#LearningFirst: The Power of Talk in Developing Children’s Higher Order Thinking Skills

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School boy in class speaking

What’s the difference between formative and summative assessment? According to Kat Schofield, you can relate the 2 neatly to Steven Covey’s ‘circle of influence’ and ‘circle of concern’.

As a teacher, summative assessment (by which we mean the SATs) is outside your circle of influence, firmly in the circle of concern: something you need to be aware of, but not something you can change. Formative assessment, however, is where you can be proactive: that lies within the circle of influence, and this is the area in which you can be creative and take action.

This framed Kat Schofield’s #LearningFirst session on ‘The Power of Talk in Developing Children’s Higher Order Thinking Skills’. She looked at ways to formatively assess in the classroom, and a number of ideas were floated, from resource mats to independent learning resource packs, but the concept which stuck with me was one of empowering children to help themselves: helping children to articulate their learning, particularly through the use of oral strategies, and helping children to use the language of learning in their conversations about their work.

...the concept which stuck with me was one of empowering children to help themselves.

The idea proposed was to use ‘sentence stems’ to help children scaffold talk about their learning, not for writing per se, though inevitably anything which can be spoken about can in turn be written about in time. The sentence stems proposed were split into categories, for example ‘language for evaluation’, ‘language for deduction’, ‘the language of reasoning’, ‘the language of hypothesis’, ‘the language of argument’, and further split by age and stage, so that when posed a question children could seek out the right types of language to use in their talk in order to have meaningful conversations about their work at the expected level.

As an example, we saw the statement: 'It is fine to keep animals in zoos. Do you agree?'. The language of reasoning which was displayed for this, and to which children could refer to build their arguments, included terms such as:

  • I think… because…
  • In my opinion… because…
  • I would argue… because…
  • I disagree because...
  • I agree because…

Another example was related to maths. We saw a question which showed the number of cakes sold each day from Monday to Sunday, with a statement saying, 'Maddie says more cupcakes were sold on Sunday than Saturday. Is this correct? Show your reasoning.' The simple answer was ‘no, three cupcakes fewer were sold’. But when the child was encouraged to self-assess their answer in the context of the ‘language of reasoning’ their answer was significantly different: ‘I disagree because I know that on Saturday 3 more cupcakes were sold than on Sunday, therefore Maddie is incorrect.’

The concept was reminiscent of Robin Alexander’s ‘Types of Learner Talk’ (Dialogic Learning, 2008) but what I particularly liked was the practical way this was translated for the classroom teacher, and the way it could be used across different subjects. Bright posters, wheels of reference, and cards displayed the ‘stems’ for children to draw on in their talk and their writing, and reinforced the message that children can be empowered to help themselves and self-assess.

The @Beyond Levels #LearningFirst workshop on ‘Perspective: research and trialling’ was delivered by Kat Schofield (Consultant, Mead Teaching School, Twitter: @PearlOchreRose).