Focus on..... Thinking skills tools

Sharing ideas for teaching for progress

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Over the past few weeks we have been focussing more on our students' attitudes rather than behaviours in the classroom. Our purpose for this is to produce more independent, resilient learners. “Growth Mindset” in schools has been widely publicised this year with more schools adopting a lot of its beliefs. I have promoted it before but Carol Dweck does some amazing things on the subject and I urge you to look at it.

This brings me to the power of YET. I have been using this word more and more since the introduction of our attitudes to learning descriptors were introduced. When I hear a student say I can’t do this, I shout out 'YET! It has become a bit of a mantra now and joke in my classroom that some of the students have started saying it before me. I am trying to get my students to understand that it's ok to find things hard and that at the beginning of a task it is meant to be difficult. If it was easy and simple then what’s the point of doing it. The word YET allows them to understand that with some research and development of tasks, they will in the end be able to do the work. Please give it a go, it is a really powerful word to use, as we try to give our students more skills to solve difficult tasks. I hope you enjoy the issue as it shows that we are trying more independent tasks in our classrooms.


Matt Maher

The power of yet | Carol S Dweck | TEDxNorrköping

Recent CPD

Recently, Carol and Emma showed us further strategies on Thinking Skills. We were asked to choose two ideas and put them into action in our own subject areas within lessons. Here is just a small selection of the fantastic work undertaken by all the teachers. We all need to continue to provide challenge for our learners in these ways, to encourage them to become independent learners.

Sarah Hatton - Science marketplace activity

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Topic - the uses of radioactivity (year 10)

Pupils were asked to split into 8 groups, randomly selected. They were given information on the 8 uses of radioactivity and asked to prepare a poster to teach other groups.

After the production of the poster they then had to nominate teachers/collectors to share the information. Collectors were asked to go back to their group's teacher and teach them about the different uses.

How successful?

  • Pupils were engaged and completed the task. Using the timer injected pace and regular warnings meant that stragglers caught up.
  • The pupils who were teachers were not really taught by their collectors, mostly they copied information rather than being taught. From this, we learn we'd need to model the role of the teacher prior to the marketplace activity.

Jim Clarkson - History donut!

Topic - the development of drugs (Ehrlich and Domagk) with Year 9

How successful?

Jim thought the donut activity was good, however he had a few concerns about the actual amount that the students taught each other during this task. Also the task was quite time consuming. Clearly Jim feels the activity needs some further development, although the pupils found it useful!

What the pupils said:

"I think the donut technique was successful and we all had our own part in the writing."

"It was a good technique because we interacted with other people."

"I think it is a really good idea because it helps me and others revise."

"It was a quick way to put information together (as a group), although maybe leave a bit of time so that we can discuss the information as I fully understand the section I did, but didn't get a lot on the ones the others did."

Clare Rowley - Food Venn diagram

Year 8 created Venn diagrams

Venn diagrams were used to consider the main features of organic farming, plus the reasons for choosing organic vegetables.

Lower ability students used key words. Higher ability wrote in full sentences.

Possible improvements Clare would make:

  • Use images instead of words.
  • On reflection the work was too wordy to fit into the Venn.
  • Perhaps a bigger middle section on the Venn required.

The English department worked on Fox's Thinking Tool.... amongst other techniques

Laura Bailey used Fox's for Year 11 revision

How successful? Laura said "Very. I changed pairs for the final circle, which also worked really well. I wouldn't improve this technique as it worked well."

Steve Small used Fox's with 11-1

Used with 'To Kill a Mockingbird' - each student was given a minor character to revise as a pre-lesson homework. They had to pinpoint where their minor character appeared in the text and note down characterisation and quotations plus mention on the right hand side of the page the effect on the reader.

Steve thought that this was 'ideal for a 20 minute revision activity, with the sum of the group's ideas 'out performing' the mark scheme suggestions.

It also highlighted any gaps in knowledge ahead of exams.

Mark Richards used Fox's for revision with 11-2

Mark said that this was very successful. Students were extremely focused on the individual section and this led to excellent discussions on tables and in feedback to the whole class.

This was used to create a comprehensive set of revision notes for students.

To build on this in the future Mark would have done a plenary with the information gained.

James Richardson utilised Fox's and the donut wheel with Year 10

James concluded that this was very successful as students came up with some really intelligent ideas about various characters in Macbeth about plotting the murder of Duncan.

James would improve this technique by using the dice plenary.

Carol Jones used a diamond 9 in Business Studies

Carol said this idea worked very well with pupils in pairs.

Students had to prioritise the top 3 choices of financial methods of motivation. They then had to justify their choices.

Carol would improve this by giving students more time for prioritising. Students could be reminded to explain why they haven't chosen other methods.

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Jo Lawton tried an Odd One Out task

Jo said that the success came when pupils were able to discuss and refresh their understanding of the topics of methods of motivation.

Next time the Year 9 pupils could write their responses first onto whiteboards before sharing with the class.

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Carly Highfield used a mystery in Mathematics

Carly asked students to identify a murderer, victim, location, place and time using a data sheet.

The task was very successful with pupils fully engaged. This task also promoted healthy competition.

To improve Carly would add challenge by reducing the subject knowledge prior to the mystery and increase the independent research.

Try this... Cash in - thinking skills tool

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This idea from the excellent Chris Curtis on his blog

He says:

Stick your head on a recognisable bank note (various websites allow you to do this easily). Give each group of students a bank note and then explain that they can only cash in the note for 5 minutes of your time at any point in the lesson.

This works brilliantly as I've heard conversations about cashing in the money for my time. These went like "no, not now, we need to do this later when we...." This was fantastic because it showed that they were beginning to look ahead and work together, planning as a group.

Have a go at this in form time or to get to know students a little better....

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Thanks to ASTsupportAAli for this via Twitter.