Ways to shift your thoughts up a gear

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Huw Thomas recommends books that promote thinking skills throughout primary school

Think About It! Thinking skills activities for Years 3 and 4 By Jacquie Buttriss and Ann Callander David Fulton (with the National Association for Able Children in Education) pound;14

Start Thinking: Daily starters to inspire thinking in primary classrooms By Marcelo Staricoff and Alan Rees Imaginative Minds pound;18

Visual Thinking: Tools for mapping your ideas By Nancy Marguiles and Christine Valenza Crown House Publishing pound;14.99

Teaching Thinking Skills with Fairy Tales and Fantasy By Nancy Polette Teacher Ideas Press Greenwood pound;13.99

The promotion of thinking skills in schools is a relatively new development, so new resources should offer welcome support. Between them, these four titles provide both introductory material and ideas for taking this innovation further.

Although targeted at Years 3 and 4, Think About It! provides an excellent starting point for primary teachers who are new to this field.

Its brief, two-page introduction is followed by a matrix demonstrating how thinking skills are relevant across the curriculum, making the book a useful tool for staff development.

The introduction of photocopiable "individual thinking frameworks" called Thinking Books is something of a laborious diversion from the liveliness of the rest of the title.

However, this detour is followed by termly activities for Years 3 and 4, many of them using ideas with which teachers will already be familiar, such as basic maps, logic trees and bar charts. As a teacher friend commented:

"You see, we've been doing thinking skills for yonks."

I was pleased to see the authors extending familiar activities by focusing on the specific thinking skills they foster. I don't want flashy new resources for this aspect of education. I want to explore its presence in the activities I already do. For teachers new to thinking skills this title steps onto familiar territory as a way of leading the reader to new ways of promoting thinking.

A similar path is followed by Start Thinking, a gem of a book by two teachers at Westbury Park Primary in Bristol. Again, the authors have plucked out the thinking skills development inherent in the curriculum we already teach. What's distinctive about this title is the brevity of the activities: all 15-minute starters and fillers. The authors promote the aspiration that such brief activities, undertaken little and often, will cultivate "habits of mind" in children. These activities are deceptively simple (for example, listing things with wheels) and addictively engaging.

Once you start, the task grabs your thoughts. Each activity includes prompts to further the task and an indication of the specific branch of thinking that is being developed.

Visual Thinking is a resource for working with pupils whose thinking is enhanced visually or kinaesthetically. As such it attends to the needs of a large body of the population. It was shortlisted for the 2005 NASENTES Books for Teaching and Learning award.

The authors take ideas such as the mapping of thoughts and other thinking strategies and find ways to use them in class. So instead of just explaining Edward de Bono's "Thinking Hats", they suggest that children make the hats. Their "Copy Cat's Guide to Drawing", a step-by-step guide that builds basic shapes into simple images, tackles the resistance many children have to drawing.

The ideas and images have much to offer across the school. I have used the shared goals with a child who was struggling with his behaviour, and I found the iceberg image, exploring obvious and hidden aspects of a situation, useful in staff development.

As the development of teaching thinking takes root, it needs extending to avoid becoming "just another fad". This sort of boosting of one vital strand of thinking, the visual, does just that.

Teaching Thinking Skills with Fairy Tales and Fantasy is a singularly practical book, which you might not expect from the title. Explanatory notes are kept to a minimum, with the author communicating the theory through the activities themselves. A range of activities dance between abstract and concrete thinking, taking children with them. They use traditional examples, such as "Little Bo-Peep" to provoke thoughts such as whether leaving the lost sheep alone was the best thing she could have done.

Any creative step such as is taken in this resource will have drawbacks.

There are some bland tasks that let the book down, but these are few. It's also worth noting that the book does require access to a range of children's books. While some of these are obscure, others, such as the Harry Potter books and Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, are readily available and will be familiar to many children. It's also worth noting that the activities that use more obscure titles are easily transferable to other stories.

Huw Thomas is head of Emmaus Primary School, Sheffield

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