Thinking About Thinking

Two weeks ago I chuckled all the way up the steep hill to work thanks to @tombennett71’s tweets about thinking skills. His comment that ‘every time an OFSTED Inspector mentions thinking skills a fairy in the DFES dies’ was food for thought. It’s true that no one seems to agree on a definition for ‘thinking skills’ and as such it might seem worthless to try and teach these (whatever they are) discretely. I am for creativity and individuality in the classroom above all, so teaching a set of concrete ‘thinking skills’ does seem a rather odd idea. But is it possible to look at it all a different way? It’s not about teaching them how to think – teenagers know how to do that already and in far more extraordinary ways than me!  Rather it should be about encouraging the thinking to happen in the first place. Experiments with SOLO Taxonomy have recently confirmed to me that even if we don’t consider teaching ‘thinking skills’ as a ‘thing’ in themselves we should definitely be considering how students think already and encourage them to marshal their thinking in ways that will help them progress.

Recent SOLO lessons with Y10 on went like this…
Lesson One: Define Solo.

Using the mighty @learningspy ‘s volcano model from the Clevedon Teachmeet ( available here ) the students got the hang of the idea remarkably quickly. Already well into Act Two of ‘An Inspector Calls’ (yes, I’m teaching it AGAIN) they cottoned on to the fact that they all had to at least be at the multi-structural level. Awesome. But how do we progress? Well, first we need to know where we’re going. We had a quick chat through how the SOLO levels related to the GCSE mark scheme and I asked them ‘Where do you want to be?’ The basic target was that we all wanted to improve and move towards relational thinking and we made a promise to improve by the same time next week committing to using SOLO to help.
Lesson Two: Hot Maps

I still have no idea why they’re called Hot Maps by the way…but they work!

Having been a fan of @learningspy ‘s ‘learning journey concept (read about it in his awesome book available here ) we started the next lesson by considering what we were learning. The journey displayed was supposed to show ask them to think about how Priestley’s Socialist views coloured his portrayal of each character and the effect he hoped to have on the audience of 1946. Some great creative thinking and discussion led students to make great relational links and begin to evaluate in the extended abstract even without knowing it!This then allowed greater confidence in what followed.

I then displayed the question on slide two about comparing Sheila and Birling’s views and we key worded the question with solo symbols.

1. We have to know stuff about each person’s view (multistructural)

2. We have to compare (relational)

3. We have to evaluate Priestley’s intentions (extended abstract)

Then, using a SOLO Hot Map for analysis based on the model in Pam Hook’s helpful ‘Solo Taxonomy: A Guide for Schools’ ( available here ) students set about developing ideas step by step. This methodical approach helped them to think about each stage of a point in isolation and have more chance of writing something sophisticated rather than just asserting something they knew about a character. The visual layout of boxes encouraged this and students found it easy to make their ideas better and better. A sort of super charged version of the ‘thinking maps’ we know and love. The best bit? Not once did anyone say the immortal words…’I’m stuck. I don’t know what else to write!’

The next stage was obvious….get it down in ‘proper’ writing. Students wrote an extended paragraph in answer to the question and tried to incorporate the ideas from their Hot Map. The results were great. All 24 kids had managed to demonstrate good relational thinking and some had managed extended abstract. Target no. 1 achieved!
Lesson Three: Reflecting and Target Setting

Reminding students of the question and SOLO key wording I handed back their paragraphs. These had been very lightly marked, highlighting in different colours on example of multistructural, relational and extended abstract thinking as appropriate. If a student hadn’t managed extended abstract I wrote a tip for how they could have achieved it in the same colour. Having handed them back and given students the chance to reflect we looked at SOLO verbs on slide three. From that discussion I asked them to use mini whiteboards in pairs to define what relational thinking and extended abstract thinking meant with relation to writing ‘An Inspector Calls’ essay. The results were staggering! Every pair was able to provide a specific definition for a successful essay. For example:

To reach extended-abstract thinking consider the big picture. Evaluate Priestley’s intentions and link them to the quotes you have discussed and analysed. For example, think about his opinion of community in the war and his desire to retain a more socialist outlook in England.

A discussion of key words on several boards provided an awesome focus for the lesson.

Next, students used the SOLO evaluation sheet shown on slide four to record evidence of having reached each level from multistructural upwards. This could be from my highlighted evidence or from elsewhere in their writing identified by them and discussed with me. This led to further self assessment and evaluation. Where students could not provide evidence they had to work with the others on their table to combine my hints and tips to create an example of extended abstract thinking. They wrote this in a different colour. All that done they set a target for their next essay containing at least one SOLO verb and a specific content aim. For example:

In my next essay I will evaluate the effect of Priestley writing for a 1946 audience but setting the play in 1912 and consider the effect he wanted to have on the audience with the language I have analysed from quotes.

I have never seen such confident awareness of how to improve. Of course, the proof of improvement will be in the pudding of the next essay to be set this week…but I have no reason to doubt SOLO will continue to help this middle set improve and achieve great things.

Not once in these for lessons did I tell them how to think. In fact, I told them very little at all! Nevertheless, in considering how they might hone their thinking processes (some of which were, of course subconscious to them) to allow them to demonstrate their innate skill I unleashed far better results than I might otherwise have seen. Teenagers know how to think but they sometimes need help marshalling thoughts into words and teachers much use their skills to get that thinking on the paper in all its glory!

So three cheers for SOLO and for sharing ideas! Thank you Tweachers and inspirational bloggers for breathing new life into a tired text and for helping me to give me students confidence in their own abilities.


One thought on “Thinking About Thinking

  1. What great information you provide on your blog. I have just recently started a blog in order to incoporate it into my classroom this spring, I am looking forward to incorporate more social media outlets into how I teach my course and provide extension activities.

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