‘Going virtual’ seems the way to go these days! Due to the success of previous training days that I have run for teachers in Gloucestershire and neighbouring counties, I was asked if I would deliver a repeat of the course, but this time virtually via Zoom. The advantage of doing this is that teachers from all over the UK are able to attend and participants can interact with others beyond their immediate area. This also opens up opportunities for schools to connect with others in contrasting locations, one of the requirements of the National Curriculum geography programme of study at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3, in addition to being an effective means of broadening young people’s minds and targeting the ‘cultural capital’ aspect of Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework (EIF).
After welcoming everyone and outlining the overall aims and structure of the day, I embarked upon Session 1. In this session, individuals think about the meaning of critical thinking, view a model of critical thinking, explore practical strategies to support critical thinking in the classroom and learn how to plan and implement these practical strategies. Firstly, participants were allocated to ‘break out rooms’ and asked to define what critical thinking is, before feeding back to the whole group. I then projected a model of critical thinking and we spent some time exploring one aspect, ‘becoming better at thinking’. I steered an open discussion based around the following questions:
- Why is critical thinking so important for the context of your pupils in your school?
- What techniques do you think you can use to embed critical thinking into your teaching?
Next, I introduced delegates to a number of strategies that could be used in the classroom to promote critical thinking. These included flat chat, exploring perspectives, true for who?, asking ‘better’ questions and question generators. We had a go at each in turn and individuals contemplated how they might implement them in the context of their own school.
Rumbling tummies suggested it was time for a quick break. After fifteen minutes, we reconvened for session 2. To get us warmed up for the intensive session ahead, I invited delegates to list as many words linked to ‘critical thinking’ as they could. I then divided the group into pairs and put each into a ‘break out room’ so that they could share their lists. Pairs were amalgamated to form larger groups and then challenged to write down words associated with critical thinking for as many letters of the alphabet as they could; this is certainly easier to do for some letters than others, especially ‘X’! The following questions were later posed to the groups:
- What does this enable your pupils to do?
- How could you apply this to your planning/current scheme of learning?
Session 2 incorporates reflection upon the model of critical thinking, planning/implementation of critical thinking from session 1, more practical strategies to support critical thinking in the classroom and second phase planning and implementation of the practical strategies.
Once again, reference was made to the model of critical thinking. This session covered the two other aspects, namely ‘making better sense of information’ and ‘becoming a more open thinker’. In ‘break out rooms’, participants were given ten minutes to discuss how they have planned and implemented critical thinking into their curriculum and were encouraged to use the screen share function to showcase resources that they have developed and examples of pupils’ work. We then considered how further strategies could be used in the classroom to promote critical thinking, e.g. considering where pupils get their information from – and the significance of this; argument frameworks; controversial issues; continuum lines and silent debate. These were trialled in turn and delegates were encouraged to consider how they might implement each in the context of their own school.
After a well-deserved lunch break, we spent some time thinking about their projects and what they wanted to achieve in terms of embedding critical thinking into their context. Once again, individuals were assigned to ‘break out rooms’ so that they could share their thoughts about the school-based practice and bounce ideas off each other. We came back together and attendees were given some time to add notes to the first part of the school-based practice form and ask any remaining questions that they had. It was suggested that delegates carry out their ‘gap fill task’, attempt to complete as much of the remaining elements of the form as they can and collate sufficient evidence before we meet again for session 3.
Finally, I invited delegates to sum up the day in five words or a sentence or two. Some of their ‘concluding comments’ can be viewed below:
‘Really useful with lots of good ideas to take back to class.’
‘Lots of very useful practical activities which can be used straight away. Thanks.’
‘Thought provoking and practical. Thank you.’
‘An informative session with lots of practical ideas to take back into the classroom.’
‘Interesting and thought provoking.’
‘Interesting, inspiring, thought-provoking, practical and interactive. Thank you!’
‘I was a complete ‘newbie ‘ to this today and did not know what to expect. To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive too. However, I felt it was really useful and it was really nice to meet you all.’
‘Great practical ideas that I can actually use.’
‘Some great ideas for using critical thinking in the classroom. Looking forward to getting the children back so I can try some of these out.’
‘Practical approaches that will be useful and interesting to see the results within the classroom. Thank you!’
‘Lots of practical ideas to take back to school. Thanks.’
‘Very useful ideas. Thank you.’
‘Some useful resources to use in the near future.’
I am looking forward to hearing about delegates’ experimenting and seeing evidence of pupils’ work over the next few weeks. Day 2 will take place from 9.30 am until 2.30 pm on Wednesday 28th April. As well as reflecting upon the model of critical thinking and investigating more practical strategies to support critical thinking in the classroom, there will be an opportunity to share best practice and complete majority of the write-up about their ‘gap fill task’. In the interim, take care and stay healthy and embrace the return to full-time schooling for all!