Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

HOTS Revisited: A Thinking Development Approach to Reducing the Learning Gap after Grade 3

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

HOTS Revisited: A Thinking Development Approach to Reducing the Learning Gap after Grade 3

Article excerpt

Mr. Pogrow, creator of HOTS, updates readers on the past 10 years' worth of research on the program's effectiveness. The findings, he believes, make clear not only what conditions are necessary for this unique intervention to succeed but also why other reforms have not significantly reduced the achievement gap.

THE PASSAGE of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 marked the beginning of a federal commitment to provide supplementary help in basic skills directly to disadvantaged students. The funds were used to reteach the concepts that the students had not learned the first time and to continue to reteach them, in essentially the same way, until the money ran out. As simplistic as the idea was, this targeted help reduced the achievement gap substantially between 1965 and 1988. However, a large gap still remained in 1988, the amount of reduction seemed to be leveling off, and the benefits seen in the early grades did not appear to carry over very substantially into the later grades.

As a result, Title I policy switched course after 1988 to use the funds to improve the school as a whole. It was believed that an improving school would disproportionately benefit its disadvantaged students. In addition, the focus was on using (supposedly) research-validated, one-size-fits-all comprehensive reform models.

So what happened? After 1988, the achievement gap began to widen again, so that by 1999 the white/black gap in reading for fourth-graders had reverted to what it had been in 1975, and the gap was only slightly smaller between white and Latino students. This reversal of progress meant that by 2003 approximately half of the minority students in the eighth grade were reading below basic levels, and only about 13% were proficient in reading. (1)

Running counter to these dismal trends were the findings from the HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) program. Fifteen years ago, an article about HOTS appeared in this journal. (2) This article updates the findings published then.


The HOTS program was started 25 years ago in the belief that educationally disadvantaged students (Title I and learning disabled) were bright and that the top priority for supplemental aid for these students should be to help them channel that innate intelligence into learning at a higher level. The students were treated as intellectually "gifted." The goals of the intervention were to increase thinking and socialization skills in ways that simultaneously increased test scores and overall academic performance--all without extra drill or teaching to the test. HOTS was also designed to work in the years after grade 3, when progress from earlier interventions dissipates, gaps rewiden, and disadvantaged students fall increasingly farther behind. The program was eventually adopted on a large scale, in approximately 2,600 schools, serving approximately half a million disadvantaged students.

The approach HOTS took from the beginning was to generate a very creative and intensive conversational environment. This approach was taken because the amount of conversation at home varies dramatically with economic status. A study of home discussion patterns among attentive parents found that working-class parents made half as many statements to their young children per hour as professional-level parents and that welfare parents made half as many statements to their young children as working-class parents. Reduced levels of home conversation not only resulted in more limited vocabularies for low-income students when they entered school, but also stunted their ability to process ideas. We find that this cognitive inhibition primarily shows up as a limiting factor for low-income students after third grade, when the curriculum becomes more integrative--regardless of how well the students have done earlier. This research also showed that children exposed to higher levels of parental conversation did better on a measure of developmental I. …

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