Using Thinking Maps to support critical thinking

School girl writing on a chalkboard

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.

Doodles in notebook

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.’

Doodles in notebook with map behind

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.

ASLTIP Conference 2018

Notepad open with notes from ASLTIP Annual Conference 2018

I invariably make a scruffy entrance to a conference. As I choose to travel by bike rather than Tube I have to deal with helmet hair and a quick outfit change in the loo before collecting my delegate’s name badge.

Saturday’s annual conference for Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice was no exception: I arrived at the central London venue feeling refreshed from my ride and ready to make the most of a day filled with professional development and colleague conversations. With a new venue, new nominees for the Board and a large number of non-members (aka prospective members!) I approached this year’s conference with interest.

It was tough to choose which talks to attend, particularly with such a variety of interesting topics. So I appreciated the tweets of others across the day, serving as a sneak peek in to the variety of presentations going on. (You can check out the conversation on Twitter using #ASLTIP18). There were some interesting themes that cropped up across the day, including service development, use of digital technology and campaigning for those who need our support.

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Intensive Interaction and the Art of Being

Intensive Interaction and the Art of Being

Last week I found myself lying on the floor, looking up at Phoebe (not her real name) while she reached for my mouth. She laughed, enjoying the buzzing sound as I hummed against her open palm. In our therapy sessions we often play with stories and songs, taking turns with sounds and gestures. We usually sit on the floor, but lying down was a new ‘low’ for me. It was worth the shift. I was amazed by how positioning myself below Phoebe’s gaze made her so much more attentive.

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Empty Space: giving children room to grow

Child with sandals standing on deck

Last week I left our little town by the sea to attend London’s Nursery World conference. I had the privilege of listening to the Director and Atelierista of Reflections Nursery; a beautiful setting inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to early education, with no small dash of Danish forest school action.

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