Updated: Jun 25, 2021
'Learning happens when people have to think hard.'
Before reading ahead further, take out a piece of A4 plain paper. Now draw the outline of the 50p coin.
What I would first like you to do is to draw the design of the 50p coin on your piece of paper without the help of reaching for your purse or Google! Consider the images included on the face of the coin. This is not the face with the Queen's head, this is the other side of the coin.
Once you think you have included all that you remember, I would like you to consider how many times in your lifetime you think you have seen a 50p coin or indeed held one. Now have a look at a real 50p, did you include Britania's headwear, what two items are beside Britania and what items are in Britania's hands? Chances are some or lots of the detail on your 50p coin were missing from your drawing. Despite the fact that you may well have seen and held this coin for over 20 years you are still unaware of the detail of information on the coin. This is an example of being able to see information or hear information daily but not committing that information to your long term memory.
This is what can happen to children when they are 'learning.' They may appear to be learning something but are they actually taking that information in so that they can recall, understand, and apply that information at later points. In order to move information to the long term memory children need to 'think hard.' There is a fantastic national programme called 'Thinking hard' developed by Dartford Grammar School for Girls and showcased through the PiXL Club Partnership to drive all challenge for learners in the classroom. It is a high impact teaching strategy influenced by Professor Robert Coe's 2013 'Improving Education' publication. 'Thinking hard' supports the development of key 'high challenge, low preparation' habits.
There are some brilliant sources of information for the 'thinking hard' strategy but as a practitioner, I have listed below 9 quick win strategies to support the 'thinking hard' process. All are high impact teaching strategies to encourage depth of knowledge and understanding. They are also very low prep strategies that could be used by practitioners from a range of subjects and age ranges. The beauty of these low prep strategies means practitioners are able to use resources they already have, the strategies are just about the different ways these resources can be presented. They are strategies applicable to any age and any subject. I have tried to give some very generic examples next to each strategy to demonstrate how easily they can be applied to all key stages and all subject areas.
1. Reduce - Present children with information and ask them to refine this information, reduce this information into a few key important points. This way they are not simply reading or listening to information, they will then need to think hard about what elements of that information are most important when they are trying to refine the information they have been given.
2. Change/Transform - See if children can change the format of the information you give them. If you read a class of Year 3 children a story, can they present it in picture form? If you give a Year 11 a mathematical equation can they change this into a sculpture? If you give a Historical image to a Year 7 can they change this into a poem? Children will gain more understanding and insight of the information presented if they are then asked to change the way this information is presented.
3. Extend - The opposite of refining information. Can you present children with some information and ask them to expand on this. This could be through research, opinion, or extending the information given by adding more detail.
4. Error - Presenting errors in information given and children being asked to identify and amend these errors really supports the 'thinking hard' strategy.
5. Thought - Asking children to form their own opinion about something they are learning will help them achieve those Bloom's higher-order thinking skills. Generating a debate or explaining their own opinions will spark their interest and help develop their analytical and evaluative skills!
6. Senses - Engaging children's senses can be a great way to spark interest and engagement in a topic or area of study. Showing a black and white image and asking children to imagine the colours in the image, hiding information in a sensory tray, asking children to listen to a piece of music and decide what it may be about are very simple ways to involve the senses.
7. Halve the information - presenting children with half of a poem, half of a book cover or title, half of a fact and asking them to create the other half of the information is a brilliant strategy to ignite interest and get children 'thinking hard' about the half they have been given.
8. Criticise - Asking children to criticise the information given to them. Requiring logical and critical skills all reaching the higher-order thinking patterns.
9. Make connections - making connections to other areas of learning can be really tricky for children. Some practitioners and schools are great at cross-curricular learning and primary modular topics really lend itself to cross-curricular working. Children need to be able to make links between a range of topics, links to the real world, and links to other pieces of information. Asking children to connect pieces of different information together by discovering the hidden links can be an effective tool for exercising their ability to make connections and apply knowledge to different situations.