Using Thinking Maps to support critical thinking

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Would you describe your school as a ‘thinking school’: one that highlights the importance of critical thinking as an essential part of learning?

Too often we hear dismay over a school system that values grades over growth and product over process. So, when I recently attended a ‘Thinking Maps’ training day I listened with interest to the stories of schools who use tools to explicitly highlight the thought processes involved in learning.

You may be familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy – a structure for examining the hierarchy of thinking skills. Anderson’s framework adopts a similar structure, but with some more child-friendly verbs. Teaching this sequence enables children to have ownership of their learning: to be aware of their thinking processes and have the words to talk about this.

The intention with Thinking Maps is to establish a shared visual language for critical thinking. I’ve always been interested in how sketching provides a visual hook for conversation.

As much of my work involves talking, it’s useful to establish a visual structure during conversations, to clarify our focus and capture offhand comments to return to later. Even in their scruffiest form these sketches serve as a valuable visual record of a session, which I often refer back to in conjunction with my formal case notes.

There’s a great deal of value in adding visual elements to learning. I reject the idea that ‘some people are visual learners’. This isn’t about learning ’style’. If you can see, you’re a visual learner. I have yet to come across anyone who says ‘Please don’t show me; I’m an auditory learner.’

Thinking Maps consists of 8 key structures that encapsulate key thought processes: gathering ideas, comparing, sequencing, categorising and many more.

Each map has a corresponding hand gesture; a seemingly small detail with great value. Within our large group discussions the hand gestures were a useful way for the leader to cue us in to the focus of discussion and it was a quick way for the learners to demonstrate their own thinking.

So, how will I apply Thinking Maps to my own practice? Well, the course suggested introducing each of the maps with an autobiographical element. I certainly using autobiography tools (like ‘Your Perfect Day’) to get to know children and understand their priorities and motivations, so I can see this fitting neatly in to my practice.

I’ll certainly use the sequencing map to support work on narrative skills. I’m excited by the potential of using large pieces of paper for some of my smaller children, to use real objects in conjunction with the maps. The course facilitator suggested that this type of visual language could be introduced at any age, so I plan to experiment and explore its potential.

Huge thanks to Gaby Harris, a fellow SaLT, for organising this event with Thinking Schools International.

How to Help Speech Delay

How to Help Speech Delay

All children take time to learn how to speak clearly. They go through typical periods of sounding unclear, or ‘simplifying’ difficult sounds. You might be wondering if your child is making the right sounds for their age. You might be wondering if there is anything more you can do to help them improve their speech.

In this 7.30 minute video I share five questions to help you better understand what to expect of your child’s speech and how to help their development.

I wonder: what sounds does your child find difficult? Let me know in the comments below.

P.S. Books are a great way to model sounds to your child. I shared a few of my favourites here

Featured image by Andreas Weiland on Upsplash

Before You Teach the Alphabet: helping your child be ‘school ready’

Before You Teach the Alphabet: helping your child be 'school ready'

Parents often ask me how best to introduce their child to the alphabet. Whilst it’s good to introduce children to letters, there is a lot of early sound awareness skills that are more fundamental than knowing the letters of the alphabet. Children need to notice the sounds within words so they can start applying this knowledge when exploring books or crayons.

Having a good awareness of the sounds that make up each word, understanding their structure and spotting patterns are all important early literacy skills. These sound awareness skills not only support reading and writing, but also play a part in how we learn new vocabulary.

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How to Create a Sensory Story

How to Create a Sensory Story

I’ve been using a lot of sensory stories in my work recently. These are stories that include a variety of multi-sensory interactive elements. They are a great way to provide structure and interest to a session, whilst making it possible to work on a variety of skills relevant to each child. It’s also frees us from reading every word on the page, viewing the storybook as simply the starting point for a narrative adventure.

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Adult-Child Interaction: the power of waiting

Adult-Child Interaction: the power of waiting

One aspect of being an independent Speech and Language Therapist I have particularly enjoyed is the increased time available to work with individual families. Across every area I work in I’m always struck by the importance of the interaction between adult and child. Whether targeting specific speech sounds, or encouraging the first steps of intentional communication, the way we adults engage and respond to children makes a great difference.

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A Communication Friendly Classroom

A Communication Friendly Classroom

As September draws closer, I’ve been helping husband Tom set up his classroom ready for the new school year. We’ve spent the summer sharing ideas, gathering resources and planning layouts. For a young Year 1 class we want to provide an enriching, flexible space with intriguing resources. We want to build on the free-flow exploratory learning that children experience in Reception and support transition to the more structured expectations of a Year 1 classroom. As a Speech and Language Therapist I’m interested in spaces that encourage communication, feel inviting and provide something worth talking about. Inspired by Michael Jones and Elizabeth Jarmin, we’ve been sticking to a few principles in our planning.

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Early Writing Without a Pencil In Sight

Early Writing Without a Pencil In Sight

I contributed to a joint professionals presentation on early writing. I always enjoy working as part of a multidisciplinary team; not only is it a chance to spread the word about communication needs, but also to learn from others’ expertise.

We discussed the importance of strong early steps to support later development and considered the many skills a child needs before they are ready to pick up a pencil.Read more →