In Defense of Tall Poppies: A Middle School Approach to Higher Order Thinking

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Delores B. Gallo


There is a quiet crisis in gifted education today as a result of both conflicting social values and the failure of our schools to exert leadership on behalf of its most intellectually talented students. This paper presents an analysis of this quiet crisis as a political issue, one which derives from social conflicts deeply rooted in our American Culture. Following that it describes one town's attempt to overcome the crisis by giving its students curricula based on critical and creative thinking skills, also often referred to in literature as higher order thinking skills. The paper includes an overview of contemporary theory and research on using higher order thinking skills and a multiple intelligences approach to curriculum differentiation, as well as a description of and rationale for the proposed educational intervention. An organization framework is included in the form of a sequential action plan which is designed to work within the structure of the existing middle school while providing continuity of service to identified students It includes teaching strategies, assessment techniques and summaries of nine Curriculum units, as well as samples of student responses and possible resources from the pilot program 'mm-unit. Following a review of current literature on the need for differentiation, various approaches to differentiation are presented, including an emphasis on higher order critical and creative thinking skills and various methods appropriate for middle schools use. The sequential and simultaneous approach of this authentic and on going intervention is a key feature of this paper. A case study approach of my efforts to affect change for this special needs population at both the state and local levels is included, along with suggested mini-units which infuse various appropriate higher order thinking skills and appeal to multiple intelligences. A set of recommended teaching strategies with specific samples from "Philosophy Alive," a pilot curriculum unit designed to provide a genuine challenge for high-ability students, is also included. This paper concludes by presenting a summary of the current progress and future direction of the field of gifted education in the State of Massachusetts today.


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