Developing Thinking Skills

Looking back to when I first started teaching, it has been interesting to reflect on the differing priorities and interests that I have pursued professionally during my teaching career. Some have fallen by the wayside and some have persisted and developed over time. One of the things that has persisted is my interest in developing students thinking skills and their level of metacognition.

When I first started teaching I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to complete a Masters level action research project with the Institute of Education, London. In the course, we learnt about the importance of action research in improving classroom practise. We then looked at how to design an action research project before being invited to carry out our own research in our classroom. At this point, I took the opportunity to pursue my interest in thinking skills and metacognition in a more structured fashion and designed an action research project to look into this. I started by designing a series of posters (which I have now sadly lost) linked to the thinking skills that the National Curriculum for England identified as being important for students to develop. You can access an archive of the original document here, the thinking skills were:

Information-processing skills – These enable pupils to locate and collect relevant information, to sort, classify, sequence, compare and contrast, and to analyse part/whole relationships.

Reasoning skills – These enable pupils to give reasons for opinions and actions, to draw inferences and make deductions, to use precise language to explain what they think, and to make judgements and decisions informed by reasons or evidence.

Enquiry skills – These enable pupils to ask relevant questions, to pose and define problems, to plan what to do and how to research, to predict outcomes and anticipate consequences, and to test conclusions and improve ideas.

Creative thinking skills – These enable pupils to generate and extend ideas, to suggest hypotheses, to apply imagination, and to look for alternative innovative outcomes.

Evaluation skills – These enable pupils to evaluate information, to judge the value of what they read, hear and do, to develop criteria for judging the value of their own and others’ work or ideas, and to have confidence in their judgements.

Once these posters were created, I would share with the students a thinking starter at the beginning of each school day.

Screenshot 2019-05-05 at 16.51.10

This is an example of a thinking starter I would use. If you click on the image you can download a pdf of  a few examples I have created.

The students would then use Think-Pair-Share before we would discuss the students responses as a class. After this, we would then have a discussion about which type of thinking skill the students predominantly used. The whole process took about 10 minutes and the idea was to help the students to become more aware of their own thinking. Over time, the students became confident with identifying the type of thinking skill they were using and could begin to identify which type of thinking they would need to use for a specific type of thinking starter. Then throughout the curriculum we would often discuss the type of thinking the students would need to use for a specific task.

Did it work? It was hard to say for certain. However, I do know that the students enjoyed this start to the day and that the development of students thinking skills along with the awareness into how they think is something that I have continued to consider a core aspect in my role as an educator. For more information about developing students thinking skills I have found these sites act as a good starting point:

Harvard Project Zero Visible Thinking

Visible Thinking Website

What do you do to develop students thinking skills? What do you do to develop students metacognition? Have you found a way to assess the level of students metacognition? Please leave your comments in the box below.

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