Developing Thinking

By Aldridge, Jane | NATE Classroom, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Developing Thinking


Aldridge, Jane, NATE Classroom


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I have always worked on the precept that in order to do a child needs to know how. To assume knowledge is a mistake so it was a great opportunity to be given the chance to further develop my own classroom practice and focus on my teaching methods.

Wales is the only nation to have linked Assessment for Learning (AfL) with Thinking and, as far as I am concerned, the two do go hand in hand. Following a national pilot programme for developing 'AfL and Thinking' a national rollout* began during Summer 2009. Along with two other colleagues at Bryn Elian I have been part of the local implementation of this programme.

It is not, at present, a requirement that pupils have a skills-based assessment in the National Curriculum for English in Wales; however this is likely to change, building on the non-statutory skills framework which underpins the revised curriculum in Wales. We do not know the range of occupations we are preparing our pupils for; some do not even exist yet, but we do know that innovative and independent thought will help prepare our pupils for the challenges and opportunities in the future.

The 'Developing AfL and Thinking Project' is broken down into Planning, Developing and Reflecting and details how pupils may progress along individual principles in each of these three strands. To move learners along these strands teachers need to plan challenging lessons focused on developing learners' skills and independence.

The Thinking/AfL tools do require an element of trust. The teacher becomes more of a facilitator of learning rather than the fount of all knowledge; guiding the pupils to construct meanings rather than imposing pre-determined meanings on them. Risks have to be taken and mistakes allowed for--not all the tools work in the expected way. The students quickly realise that mistake-making can be an important part of the learning process.

Being part of this programme has given me the opportunity to develop and trial activities which allow students time to think and to experiment with ways of thinking, offering constant opportunities for a range of assessment techniques. The initial premise of the project was to select three key principles and three 'tools' for trialling with a group of learners. However, because it's worked so well I've been challenged and engaged to develop far beyond this initial remit. By experimenting with a variety of thinking ideas, I felt my lessons were improved and the pupils appeared to learn more effectively. The pupils gave their opinions through the informal graffiti wall (more of that later) and formal quantitative feedback. I have probably used up to ten ideas so far and would like to share a handful of the ones that the students have enjoyed the most. Experienced teachers will recognise most of these techniques--they have certainly been around for years--but they can become devalued if not given appropriate time and organisation, with due recognition of their power to stimulate and inspire discussion. The programme and context afforded by the project has given me huge appreciation of their potential and so, for the benefit of less experienced teachers and without apology, I'll describe some of the basics.

The graffiti wall

A very simple idea shown as an example of good practice at the DECELLS Conference by a primary school colleague. A visual laminated wall where pupils can place post it notes during or after class. This has been absolutely fantastic! I have used it for AfL, fast informative feedback and 'A' level students have used it to present their different ideas on a poem! As yet, all post-its have been extremely positive. The pupils like the idea of others reading their notes and, in fact, a top set Year 11 group gained a great deal from going up to the wall during a lesson on Frost's colloquial style to read what a Yr 12 group had posted about him in a previous 'AS' Level lesson. …

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