Teaching Teachers to Teach

This summer I have had the pleasure to be an instructor in a course at the David Yellin College to students who want to re-train to become EFL teachers in Israel. The group is intelligent, motivated and eager to bring their skills into our EFL classrooms. I have designed the course to show the students how to teach literature and higher order thinking skills in the EFL curriculum. The course includes articles discussing the background of EFL in Israel and the rationale for infusing higher order thinking skills into an English based literature curriculum. Below are two articles I wrote for the course.

In addition,  the students are required to create a “mini” literature unit at the end of the course which I hope to share on this site with other EFL teachers. As always, your comments  and your ideas for literature units and projects are welcomed. Wishing you an enjoyable rest of the summer holidays.


Article One-

Higher Order Thinking- Definition, Traits and Methods for Teaching These Skills- Results of One Study on Students’ Bridging Essays and Opinions on the Literature Module for Infusing HOTS

Dr. Karen Guth

Higher order thinking is a reasoned, purposive and introspective approach to solving problems or addressing questions with incomplete evidence and information for which an incontrovertible solution is unlikely (Rudd, Baker & Hoover 2000:5). The essential aspect of this definition is the approach to problem solving and the expectation that there probably will be more than one plausible answer to any given problem. Inherent in this concept of higher order thinking is the belief that there could be many perspectives to the dilemma and therefore, solving it involves an on-going process and a commitment to hard work, as well as embracing uncertainty along the way.

Higher order thinking firstly encompasses the skill and ability to discern the difference between information which is relevant and useful and that which is not in viewing and understanding a situation or a problem. This means being skeptical of ideas or solutions that do not differentiate between the various aspects of a dilemma or predicament. Secondly, it includes organizing that information into useful chunks or categories that enable one to begin to clarify the process needed to address the situation or problem. Thirdly, higher order thinking entails developing initiatives, methodologies or solutions that include logical, creative and moral thinking. It requires a commitment to open-mindedness, the ability to recognize one’s mistakes when proven wrong and an on-going understanding that to embrace higher order thinking involves hard work. Higher order thinking can be taught and it can be measured.


  1. Scepticism and trust

To learn to think critically we must be able to discern clearly what we can trust to be as it seems from what is not true and to know when it is useful to be skeptical. Lipman (2003:32) actually defines higher order thinking as the ability to practice a “healthy skepticism.”

  1. Inquisitiveness

The inquisitive person is one who values knowing how things work, being well-informed and sees the value in learning even if there is not an immediate reward for it. The process of asking questions leads to discovering knowledge and without that trait of inquisitiveness; human beings would not advance in their understanding of their world or the people in it.

  1. Creativity

Higher order thinkers must be creative thinkers as well, generating many possible solutions and choosing the best one. . Liaw’s (2007:4) research supports this theory which states that learners must be creative in their production of ideas and be able to critically support them with rational explanations and examples.

  1. Fair-mindedness or open-mindedness 

According to MacKnight (2000:38), a critical thinker must be able to examine logical relationships in arguments, respect diverse perspectives and look at phenomena from different points of view. These abilities enable higher order thinkers to be flexible enough to change their thinking when their reason leads them to do it. Paul (1992:12) concludes that to be fair-minded we must interact with and exchange ideas with others as a way to correct and balance our thinking. “If we commit to fair-mindedness, we struggle intimately with our own limited insight and hence with our bias.”

  1. Critical attitude

McPeck (1990:16) posits, to think critically about one’s own thinking means to appreciate the strengths and limitations of one’s own knowledge. He refers to this as a “critical attitude”. For Norris (2003:5), thinking critically is a necessary condition for being an educated and moral person while Siegel (1980:14) argues in the same vein that, in the end students must become critical thinkers so that they are able to make decisions for themselves.

6.    Confidence in reason

The higher order thinker must have what Paul (1992:14) refers to as intellectual perseverance. To become a critical thinker is not easy. It takes effort and the ability to struggle with confusion. A higher order thinker must develop confidence in reason, “confidence in reason does not deny the reality of intuition; rather, it provides a way of distinguishing intuition from prejudice”.

Methods for teaching HOTS

1.    General reasoning approach and scaffolding method

The general reasoning approach advocates teaching higher order thinking as a skill or trait separate from the content area. Advocates of this philosophy argue that just as domain specific knowledge is essential to acquiring more domain specific understanding, teaching general skills in higher order thinking and practicing them in different situations makes them more transferable to a variety of domains and circumstances both inside and outside of the classroom setting. This general reasoning approach views higher order thinking skills and traits as having their own rules, definitions and pedagogy. When its concepts are taught and practiced, outside of the context of a specific topic, they are more transferable to specific subject domains.

2.    Subject specific approach and infusion method

Those who advocate the subject specific approach when teaching higher order thinking conclude that those people who have a strong ability to critically think are able to do this because of their mastery of content knowledge. They argue that reasoning and learning develop together through active application of subject specific knowledge, within a problem solving context.

3. Mixed approach and schemata and cooperative learning methods

Other researchers argue that what is essential in learning and understanding is the ability to transfer what one has learned to a new situation or subject. In order to do this, students need to learn the general principles of higher order thinking as well as examples of and practice within specific domains of knowledge.

Why HOTS should be integrated into the study of literary texts

Literature is a vehicle for learning and practicing HOTS. Shen (1997:258) showed in her study that higher order thinking emerges from discussions on the literature studied in class. Abu Shihab (2007:209) argues that when we read we predict, compare and evaluate. Reading involves an interaction between thought and language in which the reader must interact with the text in order to create meaning. Elder and Paul (2010:32) concur with this argument by stating that the critical mind improves reading by reflectively thinking about how it reads and what it reads. This research also shows the success of infusing HOTS into the learning of literature. The study of quality, relevant and varied literary texts enable students to engage in HOTS. Therefore, EFL programs should encourage the reading of literary texts and the development of HOTS exercises which include discussions and writing using HOTS.

The following are some of the results revealed by a study conducted in 2016 as part of my Doctorate of Education in Curriculum Studies.

  1. Students enjoy the challenge of an EFL literature curriculum which infuses HOTS

The majority of the students who responded stated that they did enjoy reading the literary texts studied in the program. Answers varied from it caused them to think, improved their English, taught them about other cultures, imparted strong life messages and the material was interesting to them.

The stories, novels, plays and poems naturally lent themselves to infusing HOTS. The top four choices of HOTS that the students chose to mention and that they described properly were, predicting, cause and effect, uncovering motives and compare and contrast. These four HOTS encouraged discussions on characters in a story (uncovering motives, comparing and contrasting), or the plot of the story (cause and effect, predicting what will happen), or poetry (compare and contrast the stanzas and their meaning). These are only a few examples of how natural it is to infuse HOTS into literature as a domain subject.

Moreover, students explained that the learning and practicing of these HOTS skills are something which they can and will apply to other reading and writing tasks.  Students felt that they would be able to apply the HOTS of, predicting, uncovering motives, cause and effect and making connections, as the top choices of HOTS that could be applied to their reading. The students chose cause and effect, compare and contrast, uncovering motives, predicting, applying and explaining patterns as HOTS that they now knew how to apply to written formats.

All of these HOTS skills were taught and practiced in the literature program. Students learned to identify them in the literature and practice them when answering questions on the literary texts. As a result, they understood the meaning of the HOTS because the teacher had several opportunities to spiral the various HOTS within the literature while reading and analyzing each piece

  1. HOTS infused in an EFL literature programme improves students’ writing 

The empirical findings reveal that the curricular initiative of infusing HOTS into a literature program helps students to become stronger English writers. The students’ improvement in their overall writing skills with each subsequent essay was steady. The application of HOTS in the students’ bridging essays also showed improvement over the two year period.


Abu Shihab, I. 2007. Critical thinking and reading. Journal of Adolescent Adult Literacy, 51(4):300–302.

Elder, L. & Paul, R. 2010. Critical thinking development: A stage theory. Critical Thinking Organisation. Available at: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-development-a-stage-theory/483 (accessed on 7/6/2013).

Liaw, M. 2007. Content-based reading and writing for critical thinking skills in an EFL context. English. Teaching and Learning, 31(2):45–87.

Lipman, M. 2003. Thinking in education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacKnight, C. 2000. Teaching critical thinking through online discussions. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 4(4):38–41

McPeck, J.E. 1990. Critical thinking and subject specificity: a reply to Ennis. Educational Researcher, 19(4):10–12.

Norris, S.P. 1985. Synthesis of research on critical thinking. Educational Leadership, 42(8):40–45.

Paul, R. 1992. Critical thinking: what, why, and how. New Directions for Community Colleges, 77(77):3–24.

Rudd R., Baker M. & Hoover, T. 2000. Undergraduate agriculture student learning styles and critical thinking abilities: Is there a relationship? Journal of Agricultural Education, 41(3):2–12

Shen, F. 1997. Enabling higher-level thinking process in ESL reading: an examination of three instructional approaches. Proceedings of the 22nd Conference on English Teaching, Ohio State University, Ohio

Siegel, H. 1980. Critical thinking as an educational ideal. The Educational Forum, 45(1):7–23.

 Article two-

Background, Influences and Development of the English Teaching Curriculum in Israel

Dr. Karen Guth

The principles and standards for learning English as a foreign language in Israel have been influenced over the years by three major forces; firstly by English becoming the lingua franca in the world; secondly by the Communicative language teaching movement’s influence on teaching English as a second and foreign language and thirdly the movement from Behaviorist to Constructivist-oriented methodology in the classroom.

The 21st century has seen an unprecedented global expansion of EFL learning as English has developed as the leading global lingua franca (Fishman, Cooper &Conrad 1977: xii). Graddol (2006:70) argues that extensive curriculum reforms are taking place as people are required to operate in this globalized world and improving proficiency in English forms a key part of the educational strategies in most countries, including Israel.

The second factor, the Communicative Language Teaching Movement, which can trace its beginnings to the end of the 1960’s, through the 1970’s (Tarone &Yule 1989:17; Howatt & Widdowson 2004:258; Swarbrick 1993:1) evolved into a methodology which promoted communicative competence in the English language). Under the influence of Communicative language teaching (CLT), grammar-based methodologies gave way to functional and skills-based teaching, which includes fluency activities based on small interactive group work (Richards 2006:3; Nunan 2003:6-7).

The third influence, a move from Behaviorist to Constructivist methodology, shifted the EFL classroom from a teacher-centered environment to a more student-centered one and laid the foundation for alternative assessments such as portfolios. The EFL Curriculum prior to 1977 focused on grammar, vocabulary acquisition and literature (oral exam for students in the Government state schools that were not specifically teaching a vocation). Because of the three major forces that influenced EFL mentioned above the 1977 EFL Curriculum, introduced by the English Inspectorate in Israel, emphasized English as a global language of communication and focused on the practical use of the language. This also had an effect on the English literature that was being taught in EFL classes in Israel. The literature syllabus was altered to include more modern works which would contribute to communication skills (Gefen 2012:31).

The 1988 EFL curriculum which replaced the 1977 curriculum stated as one of its aims that English should be taught as a means of heightening intellectual awareness through language study, raising linguistic consciousness and attaining insight into language (Culture Ministry of Education English Curriculum 1988:5). It, however, does not mention, in any of its aims or objectives, the study of literature and relegates literature to part of an oral test given only to students at the highest level of English competency.

Literature becomes part of an external oral examination in the 1988 EFL Curriculum, worth approximately 5% of the overall English Matriculation examination. Two outside examiners (English teachers from a different school) came to the high school and orally tested students on one of the five pieces of literature that they were required to learn during their high school studies (Kopinsky 2014). By 1990, due to budgetary issues, the literature exam was administered internally by the EFL teachers in each high school and by 1991 the learning of literature texts became part of the EFL yearly school grade and there was no separate matriculation examination either internally or externally.

It would be another 13 years before a new English Curriculum would be published by the Ministry of Education. In 1994, an English Advisory Committee met and drafted a list of Proficiency Guidelines to explore alternative approaches to teaching English as a foreign language in Israel. It wasn’t until 2001 that this Committee’s work was published as, Principles and Standards for Learning English as a Foreign Language for All Grades, English Curriculum (Culture Ministry of Education English Curriculum 2001). The new guidelines were organised according to the traditional division of language proficiency into the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. These guidelines provided a map for the revision of the matriculation examinations, referred to as The Bagrut Examinations, which were published in June 1996 (Culture Ministry of Education EFL Curriculum 2001:10). The domains include appreciation of literature, access to information in both written and spoken English and presentation in both spoken and written English.

In 2007 a new national educational policy was adopted by the Israeli Ministry of Education. This policy, called “Pedagogical Horizon for Learning” encouraged an infusion approach to teaching HOTS in which thinking was integrated into the school curricula rather than taught as an independent subject.

In 2008, the English Inspectorate decided that it wanted to bring literature back into the EFL Curriculum as a subject that would once again be a part of the written Matriculation (Bagrut) examinations (Lifschitz 2008:108). However, now the goal was to teach literature using higher order thinking and incorporating critical thinking as part of the benchmarks that students are required to reach. This initiative began with a pilot program that started with the strongest level of EFL students, namely those who take the five point matriculation examinations (Bagrut) in English.

At the end of 2012 the Culture Ministry of Education revised the 2001 English as a foreign language curriculum to “expand the document, resulting in a curriculum that will better address the needs of teachers, material writers and test designers” (Culture Ministry of Education English Curriculum 2012:5). The expansion of the 2001 curriculum includes a number of updated components. Three of those are in the area of higher order thinking skills, information communications technology (ICT) and literature at all levels.



Culture, Ministry of Education State of Israel. 1988. English curriculum. Jerusalem.

Culture, Ministry of Education State of Israel. 2001. English curriculum. Jerusalem.

Culture, Ministry of Education State of Israel. 2012. English curriculum. Jerusalem.

Fishman J., Cooper, R. & Conrad, A. 1977. The Spread of English. Rowley: Newbury House.

Gefen, R. 2012. On literature in the school curriculum and, so it seems, in a test-oriented system of education. ETAI Forum, English Teachers’ Association of Israel. 23(1):31-32.

Graddol, D. 2006. English Next. London: P. Latimer Trend.

Howatt, A.P.R. & Widdowson, H.G. 2004. A history of English language teaching.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kopinsky, B. English Inspector Kiryat Arbe. Interviewed by: Guth, K. (30th April 2014).

Lifschitz, D. 2008. The literature bagrut module: integrating thinking skills with teaching literature. English Teacher’s Journal, 55:108–110.

Nunan, D. 2003. Methodology, in Nunan D. (ed.). Practical English Language Teaching, Boston: McGraw Hill. 3-22.

Richards, J.C. 2006. Communicative language teaching today, SEAMEO Regional Language Centre. Available at: file:///D:/Downloads/Richards-Communicative-Language.pdf. (accessed on 11/9/2011).

Swarbrick, A. 1993. Teaching modern languages. London: Routledge

Tarone, E. & Yule, G. 1989. Focus on the language learner, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: