Well, it was back to the recently refurbished and superb Gloucestershire Heritage Hub today; this time to deliver Day 1 of the British Council Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning: Critical thinking and problem solving course, as opposed to steering a Primary Humanities Network meeting. This was the first time that I have delivered such training in Gloucester, so it was good to have a familiar venue and see a few faces that I knew.
Two days of FREE CPD are provided by the British Council Connecting Classrooms initiative, which all local professionals with a geography or global learning interest should grab with open arms! Further insight into the course can be gleaned from the following web-link (https://connecting-classrooms.britishcouncil.org/courses/critical-thinking-problem-solving) or insert below:
Day 1 is comprised of four sessions.
The first session began with a formal welcome, introductions and a brief overview of the CCGL programme and format of the course. We then thought about critical thinking in some depth; what is it, what is the difference between critical thinking and just thinking, why is it important, key features of critical thinking taken from different sources and a model for critical thinking.
The second session focused on one dimension of the model of critical thinking discussed earlier (‘becoming better at thinking’). After a short introduction, including emphasis on the importance of understanding the extent of students’ knowledge and their feelings and values at the start of a new lesson or topic to discover their perspective, I set up a ‘flat chat’. In this activity, participants worked in small groups. On the sheet of paper placed in front of them, there was a question ‘What is India like?’, which they had to answer using words and phrases and in silence (not easy for a group of teachers once they got together it seemed!). Having added items to their group’s sheet, they then moved around the room and contributed responses or posed further questions to the content on other groups’ sheets, again in silence. On returning to their original place, I led a discussion, where we considered the following:
- Why is this a useful technique to use in the classroom?
- How else would you use it?
- What might it improve?
- How might it form part of a wider strategy?
- What did you learn about perceptions/experiences of India?
- What might explain the difffering views?
Delegates interacted really well and were forthcoming with contributions. Every time I deliver this training, the subsequent discussions always enlighten me, either about current issues faced in the classroom or aspects of India.
Folowing a short break for refreshments, I showed a short movie clip, taken from BBC Panorama back in 1957 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVo_wkxH9dU), which included the famous hoax segment about the spahetti harvest. Afterwards, many people apparently telephoned the BBC asking how to grow or where to buy a spaghetti tree! Viewers believed it as it was shown on the BBC. We thought about what made this sound creditable and the message that it gives about trusting sources of evidence.
Palm oil was the focus for our next activity. Working in small groups, delegates had to reference a number of statements in order to help them answer the question, ‘Is palm oil a bad thing?’. In the de-brief that followed, we considered how we approached this task, as well as the responses that may arise due to differing roles in society. As teachers, we generally find it fairly straight-forward to tackle such activities, since we have structures on which to ‘hang’ our thinking. This is not the case among students; therefore, it is important for teachers to provide opportunities in the classroom for students to develop these structures for themselves.
Next, it was time for some serious reflection; questions about questioning! I displayed the following questions onto the large screen and asked participants to discuss them in their small group:
- Who asks the most questions in your classroom?
- Do you ask questions that you do not know the answer to?
- Is it better to ask questions that encourage students to think quickly or to think deeply?
- Does asking higher cognitive questions have more of an impact than lower cognitive questions?
After feeding back their thoughts, I projected examples of questioning techniques, as well as playing a short movie clip where Dylan Wiliam discusses ‘pose; pause; pounce and bounce’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMBsTw37eaE) in some detail. We identified the techniques that we use the most and shared scenarios when questioning has been successful/unsuccessful and, in the latter instance, what we might have done to make it more effective.
A slide with data about life expectancy (1960-2016) in several countries of the world was displayed on the large screen. Individuals were given a minute or two to look at it, before being requested to write down the first question that they would like to ask relating to it. When they read out their questions, there was only one that did not begin with ‘who, what, where, when, why or how?’. True geographers in the making! I suggested that they used the ‘questions for critical thinking’ handout from their pack to help them generate two structured questions that had not been thought of already. I also linked to the ‘questions generator’ sheets here, explaining how it works and the wide range of sources that it can be applied to. Teachers really liked this activity and could see how they might use it in the classroom. In fact, many have decided to base their projects around this technique. I brought this session to a close with a movie clip in which Ted Wragg talks about improving teacher questioning (https://youtu.be/ffP9ocNQ6SU).
The third session investigated the second dimension of the model of critical thinking (‘making better sense of information’). I began by showing quite a lengthy, although somewhat humorous, clip of Hans Rosling (author of ‘Factfulness‘) leading a human development quiz with an audience comprised of university students. Afterwards, his son discussed the results of the quiz, highlighting how are perceptions can clearly influence our thinking (http://forms.gapminder.org/s3/test-2018). We then used what we had learnt in the previous movie clip to critically evaluate a graph ((http://joannenova.com.au/2009/05/shock-global-temperatures-driven-by-us-postal-charges/). Here, delegates had to consider the importance of the evidence and where their beliefs actually come from. Some detected a link between the USA’s growing economy, wealth, postal charges and emissions. The source was a spoof website and I took this opportunity to remind participants that the science behind climate change is now largely settled; however, it continues to be a fertile source of fake news.
I posed a question to the audience: ‘What do we mean by developing countries?’. I was not too bothered by the answer, but more interested in how they attempted to gain the information to answer the question. Very few reached for their mobile phones (probably as there was no Wi-Fi in this section of the building); most turned to others on their table for confirmation. The aim was to provide a link to the next slide, which asked teachers to think about two questions in their small group:
- Where do your pupils get their information from?
- Where would you like them to get their information from?
Groups divided the large sheet of paper that they were given into two and noted their thoughts. During our discussion, it was clear that there was consensus between groups. The importance of first-hand experiences was recognised and we talked about the sad reality of some children not having parents/carers who have the enthusiasm or means to take them to places, even within their locality. The significance of teachers was mentioned too and the lack of regard that they receive from society as a whole in this country today. We shared ways to encourage pupils to look at evidence more critically, e.g. comparing information by accessing three sources; in addition to instigating a culture of asking the right questions.
So, when is an argument not an argument? In order to demonstrate the important distinction between argument as disagreement and argument as a structured line of reasoning (with strong links to achievement and core literacy), I showed a Monty Python clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohDB5gbtaEQ&t=31s). It certainly provoked a few smiles and laughs from the audience! We then looked at the two arguments frames provided in the participant pack and discussed what we liked and disliked about them and how we may adapt/change them. Delegates selected a proposition (Mumbai is a wonderful city/Palm oil is a bad thing/Is David Lammy right to say that images such as these ‘perpetuate tired and unhelpful stereotypes?) and used one of the frames to develop their argument. We also referred to the ongoing debate about the use of celebrities to front certain campaigns, such as Comic Relief. Those teaching Upper Key Stage 2 and above could really see how such frames could be useful to integrate into their lesson planning.
As attendees had worked exceptionally hard, they were rewarded with a lunch of freshly prepared sandwiches, ‘posh’ crisps, a fruit platter and a selection of home-made cakes from the nearby Roots Community Cafe. The half hour break provided time to eat and drink, as well as chat with other delegates. I also managed to answer several more specific geography- and history-related queries that delegates had.
After lunch, we embarked upon the final session, which was largely devoted to project preparation. Teachers heeded advice from previous participants of the CCGL programme and glanced at examples within the ‘Critical thinking in practice’ booklet. We viewed the document that they need to complete during Day 2 and discussed how they might evaluate the ‘impact’ of their proposed activity. Later, I tried to circulate around the room and spend some time with each individual, so that I gained further insight into their project.
Before too long, it was time to draw the day to a close. Delegates were asked to complete the evaluation sheet that had been distributed around the room and I quizzed them about what they had learnt/what they had to take away with them from Day 1 of the course. Since there was no Wi-Fi, I was unable to show the movie clip of the Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, speaking as planned; this tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. I encouraged all to watch it in their own time at home as it is incredibly enlightening.
At the end of the day, it was time for me to read their evaluations and reflect upon the event. Judging by their thoughts and comments (a few of which can be found below), I think it is fair to say that everyone had been inspired in some form or another.
What one aspect of this event did you find the most useful, and why?
‘The variety of classroom activities to promote critical thinking.’
‘All the practical strategies and teaching methods.’
‘Advice on questioning in class.’
‘Fabulous resources, websites, etc.’
‘Emma’s delivery/use of really well resourced and prepared information and knowledge.’
‘The resource ideas and practical application to the classoom.”The practical tasks to embed my own learning.’
‘All of it! Fantastic source of ideas and recommendations of useful resources.’
‘Learning more about critical thinking and the strategies that we can use to develop critical thinking in children across the key stages.’
What one aspect would have improved this event, and why?
‘More activities to promote critical thinking in KS1.’
‘Application of critical thinking in other subjects.’
‘Not on a Friday!’
Do you feel that the learning outcomes for this course have been met? If not, please explain why.
‘Yes and more!’
‘Yes, and in such a clear way. It exceeded my expectations and alleviated my fears about the myths of global concepts/critical thinking.’
‘Very excited to try out my lesson and see how I can assess improvement in critical thinking.’
‘This course has really made me think. I really like the fact that I can apply it across the curriculum. I am excited to take the ideas forward. Thank you!’
‘A really informative and thought-provoking session.’
‘A very informative day. Fabulous in every way!’
‘I thoroughly enjoyed the course today and got a lot out of it.’
‘Thank you for yesterday, it was a great day.’
‘It was a fab day – thank you so much, Emma.’
I look forward to seeing evidence of and hearing all about their critical thinking and problem solving activities in school on 31st January 2020; you never know, I may pick up a few new ideas for use in the classroom or during CPD events myself! Good luck everyone!
Thanks also to all at the Gloucestershire Heritage Hub for ensuring that everything went smoothly and to those at Roots Community Cafe for providing us with a delicious lunch.