Developing children’s thinking in classrooms has surfaced as a national priority in many countries around the world. Thinking — in one form or another — now features in national curriculum frameworks in the UK and elsewhere. While educational policy in the devolved nations in the UK has become more differentiated, there is a common emphasis on enhancing the quality of children’s learning and thinking. Thus, schools and teachers are constantly seeking to identify what kinds of thinking are worth teaching and what methods are most likely to succeed. This handbook outlines the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of teaching thinking for primary school children. Written by a team that, for the past 25 years or so, has been at the forefront of research on developing children’s thinking, teacher professional development and classroom practice, the expertise runs deep.
This handbook draws on the experience of a family of cognitive intervention programmes, called ‘cognitive acceleration’. The ideas for cognitive acceleration originate from the well-researched models of cognitive development and teaching methods that are based on the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky. The earlier intervention programmes within this tradition, CASE and CAME, were designed for older pupils (11- to 14-year-olds). In contrast, this handbook is a companion for the series of programmes that can be used from early years to upper primary classrooms. To complement the original emphasis on science and mathematics, the primary programmes now include a new focus on thinking through literacy.
A significant contribution of the handbook is how clearly it articulates the principles behind cognitive acceleration and how they fit into the wider concerns of the primary curriculum. Teachers and schools are often overwhelmed by the multiple demands of curriculum reform. Seeing how different pieces fit into the wider picture creates coherence and consistency in classroom practice. Another important contribution is the rich lesson examples and the manner in which classroom practices are described. The voices of teachers and children are clearly heard. And lastly, there are significant lessons about teacher development and implementation.
The resource will be welcomed by all primary teachers who want to understand about children’s thinking and how to teach it well. For those teachers who are already familiar with cognitive acceleration, their current practice will be affirmed and the handbook can act as an excellent reference for renewing and extending what they currently do. For teachers who are new to teaching thinking, or to cognitive acceleration, the handbook provides a principled approach which is well-explained, justified and exemplified.
Teaching thinking successfully is like solving a puzzle; it is more difficult than is sometimes realised. Several pieces of the puzzle need to be in place — models of children’s thinking and its development, lesson designs, a pedagogical approach, evidence of an impact on children’s learning, teacher and school development, as well as an educational policy direction that promotes thinking in classrooms or, at least, does not create barriers. If any of the pieces are missing, the puzzle does not get solved. As well as acting specifically as a companion for cognitive acceleration in primary schools, the component parts of the handbook serve to remind us of what is required more generally for successful educational reform.
Professor of Psychology Queen’s University Belfast