's mind and giving it careful and serious consideration. Students can be especially challenged to reflect on the meanings and implications of course content on their own life, experiences, and ways of looking at the world.

Asking students to reflect on their own life, their experience in reading a selection for a class assignment, or on an exercise/simulation may lead to their uncovering and confronting previously hidden assumptions. Students in a UW-Whitewater diversity class had a number of options for a paper, including one on paying attention to race and white skin privilege in their lives. Students were to keep a journal for two weeks in which they wrote about their observations and experiences. The student paper asked that students both apply course concepts (race, privilege) to their experiences and also reflect on the meaning of those experiences to their own lives and how they see themselves and are seen in society.

  1. What were your feelings/emotions as you put yourself in the new situation? How was that similar to and different than other times when you have been in the minority, or only one of a few people like you in a situation?
  2. In those three weeks, how often and in what kinds of situations did race appear in your daily life? Reflect on how your own group membership, race, and other factors influenced the ways race was apparent.
  3. In those three weeks, what were the common themes about race that appeared? Discuss the meaning of the themes.
  4. In those three weeks, what were the aspects of white privilege that you observed or experienced. In your opinion, what were reasons why these occurred in those situations?
  5. Were there other kinds of privilege other than white privilege that you observed? If so, discuss.
  6. What did you learn about society/race/minority status, etc. as a result of doing this paper?
  7. What did you learn about yourself, both personally and as a member of society, as a result of doing this paper?

Students in a UW-Whitewater introductory English class were reading James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" and Sapphire's novel Push . The instructor assigned the following take-home journal exercise:

  • If you had to be a different race OR a different gender, which one would you be?
  • Why? Why not the other?
  • If you chose a different race, which one? Why?

Used in the latter part of the semester, when students have had time to know and trust one another, students have been able to explore opinions about topics as revealing as gender and race-and a number of students were not aware of how strongly they felt on these issues until completing the assignment.

Instructors can also use questions in the middle of class lectures or discussions to help students connect material to their own lives. In discussing the stereotypes and their effects, the teacher might ask: "Is there a time in which you were judged on anything other than your merit? Can you tell me how it felt?"

Short-term reflection can also be used within the context of a class discussion. After a planned exercise or an unplanned incident in which there was heated discussion, students can be asked to describe on an index card or a sheet or paper what they saw and heard. The instructor can say "Run the movie back in your head, describe what you saw happening." Gathering, summarizing, and reading some responses can give class members insight into differing perspectives than their classmates have, and can serve as a basis for further discussion.

  1. Brookfield, Steven D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher . San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, pp. 2-3.
  2. Bloom, Bengamin S., Mesia, Bertram B. and David R. Krathwohl (1964). Taxonomy ofeducational objectives (two vols: The Affective Domain & The Cognitive Domain). New York . David McKay.
  3. Brookfield, Steven D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher . San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, pp. 58-60.
  4. Dewey, John. (1916). Democracy and Education. An introduction to the philosophy of education (1966 edn.), New York : Free Press.