One of the key phrases tossed around when discussing instruction and assessment is “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” What this is is a classification system for the intellectual behaviors students will go through during learning, and therefore provides a structure for what types of understanding and ability to assess on tests.
One basis of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, as it is formally known, is that within learning some abilities are of a higher order than others. From that, we get direction on what is meant by the ‘higher-order critical thinking’ which is expected of students.
The most basic level of knowledge acquisition in Bloom’s Taxonomy is “Remembering.” The ability to memorize and remember information is, of course, crucial in learning. With a working memory of some point, “Comprehension” and “Understanding,” which are essentially the same, can happen.
With “Comprehension” secured, a student is then able to “Apply” their newly acquired knowledge. The application of knowledge can be seen in class discussion, projects and presentations, and of course, assessments.
When students are able to fully “Apply” knowledge, they then are able to fully “Analyze” that knowledge. They can employ reflective thinking to understand how and why the application of their knowledge was successful, and extrapolate further ideas. This is a significant part of critical and abstract reasoning.
Students who can “Analyze” information can move a step further and “Evaluate” it. Evaluation that gauges the validity of a scientific theory or claim in a piece of literature shows discernment amongst information that constitutes critical thinking.
Lastly, with all these bases secured, students are able to “Create” original works and form original ideas using their solid new knowledge. It is hard to say that all these steps absolutely must occur in this order, but indeed, the act of creation and the act of memorizing something are not the same, and are of different orders.