Thinking Skills: Bridging into English
Tony Hickling (Head of Language and Aesthetic
Studies, Dalton Middle School)
For the past year, as Language and AAS Co-ordinator, I have taken a
supportive role in the Thinking Skills lessons (TSL): helping individuals
and small groups with their various tasks; making observational notes
about individual children, but chiefly looking for possible links between
these lessons and the English and Art lessons I take with this same
class of Year Six children.
The Thinking Skills programme
has added a new dimension to the way(s) these children approach learning,
not only because it is activity based, but because it provides a range
of situ-ations which encourage precision in their speaking and critical
listening. The children show confi-dence in varied situations and are
developing a clarity of expression which must help their learn-ing strategies
in other subjects. Their ideas tend to be better organised, sustained
speaking takes place regularly and the children have a greater appreciation
of whether or not information is relevant to the task they are completing.
These same characteristics have been evident in other English lessons,
particularly in situations requir-ing the presentation of opinions where
supporting reasons have to be given, in work lending itself to a dramatic
interpretation and in tasks where opportunities are provided to read
aloud with expression. Writing based on interaction between characters,
in both realistic and imaginary settings, has been dynamic, showing
a better under-standing of how people relate or fail to relate to each
other. Although divergent ideas have sur-faced in much of their personal
writing, when opinions have been expressed contrary to the general feeling
of the group, the pupils have been ready to modify their opinions and
have been more willing to accept non-conventional theories.
Specific terms used in TSL
have been applied in my own lessons and it has been interesting to observe
the pupils, typically in more open-ended work, automatically approach
it in a more critical, individual manner, providing quality ideas with-out
teacher prompting and didactic teaching methods. This interaction, although
occasionally difficult to monitor and control, has teased out many surprises
which without the pupils' personal confidence and an ease with language
and ideas would possibly never have materialised. Less aca-demic children
have also responded more positively in English and Art lessons; although
their level of concentration has not been as sustained as their brighter
I have used the following English/Art lessons based on the strategies
and linked to the materials used in the Thinking Skills programme.
on two series of stills from cinema film which have then been sequenced
and analysed with particular reference to the technical devices applied
in film making and to how they compare to methods used in narrative
writing. Scenes from the film 'Great Expectations' were used to explore
a. the devices used to highlight weakness and strength and b. the language
of mood, atmos-phere, characterisation and stereotype - 'the ones with
big noses always play baddies'.
stereotypes with real photographs of people as the main resource.
Here the children have been presented with visual material demon-strating
how stereotypes are presented to us in our culture, particularly through
the media. The aim has been to encourage the children to be more conscious
of how unreliable surface appear-ances can be and how groups and individuals
can be damaged through crude stereotyping.
a traffic accident situation where the children based their hypotheses
on the evidence available, eventually compiling a dossier of writ-ten
reports in which they not only produced descriptive writing, but explained,
with reasons, how they would apportion the blame.
painted portraits in which the chil-dren were required to express
their preferences and to reach conclusions about the different mean-ings
these pictures portray, and what meanings and explanations can be read
into them. The various pictures reflect different methods of work-ing
which have also been discussed. This explores the language of visual
symbols, media, emotion and context, by studying the use of pattern,
feature and colour to depict the picture e.g. look-ing at the abstract
mood symbols in the back-ground of a Picasso portrait.
photographs of an actual event/situation with no verbal clues. In groups,
the children decided what had happened, predicted what happened next
and discussed the likely consequences to the characters involved.
a play (in small groups) which was based on one of the naturalistic
situations in the STC programme. All the children took on differ-ent
characters and invented characters to recreate the scene 'murder in
the garden'. This emphasised the importance of precision and clarity
in language when analysing data and hypothesising about the course of
In Art the project is helping
the children focus on the more contemplative aspects of this subject,
giving them ideas to help promote more varied types of verbal communication,
rather than just a series of practical sessions.
As far as fulfilling the
requirements of the National Curriculum is concerned, the Thinking Skills
programme, supplemented by/with the lessons mentioned, has certainly
provoked results that match the levels described towards the upper end
of the scale within the Speaking and Listening component.
Overall the Thinking Skills
provided the children with a wide range of verbal skills that enables
them to tackle other curricular areas in a more consistent, structured
and yet precise and divergent way.
Taken from SCEA Bulletin No: 29 Autumn 1990