Wednesday, 19 August 2009

From Thinking Skills to Thinking Classrooms

On my quest to find ways to further embed Thinking Skills into the practice of all the teachers in our faculty, I came across the key conclusions of the review lead by Professor Carol McGuiness from the School of Psychology at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Although the report dates back to 1999 and looks at the integration of Thinking Skills at whole school level, it is very useful to use as a rationale for action at Faculty level. Indeed, further embedding includes looking at Thinking Skills as an integrated teaching approach including creativity and collaboration rather than just a collection of discreet types of activities.

According to the report, a framework for developing thinking skills should include:

• The need to make thinking skills explicit in Schemes of Work
• Teaching thinking through student coaching
• Collaborative and ICT-based learning
• Creating “dispositions and habits of good thinking”
• Reinforcement throughout the school to move from thinking curricula to thinking classrooms and thinking schools

It was also interesting to read that ICT provides a “tool for enhancing children’s understanding and powers of reasoning through exploratory environments” like multimedia ones. Local and wide-area networked communication was also highlighted as providing “special opportunities for collaborative learning”

However, for ICT to support the develpment of Thinking Skills, there is a need to move away from the traditional ICT-based activities of drilling and practising skills such as grammar, spelling and out-of-context vocabulary recall.

• Interactive exploratory environments where students can direct their own learning through guided discovery processes are more likely to develop Thinking Skills. They encourage risk-taking and “enable pupils to hypothesise and experiment with immediate feedback”. When a competitive element is introduced, this also facilitates "discussion and reflection with peers”. Video and multi-media technology can also be used to create such environments.

• “Local and networked communication provide unique opportunities to use the language for real communication purposes as well as give a real audience and aim for a whole host of activities including surveys, presentations and other exchanges of information.

The challenge?
“Classroom which are characterised by talk and discussion and by questions and questioning need to be managed and orchestrated yet remain clearly focused on learning objectives.”
In order to get “teacher buy-in”, the benefits of developing Thinking Skills approaches will need to be clearly defined and agreed as a set of common goals such as developing collaboration or independent learning skills. The goals will also need to be carefully monitored and extra support provided if needed.

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