Alison Shorer

Bringing psychology research to classroom practice

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metacognition teacher training

Thinking, metacognition and birdsong – how are they alike?

Written by Alison Shorer

Thinking is like bird song. Its rich cacophony flows through your mind but when you identify each song there is amazing clarity and understanding. The brain has many thoughts flowing through – naming the thoughts is like identifying the individual birdsong.

Imagine you can do this with your thoughts. Imagine how helpful this would be for your clarity of thinking. Imagine how empowering it would be for learners to be able to identify their thoughts. Imagine how helpful it would be to know what type thinking a teacher is asking a learner to do.

Thinking and birdsong

So, as I learn to identify birdsong I feel that I have opened up another world of understanding. This epiphany can happen too with thoughts. The metacognition programme written by Roger Sutcliff, who co-created Dialogue Works, does exactly this. Sutcliffe has identified and named all the possible thoughts and tried and tested them with many colleagues, philosophers and anyone who is willing to challenge him.

Thinking Moves

After many years of teaching and promoting oracy for learning, this was the missing piece of the puzzle for me. The fact that you can adopt the method straight away and blend it with your teaching is a game-changer. Once you learn the 26 thinking moves, and yes, they are easy to learn, you can introduce them slowly to your learners as you go.

Think back

The easiest one to start with is “think back” as you can open your lesson with think back to yesterday and we are going to use this to do today’s task. Another easy one to use is “Zoom” and this can be used as zoom in or zoom out. You can ask your learners to focus on one particular aspect or detail, but then you can zoom out and look this objectively and where this fits into the larger scale of the context. This type of thinking relates to the work of Socrates and Plato who used Particulars and Universals to discuss the ontology of the world in his works The Republic. So, these are not new ways to think.

Thinking move – Zoom

Think about how useful it is to learn how to zoom out and see the bigger picture. This is part of critical thinking and helps get a perspective on bias. It helps the thinker places it within a larger context and opens up questions about who else is in that context that hasn’t been represented there. Why were they not represented? Or, what history is missing from the story? Stepping out and looking down at what you have been zooming into is a powerful thinking tool. Just remember how many times you have been down a rabbit hole before realising it is a dead-end or you have gone a different way or something has been overlooked. And on the topic of “over-looking”, this can be avoided with the zooming out thinking move and even better, lots of learners zooming out.

Thinking in a group

This is what we call collaborative thinking. Those of you who are familiar with philosophy for children and practice philosophical teaching will know the power of thinking together for learning. But now there is the research to support what those of you have long suspected but could not prove – that thinking as a group helps build knowledge, opinion, ideas and oracy skills because it creates neuro-genesis. The work of Hannah Critchlow a neuroscientist from University of Cambridge has researched ECG patterns of learners and found that new brain connections are created when there is stimulating dialogue. As with all professional practice pedagogy needs to be supported by credible research and this is it for me. It also reinforces my belief that inter-disciplinary thinking is needed and that psychology research should inform practice in education.

The Thinking Moves A-Z makes metacognition simple. I have only introduced you to a few and there are many more for your learners to use. Get in touch with me to find out how I can bring this metacognition programme to your teachers. I offer CPD teacher training as online twilights and INSET in-person training days.

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