Educational Neuroscience, Equality, and Race-informed Practices

There are hundreds of higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills that teachers can use in their classrooms.

Learning September 30, 2021

Equality and culturally responsive instruction are essential in a classroom setting. As Zaretta Hammonds points out, “For culturally and linguistically diverse students, their opportunities to develop habits of mind and cognitive capacities are limited or non-existent because of educational inequity. The result is their cognitive growth is stunted, leaving them dependent learners, unable to work to their full potential.” Teachers need to enhance their instructional strategies to reach all students. 

Sadly, educators sometimes think that students who have not had access to quality education should be encouraged to memorize basic concepts instead of learning in ways that require more complex thinking skills. It’s tempting to think that these students need approaches requiring a lower cognition level, but these more complex ways of approaching problems are exactly what they need. They need to have experiences that show them that what they learn can be applied in their daily lives. Hammonds continues by saying that “Students should not have to do rote memorization. When they do that, they leave high school with outdated skills and shallow knowledge. They can repeat words, but they cannot apply these concepts and skills to themselves and their real world. They need to be able to think critically and creatively and this needs to be accessible to all students.”

Educators are trying to close the achievement gap when they avoid pushing these students into taking cognitive risks, but they are unintentionally increasing it by creating dependent learners. If teachers are culturally responsive to teaching, they can think of it as one of their most powerful tools for helping students find their way out of the gap. As Hammond says, “A systematic approach to culturally responsive teaching is the perfect catalyst to stimulate the brain’s neuroplasticity so that it grows new brain cells that help students think in more sophisticated ways.” Thus, practice with complex thinking skills is what helps students develop stronger thinking abilities, which allows teachers to deliver instruction that is more culturally responsive.

Developing Higher-Order Thinking Skills

There are hundreds of higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills that teachers can use in their classrooms. These include design thinking, hexagonal thinking, metacognition, evaluation, criticism, judgment, inference, analysis, reasoning, comprehension, retrieval strategies, and review strategies.

One way to develop these thinking skills is through reading and writing techniques like close reading and reflective writing. Similarly, student-led activities can be helpful, activities like reciprocal teaching, peer teaching, the Socratic method, and collaborative projects. Visual techniques such as graphic organizers, mind maps, note-taking, sketches, and doodling can also be helpful. Applied learning techniques can be particularly powerful, including techniques such as project-based learning, design, construction, and blogging. Other techniques include the use of music, storytelling, nature, and humor. 

Teachers can use higher-order cognitive skills and strategies with all students. Students want to be challenged. Underprivileged students notice when educators believe in them and stretch themselves to perform up to those standards. As the famous quote says, “My teacher believed I could and so I did!”


Hammonds, 2014


Yanina Jimenez

Yanina is an SDA multigrade teacher in Illinois, Ph.D. Student at Andrews University, and author of the book Brain-friendly Teacher

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