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ThinkingSkillsintheEarlyYears:

AGuideforPractitioners

GWalsh,PMurphyandCDunbarincollaborationwith
theEYEcepteam
Correspondence:
GlendaWalsh
StranmillisUniversityCollege
StranmillisRoad
BELFAST
BT95DY
Tel:02890384432
Fax:02890664423
Email:g.walsh@stran.ac.uk

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
TheauthorswishtothankthesponsorsfromtheNorthernIrelandCouncilfor
Curriculum,AssessmentandExaminations(CCEA).Ourgreatestdebtofgratitude
isowedtotheteachers,principalsandaboveallthechildrenwhocombinedso
agreeablytomakethestudyamostinterestingandenjoyableexperienceand,
withoutwhom,theprojectwouldnothavebeenthesuccessitwas.

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

EXECUTIVESUMMARY
ThinkingSkillsandPersonalCapabilitiesisanintegralfeatureoftheFoundation
StageCurriculum(CCEA,2007),whichistobecomearequirementinallYear1
classroomsfromSeptember2007andinallYear2classroomsinthesubsequent
schoolyear.ThisreportwascommissionedbytheCCEAtoprovideteachersand
practitionerswithsomepracticalguidanceabouthowthinkingskillscanbeenhanced
inanearlyyearsclassroomandhowtoassesswhetheryoungchildrenarethinking
inaconstructiveway.

Thereportisbasedontwosources:
asurveyofkeyliteratureonthedevelopmentofthinkingskillsinyoungchildren
and
indepthclassroomobservations(takenoveraperiodoftwoconsecutivedays)
conductedinfourYear1classroomsidentifiedasofferingahighqualitylearning
experienceaspartoftheEnrichedCurriculumPilotProject(Sprouleetal.2005).

Usingtheevidencefromtheliteraturebaseaswellasbestexamplesfromclassroom
practice,thefindingswereanalysedaccordingto:
theadultsrole
thephysicalenvironmentand
thechildrensactions
intermsofhowthinkingskillscanbeeffectivelypromotedinearlyyearsclassrooms.

KeyFindings
Thekeyfindingsareoutlinedbelow:

Teachingstrategiesidentifiedaspromotingyoungchildrensthinkingskillsfallinto
fourphases:
Tuninginphase:theadultobserves,listens,encouragesandshowssensitivityto
thechildrenbeforedecidingtointerveneintheirplayorpracticalactivities
Developmentphase:theadultusesmodelling,scaffoldingorquestioning
strategiestoextendthethinkingexperience

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Creativephase:theadultprovidesopenendedandpracticaltasksforthe
childrenandencouragesthemtothinkbeyondtheroutine,emphasisingthe
importanceofcompletinganactivitywithflairandimaginationand
Reflectivephase:theadultencouragesthechildrentoreflectontheir
experiences,introducingperhapsadegreeofambiguityintothechildrensthought
processestoallowchallengetotakeplace.

Ahighqualitythinkingenvironmentisconsideredto:
bephysicallyattractive
childrensworkattractivelydisplayed
colourfulandspacious
outdoorfacilitiesusedeffectively
haveapositiveethosinplace
friendly
homelike
encouraging
supportive
welcoming
involveacurriculumwhichisplaybased,practical,challenging,flexible
andopenended.

Assessingchildrensthinkingismuchmorethanassessingtheircognitiveability.A
summaryoftheliterature,supportedbythecasestudies,suggeststhattofully
supportthedevelopmentofchildrensthinkingweneedtopayattentiontothe
followingsixkeyareas:
Social/emotionaldevelopment
Arechildrenadequatelyconfidenttotackleambiguityandexpresstheirpointof
view?
Motivationanddispositionstolearn
Dochildrenshowadequatepersistencetostaywithaproblemandtothinkit
through?

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Cognitivedevelopment
Havechildrendevelopedthecapacitytosequenceandorder,classifyandsortat
aconcretelevel?
Linguisticdevelopment
Havechildrenacquiredthelinguisticcompetencetoexplainandgivereasons?
Cantheyexplainwhytheyhavedonethingsinacertainway,discusstheirplan
ofactionandansweropenendedquestions?
Creativedevelopment
Dochildrenshowadegreeofimaginationandflairinwhattheydo?
Reflectiveresponses
Canchildrenaskquestionsandexpresstheneedtofindoutmore?
Canchildrenbetosomeextentselfcritical,acceptsuggestionsfromothers,
tackleambiguityandbeopentochallenge?

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

CONTENTS
Acknowledgements

ExecutiveSummary

TableofContents
Introduction
Methods
LiteratureReview
Introduction
TheAdultsRoleinthePowerfulThinkingEnvironment
CollaborativeThinking
CreativeThinking
ReflectiveThinking
SummaryofAdultsRole

TheRoleoftheEnvironment
SummaryoftheRoleoftheEnvironment

TheRoleoftheChildrenintheThinkingExperience
SummaryoftheChildrensRole

EvidencefromtheObservations
Introduction
BackgroundtotheSetting
EvidencefromtheCaseStudies:TeachingStrategies
Sensitivity
TheUseofThinkingLanguage
TheUseofQuestioning
ModellingStrategies
Scaffolding
CreativeLearningExperiences
Reflection

EvidencefromtheCaseStudies:TheLearningEnvironment
ColourfulandStimulating
ChildrensOwnWorkinEvidence
Learning/ThinkingAidsonDisplay
OutdoorFacilities
Ethos
PracticalandPlayBased

TheObservationInstrument
ConcludingComments
Recommendations
Appendices
References

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

INTRODUCTION
TheCurriculum,ExaminationsandAssessmentAuthority(CCEA)commissionedthis
literaturereviewonthinkingskillstoinformtheimplementationoftherevised
NorthernIrelandCurriculum inFoundationStageclasses.Oneoftheirkeygoalsis
toensurethattheearlyyearsofschoolinginNorthernIrelandshouldbecomeless
formalinnature,offeringinsteadamoredevelopmentallyappropriate,childledand
skillsbasedapproachtoteachingandlearning.AsCCEA(2007)states,Young
childrenlearnbestwhenlearningisinteractive,practicalandenjoyableforboth
childrenandteachers(p.15).

AkeyaspectoftherevisedNorthernIrelandCurriculumistheemphasisplacedon
thedevelopmentofkeyskills,inparticularthinkingskills. AsCCEA(2007)states,In
ordertodevelopchildrensskillsandcapabilitiesacrossthewholecurriculum,
teacherswillneedtoprovidefrequentopportunitiesforpupilstothinkanddofor
themselves(pg.10).

Thismovetoencouragebetterthinkinginourearlyyearsclassroomscomesata
timewhensociety,withitsemphasisontheknowledgeeconomy,demands
individualstobeabletoprocesseffectivelyandorganiseandretrieveinformation.
Problemsolvingcapabilitiesarealsoparticularlydesirable.Thisshiftmeansthatthe
acquisitionofthinkingskillshasbecomeamajoreducationalobjectiveinrecent
years.AccordingtoTrickeyandTopping(2004),curricularprescriptionsinanumber
ofcountrieshaveshowndecreasedemphasisoncontentknowledgeandincreased
emphasisontransferableskillssuchascriticalandcreativethinking,asisthecase
intherevisedNorthernIrelandCurriculum.

AccordingtoMcGuinness(1999),thereareseveralgeneraltaxonomiesofthinking
available.DrawingontheworkofSwartzandParks(1994),McGuinnessoffers
examplesofanarrayofdifferentkindsofthinkingsuchas:
sequencingandorderinginformation
sorting,classifyingandgrouping
analysing,identifyingpart/wholerelationshipsandcomparingandcontrasting
makingpredictionsandhypothesising

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

drawingconclusionsandgivingreasonsforconclusions
distinguishingfactfromopinion
determiningbiasandcheckingthereliabilityofevidence
generatingnewideasandbrainstorming
relatingcauseandeffectanddesigningafairtest
definingandclarifyingproblems,thinkingupdifferentsolutionsandsettinggoals
andsubgoals
testingsolutionsandevaluatingoutcomes
planningandmonitoringprogresstowardsagoalandrevisingplansand
makingdecisions,settingprioritiesandweighingupprosandcons.

McGuinnessarguesthatwhatisincludedandexcludedcanbearbitraryand
dependentontheagegroup,thedegreeofchallengeandthecontext/subjectmatter
beingtaught.

Muchoftheliteratureonthinkingskillstendstofocusonolderchildreninupper
primaryandsecondaryschools(Higginsetal.2004).Theapparentgaphasrecently
beenfilledwithTaggartetal's(2005)literaturereviewofthinkingskillsintheearly
years.Nevertheless,Venville(2002)pointsoutthatmuchoftheexistingliterature
addressestheneedforthinkingskillstobefosteredbutlittleattentionisactually
givenastohowsuchanobjectivecanactuallybeachieved.Theneedtoprovide
earlyyearsteacherswithpracticaladviceonhowahighqualitythinkingenvironment
canbebothactivatedandassessedformedthekeyaimofthisstudy.Theintention
withinthisreportthereforeisnottoundertakeanotherreviewofhowchildrenthink
(seeTaggartetal.2005)andthedifferenttheoreticalapproachestodeveloping
thinking(seeMcGuinness,1999),butrathertoprovideteacherswithapractical
toolkitforenhancingandassessingthinkingskillsinanearlyyearsclassroom,based
onaninfusionmethodologyinwhichthinkingpervadesalloftheearlyyears
curriculum.

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Objectives
Ourremitforthisreviewwastwofold:
(1)Thefirstobjectivewastoexaminetheexistingliteratureonthinkingskillsinan
attempttoidentifywhatconstitutesahighqualitythinkingenvironmentfrom anearly
yearsperspective.Thisinvolvedaliteraturesurveyofgoodpracticeinthepedagogy
ofthinkingskillsintheearlyyears,supportedbyindepthobservationsinasmall
numberofearlyyearssettingsidentifiedasofferingahighqualitylearning
environmentaspartoftheEnrichedCurriculumProjectinNorthernIreland(see
Sprouleetal.20012006).Throughthejointendeavoursoftheliteraturereview
andclassroomobservations,wehopedtoidentifythekeyindicatorsofahighquality
thinkingclassroomintermsofthephysicalandsocialenvironment,teacher's
strategiesandthechildrensactions.Theintentionwasforthesekeyindicatorsto
providethebasisforacodeofgoodpractice,whichinturnwouldinformearlyyears
practitionersandenhancethedevelopmentofthinkingskillsinearlyyearssettings.
(2)Thesecondkeyobjectivewastousethesekeyindicatorsofagoodthinking
classroomtorefinetheHigherOrderThinkingSkills(HOTs)dimensioninthe
assessmentschedule,knownastheQualityLearningInstrument(QLI)(Walsh,
2000WalshandGardner,2005).TheQLIisaclassroomobservationschedule
usedasoneoftheprincipalassessmentinstrumentsintheevaluationoftheearly
yearsEnrichedCurriculumProject(Sprouleetal.20012006).TheQLIisbasedon
Katzsbottomupperspectiveofquality,whichattemptstocapturethequalityofthe
learningexperienceintermsofhowitfeelstobeachildinthisenvironment.
AccordingtotheQLI,thequalityofanearlyyearssettingisdeterminedbythewayin
whichthelearninganddevelopmentalneedsofthemainstakeholders,thechildren
themselves,arebeingmetwithintheaffective,cognitive,socialandphysicalcontext.
AnumberofkeyfeaturesoftheexperientialmodeloflearningareintrinsictotheQLI
andareincorporatedwithintheninequalityindicators,againstwhichchildrens
learningexperienceinaclassroomcanbeassessed.

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Thesequalityindicatorsare:
motivation
concentration
confidence
independence
physicalwellbeing
multipleskillacquisition
higherorderthinkingskills
socialinteractionand
respect.

Resultsfromtheevaluationrevealedthatearlyyearsenvironments(bothenriched
andtraditional)appearedtobeperforminglesswellononeofthekeyindicatorsof
theQLIHigherOrderThinkingSkills(Sprouleetal.2002).Forthisreasonitwas
decidedtoundertakeastudywhichwouldnotonlyprovideteacherswithapractical
toolkittohelpthemtocreateahighqualitythinkingenvironmentinearlyyears
settingsbutalsotorefinethedescriptorsoftheHOTsindicatorintheQLItoensure
thatresearchersandpractitionersarefullyawareofwhattheyarepromotingand
evaluating.

Theobjectivesofthisstudyaresummarisedasfollows:

toidentifykeyindicatorsofahighqualitythinkingenvironmentintheearlyyears
and

toenhancetheQualityLearningInstrumenttoenablethequalityofthethinking
experiencetobeassessedinearlyyearssettings.

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

METHODS
Thefirstpartofthestudyentailedacomprehensiveanduptodateliteraturesurvey
ofthinkingskills,focusingonexemplarsofgoodpractice.Thisreviewofthe
literatureissupportedbydetailedclassroomobservationsfromfourYear1classes
(childrenaged45years)infourdifferentprimaryschoolsinNorthernIreland.The
schoolsincludedintheobservationswerepurposelytakenfromawidersampleof
schoolsinvolvedintheEvaluationoftheEnrichedCurriculumProject(Sprouleetal.
2004)andwereidentifiedasachievinghighQLIscoresinthelatestreviewofthis
project,indicatinggoodpractice.

Theobservationstookplaceoveraperiodoftwofulldaysineachsettingand
focusedonthewholelearningtrianglethechildrensactions,theteachingstrategies
andtheroleoftheenvironment.Theteachersviewsonhowtheywereinvolvedin
thedevelopmentofthinkingskillsintheirclassroomwererecordedduringasemi
structuredinterviewandintegratedintothestudy.Usingthebestexamplesof
practiceandevidencefromtheobservations,thefindingswereillustratedinacase
studyformat.Conclusionsandrecommendationsdrawnfromthisstudyserveasa
guideforearlyyearspractitionerstopromotethedevelopmentofahighquality
thinkingenvironmentforyoungchildren.

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LITERATUREREVIEW
Introduction
WalshandGardner(2005)arguethatwhenconsideringthequalityofaschool
learningexperience,thewholelearningtriangleneedstobeembraced - the
childrensactions,theteachingstrategiesandthelearningenvironment.
McGuinness(1999)confirmsthispositionstatingthat,teachingthinking.
demandsthatteachers,pupilsandtechnologiesinteractwithoneanotherincertain
ways(pg.27).Likewise,Taylor(2001)arguesthatthepromotionofchildrens
thinkinginearlyyearseducationinvolvesthechildren,thecontextandthewaysin
whichadultshelpchildrentolearn.

Itwouldappearthereforethatthechildren,theadultsandthephysicalenvironment
allhavearoletoplayinthedevelopmentofthinkingskills.Forthisreason,the
literaturereview,pertainingtohighqualitypractice,wasstructuredintermsof:
theroleoftheadults(howdotheadultsfacilitatethedevelopmentofthinking
skills?)
thephysicalenvironment(howdoesthephysicalattributesofthesetting
encouragethinkingtotakeplace?)and
thechildrenthemselves(howdoweknowthatthechildrenarethinkingwell?).

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

TheAdultsRoleinaPowerfulThinkingEnvironment
Whentheliteraturerelatingtotheroleoftheadultinapowerfulthinkingenvironment
wasconsidered,thematerialobtainedfellintothreemaincategories:

theroleoftheadultinpromotingcollaborativethinking

theroleoftheadultinensuringcreativethinkingand

theroleoftheadultindevelopingreflectivethinking.

TheRoleoftheAdultinPromotingCollaborativeThinking

Adultchildinteraction
Cooperativelearninghasbeenstronglyassociatedwiththedevelopmentofthinking
skills(Baumfield,1995).Theestablishmentofcommunitiesoflearnersrelieson
effectivepartnershipsbetweenchildrenandadultsandisbasedfirmlyonthe
Vygotskiantradition(FawettandGarton,2005).Muchoftheexistingliteraturetends
toconcentrateonthedevelopmentofappropriateinteractionsbetweenadultsand
childrentofacilitatethewholethinkingprocess. Warmandfriendlyinteractiononthe
partoftheteacherisidentifiedbyTaylor(2001)asakeyingredientinthepromotion
ofeffectivethinkinginyoungchildren. Costello(2000)supportsthisviewarguing
thatyoungchildrenmusthavetheskillsandconfidencetospeakinawidevarietyof
situationsandcontextstoensureeffectivethinkingontheirpart.

Taylorsreview(2001)ofcurrentliteratureonbestpracticeemphasisestheneedfor
teacherstolistentothechildrenandtogettoknowthemwellbeforeeffective
interactioncanbeensured.Shealsoreferstotheneedtolistentoandcoordinate
withparentstoestablishacommonknowledge(anagreedsubject/topic)between
adultsandchildrenthatwillactasatoolforexpandingchildrensthinking.Theneed
tobesensitivetothechildrensneedsandtogainaninsightintowhenand/orwhen
nottointerveneissupportedbyanarrayofexpertssuchasPascalandBertram
(1997),Venville(2002),Nutbrown(1999)andDowling(2005).AsSegattietal
(2003)argue,Teachersmustobservesituationscloselyandbepatientwhen
childrenconfrontproblems(p.16).

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Havingidentifiedtheneedforasoundrelationshipwiththechildren,Taylorgoesone
stepforward.Shearguesthatsuccessfulteachersarethosewhoareproactive
participantsinshapinglearningexperiencesandextendingknowledgeratherthan
remainingontheperiphery.Tohelpshapetheselearningexperiencesshe
emphasisestheimportanceofmodellingeffectivethinkingstrategiestomake
thinkingmoreexplicitintheclassroom.Thismaybeassimpleasusingtheword
thinkmorefrequentlyandotherthinkinglanguage,orasCraft(2003)indicates,the
practitionermayaskthechildrentowaggletheirthinkingthumbstoshowphysically
theyarethinkingoraskthemtoputontheirthinkingcaps(Venville,2002).

Larkin(2002)stressestheimportanceofquestioningasameanstoencourage
childrentothink,byasking,forexample:
Whatismyproblem?
Whatismyplan?
HowamIgoingtoproceed?

Healsoemphasisestheimportanceofaskingchildrentopredictandbuildtheories
byasking,Whatdoyouthinkandwhy? Devereux(2002)supportsthisanalysis,
providingexamplesofkeyquestionssuchas:
Whatwillhappenifyou?
Haveyouthoughtabout?
Whatisyourproblem?
Howcanyoufindoutabout?
Whathappenswhenyoutest?
Whydoyouthinkthiswillhappen?
Howcanyoufixthis..?.

Taggartetal(2005)provideasynopsisoftypesofquestionsandthinkingskills
basedontheWinniethePoohstory.(SeeTable1overleafforclarification).

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Table1:Taggartetalssynopsisoftypesofquestionsandthinking
FOCUS

QUESTION

Evidence

HowdoyouknowWinniethePoohgotstuckintherabbit
hole?

Reasons/theory

WhydidWinniethePoohgetstuckintherabbithole?

Counterfactualsuggestion

WhatwouldhavehappenedifWinniethePoohhadnoteaten
thehoney?

Falsebelief

WhatdoesWinniethePoohthinkhashappenedtostophim
gettingout?

Futurehypotheticalsuggestion

WhatcouldWinniethePoohdonext?

Venvillesstudy(2002)ofhowtoenhancethequalityofthinkinginYear1classes
(childrenaged56years)providesfurtherevidenceontheimportanceoftheroleof
theteacherinfosteringgoodthinkingthroughpowerfulinteractions.Referenceis
madetotheneedfordifficultytobeacceptedaspartoftheclassroom withchildren
beingencouragedtoaddresschallengingproblemsandbeinghelpedwithstrategies
forsolvingproblemsataleveljustbeyondthatwhichthechildrenhavealready
achieved. Talkthatexploresandexplainsthetaskathandisalsoviewedasa
criticalaspectofgoodthinkinginYear1andinVenvillesopinion,teachersshould
encouragechildrentoexplainproblems,ideas,action,misunderstandings,
agreements,questionsandpossiblesolutions.Finally,Venvillededucedfromher
findingsthatchildrenshouldbegiventimetothink.ThisechoesFeuersteinetals
logo(1980)Justaminute,letmethink.Notonlyshouldteachersmodeltheirown
thinking,butencouragechildrentodothesame.

Sustainingandextendingthinkingduringaninteractionbetweenteacherandchild
hasalsobeengivensomeconsideration. Thisisparticularlyexemplifiedinthework
ofSirajBlatchfordandSylva(2004)intheResearchingEffectivePedagogyinthe
EarlyYears(REPEY)project.Theyemphasisedtheimportanceofhighquality
adultchildinteractionsforensuringpositiveepisodesof'sustainedsharedthinking'.
Sustainedsharedthinkingiswhentwoormoreindividualsworktogetherinan
intellectualwaytosolveaproblem,clarifyaconcept,evaluateactivities,orextenda

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

narrative.Inthebestsettingstheseinteractionstendedtobechildinitiated.During
thesechildinitiatedepisodesstaffmembersextendedthinkingthroughscaffolding,
thematicconversationorinstruction.Staffinexcellentsettingswere:
morelikelytoencouragechildrentoengageinnewexperiences
moreenthusiasticaboutthechild'seffortsand
moreproactiveinseekingoutopportunitiestoscaffoldchildrensthinking.

Dowling(2005)hasproducedasetofteachingresourcestosupportthisideaof
'sustainedsharedthinking'.Hermaterialsuggeststhattheadultcanusebothverbal
andnonverbalcommunicationstodeveloppositiveinteractionsandinsodoing
assistinthedevelopmentofchildrensthinkingskills.Shetalksabouttheneedfor
adultsto:

tunein

showgenuineinterest

respectchildrensowndecisionsandchoices

invitechildrentoelaborate

recap

offerpersonalexperience

clarifyideas

remind

usespecificpraise

offeranalternativeviewpoint

speculate

reciprocate

askopenquestionsand

usemodelthinking.

Childchildinteractions
However,muchoftheaforementionedliteraturehasconcentratedontheroleofthe
adultinsecuringeffectiveadultchildinteraction.FawettandGarton(2005)stress
thepotentialofpeercollaborationforthedevelopmentofproblemsolvingskills.
Drawingonanarrayofresearch(Lightetal.1994SamahaandDeLisi,2000and

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

WebbandFavier,1999)theyconcludethatakeyelementofeffectivepeer
collaborationistheactiveexchangeofideasthroughverbalcommunication.

TheneedforchildrentotalkandthinktogetherisparticularlystressedbyLittletonet
al(2005).Theyarguethatchildrencannotbeexpectedtodothisoftheirown
accordbutitisalsotheresponsibilityoftheteachertofacilitatethis.Theirstudy
focusesonaninnovativeapproachknownasThinkingTogetherusingaTalkBox.
Theyindicatethatprimaryagedchildrenarecommonlyaskedtoworkwithone
anotherinsmallgroupsbutinordertodosoeffectivelytheyarguethatyoung
childrenrequireasharedsetofgroundrules.Theyrequire,intheiropinion,an
awarenessoftheuseoftalkasatoolforthinkingtogetherandanexplicitknowledge
ofthespeakingandlisteningskillswhichwillhelpthemtoestablishandsustain
focusedcollaborativeconversations.DrawingontheworkofDawesandSams
(2004),theyindicatethevalueoftheteachersownuseoftalktoensurethisthrough
modellingexploratorylanguage,particularlyopenquestioningandanemphasison
reasoningandbeingallowedtochangeonesmindifrequired.

Fishers(2001)promotionofa'communityofenquiry',(similartothatofLipmanet
als(1980)PhilosophyforChildrenprogramme),isbasedonthesamebasic
principlesproposedbyLittletonetal(2005)wherebychildrendeveloptheirthinking
skillscollaborativelyaroundthestimulusofastory.Throughengagingina
communityofenquiry,childrenlearnhow:
toasktheirownquestionsandraiseissuesfordiscussion
exploreanddeveloptheirownideas,viewsandtheories
givereasonsforwhattheythinkandbelieve
explainandarguetheirpointofviewwithothers
listentoandconsidertheviewsofothersand
changetheirideasinthelightofgoodreasonsandevidence.

Fisherarguesthatchildrenasyoungasfourcanbenefitfromtheprocessof
communityofenquiry.Inthismodelofteaching,pupilscanraiseanddiscuss
questionsaftersharedreadingofa'storyforthinking'andthisaimstodevelop

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

criticalreadingskillsinchildren,aswellasincreasetheirselfesteemasthinkers
andlearners.
ThemeritsofthisstrategyhavebeenfurtherinvestigatedbyBaumfieldandMroz
(2002)intheirstudyinvestigatingchildren'stalkintheclassroom.Theteacher
beginseachsessionbyexplainingtotheclassthattheyaregoingtolistentoastory.
Childrenwillbegiventimetowritedownanyquestionsbeforediscussingthemwith
apartnerandtheninagroupoffour.Finally,theyhavetodecideononequestionto
shareinawholeclassdiscussion.BaumfieldandMroz(2002)foundthatyoung
childrenarecapableofaskingarangeofquestionswithinthiscontext,especially
duringthesmallgrouptime.Itisaveryinclusiveapproachasyoungerpupilsand
thosewithliteracyproblemsbecamemoreconfidentandwereabletoarticulate
questionsbytheendoftheproject.Theprocessofquestioningnotonlyimproves
readingcomprehension,speakingandlisteningskillsbutalsoextendsthinkinginthe
lightofothers'questionsandaccounts.Inordertodevelopthetypeofquestioning
thatgoesbeyondbasicclarification,thechoiceofstoryneedstoreflectthechildren's
intereststoensurehighlevelsofengagementandmotivationwhichcanbeachieved
bytheteachersindepthknowledgeofthechildrenandlevelofability.

RileyandReedy(2005)extendedtheconceptofpromotingchildrensthinking
throughtalk.TheyexploredtheuseofwritingframeswithYear1and2childrenand
foundthatyoungchildrenwereabletointellectuallygraspthecomplexityofanissue
andabletoappreciatethattheremaybemorethanonewaytoperceivean
argument.Thewritingframeservesasatemporaryscaffoldasitreducesthe
cognitivedemandsthatthewritingprocessmakesonyoungchildren.Duringthe
sharedwriting,theadultmodelshowtostructuretheideasfirstintowordsandthen
intosentencesandbydoingsoismakingexplicittothenovicewriterhowdecisions
aremadeintheconstructionofawrittenpieceofwork.Thechoiceoftopicneedsto
besomethingthechildrencanfullyrelateto - thetopicinthiscaserelatedtoan
earlierclassvisittothezoo.Thepurposeoftheteachersquestioningwastwofold itfacilitatedtheexpansionofideasandunderstanding,whilstmovingchildren's
thinkingontoamoreadvancedstate.

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Thisapproachhasalotincommonwithelementsofathinkingskillsprogramme
BeaneyandKershaw(2003)developedforchildrenwithautismandcommunication
skills,inthattheyintroducedmorevisualwaysforchildrentoorganisetheirwriting,
withtheuseofmindmapswhichwerefirstpioneeredbyTonyBuzan(2003).The
childrencanuseavarietyofwords,coloursandvisualimagestodescribeand
illustratetheirmeaningonasinglesheetofpaper.

Theimportanceofnarrativeinextendingyoungchildren'sthinkingisreiteratedby
Taggartetal's(2005)reviewofthinkingskillsintheearlyyears.Theyidentifythree
mainsitestohelpfosterthinkingskillsintheyoungchildwithinaclassroomsetting.
Thesearethroughthecontextofstory,dialogueandplay.Storiesprovidethe
stimulusforchildrentoreasoncounterfactually,adoptnewthinkinglanguagesuch
asthink,guessandremember,aswellasgivingchildrentheopportunitytothink
togetherwithpeers.Writtennarrativecapturesthechild'sinterpretationand
meaningofalearningmoment.Inkeepingwithpreviousfindings,dialoguebetween
adultchildandchildchildiscitedasapotentiatingmediumtodeepenthinkingin
theyoungchild.Openended,childdirectedplayisexemplifiedasproviding
favourableopportunitiesforthepractitionertointerveneandhelpchildrenadopta
deeperunderstandingoftheirsubjectmatter.Inthiswayitcouldbearguedthatthe
teachersrolenotonlyextendsbeyondofferingchildrencollaborativeand
communicativeexperiencestoextendtheirthinkingskills,butalsoprovidesthem
witharangeofcreativeexperiences.

TheRoleoftheAdultinEnsuringCreativeThinking
Prentice(2000)advisesusthatlearnersneedtobeactivelyinvolvedintheprocess
oftheirownlearningtostimulatethecorrectconditionsforcreativitytoflourish.This
requiresyoungchildrentobeexposedtoarangeofrichopportunitiesthatwillhelp
themengagewiththeworldindifferentwayssothatskillsofenquiry,reflectionand
criticismcandevelop.

Thefosteringofyoungchildren'sresourcefulnessandencouragingthemtodevelop
possibilitythinkinginawiderangeofcontextssuchasplay,relationshipsandcircle
time,aswellasmathematicsandliteracy,requirestheadoptionoflittlec'creativity,
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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

socalledinordertodistinguishitfromitsalmostexclusiveattachmenttothearts
(Craft,2003).Positivestrategiestoencouragethedevelopmentoflittlec'creativity
includehearingandacknowledgingthechildandgivingthechildtimetoexpressan
ideaeveninabusymoment.Thepractitionermustalsobeabletotuneintothe
knowledgethatenabledthechildtocompleteanactivity.Ifthechildhasproduced
anartefact,thepractitionermusthaveaspacetokeepitandmustcelebratethe
possibilitythinkingthechildusedbywarmlyacknowledgingandpraisingthechild's
suggestions.Thepractitionermightthenencouragethechildtothinkfurtherabout
alternativewaysthattheactivityortaskmighthavebeencompleted. Playformsthe
basisofthecreativeenvironmentwithimaginativeplayandfreechoiceofactivities
seenashighlyimportantforthedevelopmentofcreativityinyoungchildrenasthis
requireimagination,insight,problemsolving,divergentthinkingandtheabilityto
experienceemotionandmakechoices(Craft,2003).

Creativethinkingcanbeencouragedintheearlyyearssettingbyaskingopenended
questions,toleratingambiguity,modellingcreativethinkingandbehaviour,
encouragingexperimentationandpersistenceaswellaspraisingchildrenwho
provideunexpectedanswers(Sharp,2004).Sternberg(2003)believesthataswell
astheabove,thepractitionermustinstilasenseofselfbeliefinthechildsointhe
futurewhentheirideasmaynotalwaysbefavourablyreceived,theymaintaina
senseofselfefficacy.Sternbergsuggeststhatmistakesneedtobeallowed
becauseifchildrenareafraidtomakemistakestheywillhavedifficultybeingcreative
andwillbelesslikelytotakemorerisksinarestrictiveenvironment.Accordingto
Sharp(2004),adultscanactassupporters,coaches,facilitatorsandmodelsof
creativityforchildren.But,asshesuggests,adultscanalsostiflechildrenscreativity
bybeingoverlydidacticandprescriptiveorbyhavinglowexpectationsofwhat
childrencanachieve.

TheRoleoftheAdultinDevelopingReflectiveThinking
Reflectivethinkinginvolvesanawarenessofone'sownthinkingandreflectiononthe
thinkingofselfandothers.Metacognitionissimilarlydefinedas'thinkingabout
thinking'(Georghiades,2004).Althoughreflectivethinkingisoftenassociatedwith
moreadvancedstagesofcognitivedevelopment,thereisgrowingevidencethat
19

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

youngchildrencanbothevaluateandreflectontheirthinking,givensuitablesupport
byteachers.AccordingtoKuhnandDean(2004),ifteachersencouragechildrento
reflectonandevaluatetheirownactivitiesthisheightensthechildsawarenessof
andinterestinthepurposeoftheactivity.Reflectionandevaluationcanbeachieved
bysimplyaskingquestionssuchas,Whyarewedoingthis?andHowandwhat?.
Pupilswhoareexposedtothistypeofquestioningbytheteacheraremorelikelyto
begintoaskthemselvesandotherssuchquestionsandsothisstructureofargument
willprovideaninternalframeworkandbecomepartoftheirownindividualthinking.

AnexampleofametacognitiveexperienceisprovidedbyLarkin(2002),wherea
groupofchildrenareaskedtodressaclownaccordingtocertainrules.The
cognitiveconflictarisesfromchoosingandswappingitemsofclothing
collaboratively.Atthebeginningofthetask,theteacherinvitesthechildrentothink
aboutwhatisrequiredandhowtheymightachievethis.Bybecomingpartofthe
grouptheteacherprovidesametacognitiveexperienceforthechildren.Sherefers
tothethoughtprocessesinanaturalisticway,listenswithoutjudgingandgives
childrentimetothink.Thefocusthenisonchildrensownplanning,generatingof
ideas,evaluationandexplanationratherthanonthemerecompletionofthetask.
Thechildrenareencouragedtoreflectontheirownandothersideasandinsodoing
evaluatetheirjudgments.Suchthinkingissynonymouswiththeplandoreview
sequenceoftheHigh/Scopeapproach.

Epstein(2003)offerssomestrategiesthatearlyyearspractitionerscanuseto
encouragechildrentothinkabouttheirintentionsastheyindicatechoicesandmake
plansthroughouttheday.Theyinclude:

makechildplanningaregularpartoftheday

makesurechildrencanseetheareasandmaterialsintheroomwhentheyare
planning

askchildrenquestions

listenattentivelytochildrensplans

support,acceptandextendallthewayschildrenexpresstheirplans

encouragechildrentoelaborateontheirplans

writedownchildrensplansand

20

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

useencouragementratherthanpraise.

Shethengoesontoprovidestrategiesthatwillfacilitatereflection.Theseinclude:

makereflectionanongoingpartoftheday

askopenendedquestions

interpretandexpandwhatchildrendoandsay

acceptconflictingviewpointsandinterpretations

commentonwhatyouseechildrendoingastheyplay

writedownwhatchildrensay

helpchildrenconnecttheirplansandactivitieswiththeirreflectionsand

encouragechildrentocarryovertheiractivitiestothenextday.

Wallace(2000)suggeststhatregular'thinkingaboutthinking'iscrucialforthe
transferofthinkingskillsacrossthecurriculumsothatlearnersareabletoreflecton
whattheyhavebeentaught.Thismaximisesindependentlearningskillsforexample
theprocessofmakinglinkswithpreviousknowledgeorbridging(Adey,Robertson
andVenville,2001).Anessentialquestionishowcanweusewhatwehavelearned
toinformfuturelearning?Thistypeofopenquestioningunderpinsthinking
strategiessuchasDeBono'sSixThinkingHatstechnique(1999)whichHorsfall
andBennett(2005)revealhasensuredpositiveoutcomessuchasimprovementin
speakingandlisteningskills,developmentofeffectivecollaborationaswellas
increasedmotivationamongstpupilsinaYear4class.TheSixThinkingHats
representsixdifferentmodesofthinkingandallofthehatsareusedduringa
thinkingskillsactivitysothatchildrenaretaughttousedifferentstylesofthinkingina
controlledway.Forexamplethefirsthatinthesequenceisthewhitehatandit
relatestoinformation(thinkofpaper),factsandfigures.Thechildrenare
encouragedtoaskquestionssuchasWhatdoweknowabout.....?andWhat
informationdoweneed?.Oncethechildrenbecomefamiliarwiththetechniqueitis
envisagedthattheteacherwillbeabletoapplytheapproachindifferentcontexts.
Drawingontheaboveliterature,itcanbeseenhowpractitioners,whentheyusethe
appropriateteachingstrategies,canplayamajorpartinencouragingchildrennot
onlytothinkcollaborativelyandcreativelybutalsotobemorereflectiveand
evaluative.

21

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

22

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

SummaryoftheAdultsRole
Accordingtotheliterature,theroleoftheearlyyearspractitionerinactivatinghigh
qualitythinkinginyoungchildrencanbesummedupasfollows:

Promotingpositiveinteractionsthrough:

listeningtothechildren

beingsensitivetotheirneeds

tuninginappropriately

modellingthinking

usingopenendedquestions

teachingchildrentothinktogether

encouragingchildrentoaskquestions

givingchildrentimetotalk

usingstorieseffectivelyand

scaffoldingchildrensthinkingeffectively

Providingopportunitiesforcreativitythrough:

wellplannedandchallengingplay

modellingcreativethinking

offeringalternativesandcreatingambiguity

openendedtasks

encouragingadegreeofautonomyonthepartofthechildren

acceptingmistakesaspartoflifeand

encouragingchildrenappropriately.

Enablingreflectivethinkingthrough:

encouragingandmodellingreflection

welcomingcommentary

acceptingconflict

promotingdiscussionandquestioningand

buildingonpreviousthinkingtoinformnewthought.

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

TheRoleoftheEnvironment
Althoughmuchiswrittenabouttheneedforapowerfulthinkingenvironment,thereis
littleevidenceastowhatthekeyfeaturesofsuchanenvironmentare.Claxtonand
Carr(2004)proposethattherearefourtypesoflearningenvironment.Theyreferto
aprohibitingenvironmentasonewhereitisimpossibleordangeroustoexpressa
particularkindoflearningresponseandonethatadherestoatightscheduled
programme.Anaffordingenvironmentprovidesopportunitiesforthedevelopment
ofanarrayoflearningattributesbutisinsufficientfortheneedsofallchildren.
Likewise,theyrefertoaninvitingenvironmentasonethatnotonlyaffordsthe
chancetoaskquestions,butclearlyhighlightsthisasavaluableactivity.Finally,
theyrefertoapotentiatingenvironmentasonethatnotonlyinvitestheexpression
ofcertaindispositionsbutactivelystretchesanddevelopsthem.Apotentiating
environmentsharesthepowerbetweentheteacherandthelearners.This
classificationisequallyapplicabletothethinkingenvironment.DeCorte(1990)and
DeCorteandMasui(2004)pointtotheneedforanenvironmentsynonymouswith
ClaxtonandCarrspotentiatingonetoenablechildrensthinkingtobefully
activated.

RobsonandHargreaves(2005)studyintotheperceptionsandpracticesofearly
childhoodpractitioners(inrelationtothedevelopmentofthinkinginchildrenaged
35)notonlyplacesgreatemphasisontheroleoftheclassroomenvironmentin
creatingthecorrectconditionstofosterthinkingskillsinyoungchildren,butalso
providesspecificexamplesastowhattheseconditionsare.Someofthemost
salientarepresentedbelow.
(1)Theyemphasisetheneedforthinkingskillstobeintegratedintothewhole
learningexperienceforyoungchildren.ThisissynonymouswithMcGuinness
(1999)infusionapproach.Forthisreasonnosettimeshouldbeattributedtothe
teachingofthinkingbutinstead,intheiropinion,itshouldinfiltrateallthatistaking
placeintheearlyyearsclassroom.

(2)Theyrecognisethevalueofoutdooractivitiesforsupportingchildrensthinking.
Outdoorplayprovideschildrenwiththespacetoexplore,investigateandengagein

24

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

spontaneousproblemsolving.
(3)Theyhighlighttheimportanceofaplaybasedenvironmentwherechildrenget
theopportunitytoengageinimaginativeplay.
(4)Theyplaceconsiderableemphasisontheimportanceofchildrensownchoices.
ThisisalsoadefiningfeatureofClaxtonandCarrs(2004)powerfullearning
environmentwherechildrenareinvolvedinfrequentparticipationinasharedactivity
andtakeresponsibilityfordirectingthoseactivities,whichhastheeffectofsharing
powerbetweentheteacherandthelearners.

(5)Thesizeofthegroupisalsoidentifiedasakeyfeatureofanappropriatethinking
environment.
(6)Timeforthinkingwasalsoemphasised.Childrenneedsufficienttimeto
completeactivitiesandseethroughideas.Timealsoisrequiredtoallowchildrento
talk.

ClaxtonandCarr(2004)enrichandextendtheseconditionsforapowerfullearning
environment(whichareequallyapplicabletofosteringthinking)byincludingthe
following:
Childrenmakepostersandrecordallkindsofstudentgeneratedideasabout
Whattodowhenyoudontknowwhattodo,toactasasetofpromptstobe
referredtowhenstuck.
Teachertakesphotographsofchildrenslearningachievementsoralternatively
givesthechildadisposablecameratotakephotosathomeorintheearly
childhoodsetting.Thechildcantakephotographsofthingsthathavegreat
meaningandsignificancetohim/herandsothepractitionercanpiecetogethera
pictureofthechildsprioritiesthatcanbebuiltintoabookorportfolioandcan
serveasarecordoflearningachievements(Mortimer,2004).
Capturelearningmomentsaswrittenlearningstories.

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Childrensdrawingsandillustrationscanbeusedasastimulusforfurthertalking
andthinkingtogetherbetweenthechildandthepractitioner,asthechildcan
providecommentaryandinterpretationonhis/herownwork(Mortimer,2004).

Sharps(2004)descriptionofthecreativeenvironmenthelpstohighlightphysical
attributesthatarerequiredtoactivatethinking.LikeRobsonandHargreaves(2005),
shetooarguesthatfundamentaltothecreativeenvironmentistheencouragement
ofchildrensplay.Inadditiontothisshehighlightsthesizeandlayouttheuseof
outdoorspacethequalityofequipmentandmaterialsandaccesstonewandvaried
environments.Segattietal(2003)emphasisetheneedforavarietyofeveryday
materialstofosterappropriateproblemsolvingskills.Theystate,anenvironment
richinmaterialsthatfostercauseandeffectortrialanderrorexplorationshelps
promotecognitivedevelopment(p.13).Theyprovidesomeexamplesofwhatthese
materialsmightbe:
clearplastictubes
potatochipcanisters
clearplasticjugs
smallclearlemonadebottles
thinplastictubing
bubbleblowingsolution
tongsoricecreamscoop
inclinesorramps
largecardboardblocks
cookiesheetsand/or
largemagnetsandanalarm clock.

Possiblesupplementarymaterialsincludelargemarbles,paperplatesandmarkers,
foodcolouring,curtainrods,varioussizeballs,metallids,metalspoons,feathers
andblocks.

CommentsfromoneHongKongteacherinastudyconductedbyLamLametal
(2003)servetoillustratethetypeofenvironmentthatisrequiredtofostereffective
thinking,inotherwordstheprovisionofindependentandopenendedactivitiesin

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

theclassroom,allowingchildrentoinvestigate,coupledwiththeteacher's
encouragementandpeerinteractionandstimulationfromtheenvironmentwill
increasechildren'sthinking(p.153).

SummaryoftheRoleoftheEnvironment
Asummaryoftheliteraturesuggeststhatapowerfulthinkingenvironmentcanbe
describedas:

stimulating - containinganarrayofmaterialsthatencourageexplorationand
investigation

havingspaciousteachingspaceandbeingappropriatelylaidout

beingflexibleandnotoverlystructuredtoallowchildrentimetofullyengagein
theinvestigativeprocess

playbased,allowingforfreedomofchoice

havingaccesstooutdoorfacilities

havingchildrensownworkinevidencetoprovokereflectionthroughuseof
photographsandillustrationsand

havingapositiveethosreflectedbypupilsandstaff.

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

TheRoleoftheChildrenintheThinkingExperience
Toensureaneffectivethinkingenvironment,itisnecessarythatthechildrenactually
gettingtheopportunitytothink.HoweverasLarkin(2002)pointsout,inherstudyof
providingmetacognitiveexperiencesfor5and6yearoldchildren,itisverydifficultto
detectthinkingexperiencesinyoungchildrenduetothehighlyinternalisednatureof
themetacognitiveprocess.AccordingtoLarkin(2000),evidenceofthinkingcanonly
beassumedwhenchildrenverbalisetheirthoughtsaloudordisplaysomeothernon
verbalbehavioursuchasfacialexpressionsand/orthechildphysicallycompletinga
task.Forthepurposesofthestudyinquestion,itwasnecessarytodiscoverwhat
theseverbalandnonverbalbehavioursactuallyareinordertoprovidepractitioners
withsomepracticalguidance.

Venville(2002)hasidentifiedasetofindicatorsrelatedtotheenhancementofthe
qualityofthinkinginYear1children.Theseattempttodemonstratedifferentmodes
ofthinkingintheyoungchild.
Explains
Achildexplains:

his/heridea/action

anotherchildsidea/action

his/herideaforsolvingaproblemand

his/her/anotherchildsmisunderstanding/difficulty.

Highlightsdiscrepancy
Achild:

recognizes/pointsouthisown/thegroups/anotherchildsdifficulty

disagreeswithanotherchild/teacherand

acceptsthatanotherchild/theteacherhavedifferentideas.

Adoptsanewidea
Achildadoptsanewideato:

abetter/agreedonewhenhisoriginalideawasarticulated/shownand

abetter/agreedonewhennoclearoriginalideaarticulated/shown.

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Demonstrates
Achilddemonstratesanappropriateactionorhis/herideatootherchildrenor
teacher.

Thinks/workscollaboratively
Children:

makevarioussuggestionsaboutsolvingaproblem

buildoneachothersideasoruseseveralsourcesofinformationtosolvea
problemand

agreeaproblemisnotsoluble.

Asksquestions
Achildasksquestionsoftheteacheroranotherchildtoclarifya
task/activity/problem/ideas.

Otherusefulstrategies
Achildmayuseotherthinkingbehaviourssuchas:

creatinganalogieswithideasfromadifferentcontextorexampleand/or

usingaphysicalstrategytoorganisetheirthinking.

DrawingontheworkofRuss(1996),Sharp(2004)arguesthatforyoungchildrento
expresscreativitytheyrequireanumberofattributes.Thesearedefinedas:

personalitytraitssuchasselfconfidence(beingabletotolerateambiguity,
curiosityandmotivation)

emotionalprocessessuchasemotionalfantasyinplay,pleasureinchallenge,
involvementintasksandtoleranceofanxietyand

cognitiveabilitiessuchasdivergentthinking,abilitytotransformthinking(by
beingabletoreorderinformationorshiftsets),sensitivitytoproblems,breadthof
knowledgeandjudgement(pg.7).

Althoughparticulartocreativityitself,theseattributescouldbeconsideredasfurther
integralindicatorsofthinkinginitswidestsenseinyoungchildren.

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Adey,RobertsonandVenville(2001)providefurtherinformationontherelationship
betweencognitiveabilitiesandyoungchildrensthinking,highlightinginparticularthe
skillsof:
seriation(puttingthingsinordertoformaseries)
classification(sortingobjectsintosets)
timesequencing(placingasetofeventsinorder)
spatialperception(viewinganimage/scenefromadifferentperception)
causality(identifyingthelinksbetweencauseandeffect)and
identifyingrulesofagame(theideastherulesarearbitrary)asintegral,cognitive
strandsofyoungchildrensthinking.

Inadditiontotheseskills,Fisher(2001)emphasisesthattomakethemeffective,the
dispositionstousetheskillsmustbeinevidence.Shetalksaboutthedispositionsof
caring,collaborativeorconnectedthinking.Bycaringshemeansthatchildren
needtotakeresponsibilityfortheirthinkingandbycollaborativethesenseofbeing
openandconsideratetowhatothersthink.Shecontinuesthatcooperative
dispositionsincludelearningtocooperatewithothersinacommunityofenquiry
(pg.68)andhighlightstheimportanceofselfesteem,empathyandrespectfor
others.

ClaxtonandCarr(2004)alsoemphasisetheimportanceofanumberofdispositions
suchaspersistence,questioningandcollaborationforlearningingeneral,allof
whichcarrysignificancefortheoveralldevelopmentofthinkingskills.Theyargue
thatpersistenceisassociatedwithstickingwithitvoicingdoubtsanddiggingbelow
thesurface(pg.88).Theyalsorefertotheimportanceofrobustness,inother
wordsthetendencytorespondinalearning,positiveway,irrespectiveofthe
situationandtostickwithituntilasatisfactoryconclusionisreached.Breadthis
alsohighlightedasapositivelearningresponseinthesensethatthelearnerrealises
thatpreviouslearningcaninformnewlearningorinfactpreviousthinkingcaninform
newthinking.Theyconcludewithrichness,whichintheiropinionistheresultof
persistenceandindepthquestioning.Theyarguethatrichnessiswhenchildren
becomeskilfulinmarshallingandbuildingthescaffolding...neededinorderto

30

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

persevereindifficultenterprises(pg.91).Itisaboutdisplayingmoresophisticated
andcreativeapproachestoproblemposingandproblemsolvinganddevelopingand
sustaininginterestsovertimeinthecompanyofothers.

Basedonanindepthreviewofyoungchildrensthinking,Taggartetal(2005)
concludethatbytheageofsix,giventherightassistance,youngchildrenare
generallyableto:
usethinkinglanguageinvolvingwordssuchasthink,know,guessand
remember
constructinformalrulesforthepurposeofsolvingproblems
sortobjectsaccordingtooneormorecriteria
understandthatthebeliefsofothersmaybedifferentfromtheirown
understandthatbecausesomeonehaspartialknowledgeofsomething,theywill
notnecessarilyhaveallofit
hypothesiseaboutwhatmighthappeninthefuture
suggestalternativeactionsthatcouldhavebeentakeninthepastand
reasonlogicallyfromgivenprecepts(pg.35).

SummaryoftheChildrensRole
Asummaryoftheliteraturewouldsuggestthatforyoungchildrentoengagein
thinkingtheyneedtoacquirethefollowingattributes:

adequateselfconfidence
- totackleambiguityandexpresstheirownpointofview

persistence
- stayingwithaproblemuntilasatisfactorysolutionisreached

planning
- theyknowwhattheyaredoingandwhy

signsofreasoning
- explainingwhytheydoneacertainthinginacertainwayandmakinginformed
judgementsbasedonwhattheyhavelearned

cognitiveabilities
- suchasthecapabilitytoorder,sequenceandclassifyataconcretelevel

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

creativityinwhattheydo
- notbeingsatisfiedwiththeroutinebutshowingflair

reflecting
- thinkingbacktoformerlearningtoinformnewlearningand.askingquestions,
wantingtofindoutmoreand

beingselfcritical
- alwaystryingtoimprovebeingopentosuggestionsfromothersandlearning
fromthembutnotalwaysacceptingthemastheirown.

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

EVIDENCEFROMTHEOBSERVATIONS
Introduction
Themainpurposeoftheobservationswastosupporttheliteraturesurveyby
attemptingtoidentifyexemplarsofahighqualitythinkingexperienceintermsof:
theteachingstrategiesused
theroleofthephysicalenvironmentand
thechildrensactionsorskills.

FoursettingswerechosenbasedontheQualityLearningInstrumentsratings,taken
aspartoftheevaluationoftheearlyyearsEnrichedCurriculum(seeSprouleetal.
20002006).TheywereallYear1classes(childrenaged45years)andwere
consideredtobeofferinghighqualitypractice.Theindepthobservationswere
conductedoveraperiodoftwodaysineachsettingandweresupportedbyinformal
interviewswiththeYear1teacher.

BackgroundtotheSettings
ThreeoftheschoolsincludedinthisstudywerelocatedintheGreaterBelfastarea
andoneinCountyArmagh.SchoolA'scatchmentareaincludedchildrenfroma
variedsocioeconomicbackgroundrangingfromlowtohigh.SchoolB'spupil
populationwaslargelycomprisedofchildrenfromahighlydisadvantaged
backgroundandthiscontrastedwithschoolsCandD,whichattractchildrenfrom
morefavourablesocioeconomicbackgrounds,rangingfrommidtohigh.The
schoolsrangedinsizefromschoolBwhichhad134pupilsenrolledtoschoolD
whichhad417childrenenrolled.Alloftheschoolsweresimilarintermsofaverage
classsizeswithapproximately20childrenineachYear1class.Alloftheschools
hadthesamelevelofstaffingperpupilandsimilarteachingandspecialneeds
support.Parentalparticipationwasevidentacrossalloftheschoolswithparents
involvedinvariousschoolcouncilsandparentteacherassociations.Parentswere
proactiveinfundraisingforschoolequipmentandtrips.Parentswerealsoinvitedto
theschooluptofourtimesperyearforprogressreportsregardingchildreninYear1
classes.

33

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Table2helpstoclarifythismorefully.

Table2:Comparabilitybetweenthefoursettings
SAMPLE

AVERAGE%
OFFREE
SCHOOL
MEALS

SCHOOL
SIZE

AVERAGE
CLASSSIZE

LOCALITY

BOARD
AREA

SettingA

20

273

21

Largetown

SELB

SettingB

11

417

22

LeafySuburb

BELB

SettingC

168

19

Suburban

SEELB

SettingD

75

134

18

Innercity

BELB

EvidencefromtheCaseStudies:TheTeachingStrategies
Inallfourofthesettings,thepractitionersdisplayedarangeofeffectiveteaching
strategiesthathelpedtofosterahighqualitythinkingenvironmentfortheiryoung
children.Theseteachingstrategiescouldbesummarisedasfollows:
demonstratingsensitivity
usingthinkinglanguage
modellingthinking
providingavarietyofcreativelearningexperiencesand
encouragingcriticalreflection.

Eachoftheseisdiscussedbelow.

Sensitivity
Theadultssensitivitywasdisplayedinarangeofwaysintheearlyyears
classrooms.Frequentlytheywereobserveddownatthechildrenslevelwhen
speakingtothem,makinggoodeyecontactandoftentouchingtheindividualchild's
shoulderwhenlisteningtohim/herspeak.Thestaffappearedtotakeagenuine
interestinalloftheactivitiesthechildrenengagedinandhadagreatrapportwith
them,conveyingasenseofwarmthandofnurturingespeciallywithyounger,less
confidentchildren.
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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Timewasspentobservingthechildreninanattempttoknowwhenandwhennotto
interveneandonalloccasionsapositiveselfimageofchildrenwasemphasised.
Themainmessagesappearedtobe,IcandoandIwillsupportyoutodo.
Encouragementofchildrenseffortswasatalltimesinevidenceandmuchemphasis
wasplacedonthechildrensownparticipationandvaluingallthecontributionsthat
weremade. Childrensideasandthoughtsmatteredandweretakeninto
considerationinalloftheclassrooms.

Thefollowingexamplehelpstoillustratethesensitivityoftheteachersmorefully.

Example1
TheteacherinsettingCnoticedthatJessicawasverybusyinthejunkareabut
decidedtoleavehertoherowndevicesasshemightinterruptherflowofthought.
Jessicawasmakinganaeroplaneoutofcerealboxesandbuncases.Awarethat
theactivityhadcometoanend,theteachercommented,Thatisawonderful
aeroplane.CouldyoutellmehowyoumadeitsoIcanmakeonetoo?Thechild
explainedhowshedesignedit.Wheredoyouwanttohangit/putitup?theteacher
asked.Jessicapointedtothelineoverheadandtheteacheraskedherwhatshe
wantedtoputontheaeroplanetodescribeitorsaywhatitis.Thechilddictatedher
nameandalsothefollowingnarrative,Anaeroplaneanditcanflylikeakite.The
teacherwrotethisoutforthechild,fixedittotheplaneandhungitupwhereJessica
wantedittobedisplayed.Attheendoftheplaysession,duringtheplenary,the
teacheraskedJessicatoshowheraeroplanetotherestoftheclassandtotellthem
aboutit.ThechildrenclappedJessicasefforts.Jessicawasverychuffedindeed.

TheUseofThinkingLanguage
Anotherteachingstrategythatwasexplicitineachofthesettingswastheemphasis
placedonusingthinkinglanguage.Theteacherskeptreferringtowhattheydidthe
dayortheweekbefore,constantlykeepingchildrenawareofwhattheyhadlearned
todateandlinkingthistogether,ensuringasenseofcontinuityinchildrensthinking.
Furthermore,anarrayoflanguagewasusedtodrawthechildrensattentiontothe
importanceofthinking,forexample,LetsThinkThatisverygoodthinkingIam
35

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

goingtogiveyousomethinkingtimeIamlookingoutforthebestthinkerstoday
andIwantyoutothinkcarefullyandthinkbackorreflect,doweallknowwhatthat
bigwordsmeans,yesthinkbacktowhatwedidyesterday.Advancedlanguage
wasalsousedbytheteacherstofamiliarisethechildrenwiththecorrectterminology
fortheskillstheywereusing,forexamplesequence,order,classify,sort,predict,
imagineandreason.

Onseveraloccasionsacommentarywassuppliedbytheteacherstoexplain
linguisticallytheskillsandprocessestheywereusing,forexample,Welldone
Johnnie.Youareverycleveryouhavesortedtheanimalsfortwocriteriabigand
small.orIseewhatyouaredoingHelen.Youareorderingtheteddiesfrom
biggesttosmallest.Example2clarifiesthismorefully.
Example2
Teacher:Nowboysandgirls,abighardchallenge.Whocanthinkofawaytosort
thesehoopsbeforeweputthemawayinthestore?
Jack:Colours.
Teacher:Thatisasuperidea.CouldyoudothatforusJack?

Jack,withthehelpofsomepeers,proceedstosortthehoopsintoredandbluesets.
Teacher:Welldonechildren.Thatisexcellent.Cananyonethinkofanothergood
waytosortthehoops?
Alice:Smallandbig.
Teacher:Canyouthinkofanyothersize?
Alice:Middlesize.
Teacher:Excellent.Nowboysandgirlsyouaregoingtohavetodecidewhether
yourhoopissmall,middleorlarge.Whatisthewordwearelookingfor?
Louise:Sorting.
Teacher:Thatsright,wearesortingourhoops.

Tocomplementthelanguageused,arangeofgestureswereemployedtomake
thinkingmoreexplicitintheclassroom.Forexampleteacherspointedtotheirhead

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

whilstreferringtothinking,tellingchildrentoputontheirthinkingcapsandtotie
themtightlyor,theyheldupaquestionmarktodenotethatreallygoodthinkingwas
takingplace.ThisisclearlyillustratedinExample3.

Example3
InthegyminsettingA,thechildrenwerelisteningtoaCDandhadtocarryoutaset
ofmovesandinstructionsaccordingly.Afterchildrencompletedthefirstdancing
taskthemusicchangeddenotinganewdance.Theteachersaid,Iwantyouto
haveareallygoodthink.Iwantyoutoputyourhandsonyourhead(teacherhas
bothhandsonherheadandchildrencopy)andthinkisthisaloudsongorasoft
song?Childrenlistenedtothequietmusicandsaid,Soft.

TheUseofQuestioning
Ineachofthesettingstherewasmuchemphasisplacedontheuseofopenended
questioningonthepartoftheteacher,suchas:
Whodoyouthink...?
Whywouldhebe...?
Howdoyouknow...?
Whatdoyouthink?

Thechildrenwereencouragedtotalkandaskeachotherquestionsinsteadofbeing
expectedtoremainsilentandtolistentotheteacher.Thefollowingexamples
illustratetheteacherusingopenendedquestionsortaskstoencouragechildrento
thinkmorefully.
Example4
TwochildreninsettingCwereattheartstationduringplaytime.
Teacher:"Thatisawonderfulmachineyouaremaking.Canyoutellmemoreabout
it?
Bill:Itsanaeroplaneandyouseethesewingstheymakeitgoreallyfast,woom
woom.Iwasinanaeroplaneonceanditwasgreat.
Amy:SowasI.IwenttoSpainanditwasreallysunnythereandyougottogoon
thebeach.Ilovedit.

37

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Teacher:Whatcanyoudoatthebeach?
Amy:Ohyoucandolots.Youcanswim,youcanpaddleandyoucanevenbuild
bigsandcastles.
Bill:Icanbuildsandcastlestoo.MydadsaysIamthebest.Imadelotsofsand
castlesbuttheyaredisappearedandIwassad.
Teacher:Whatdoyouthinkmadethemdisappear?
Bill:Itsthewater,teacher.Mydadsaidthatitismagic.Theseagoesinatnight
timeandmakesallthesandwet.
Teacher:TheseaisveryinterestingindeedBillbutletsgetbacktothisfantastic
aeroplane.Iwonderdoesanyoneknowthisbig,hardquestion?Whatdoyoucall
themanorwomanwhofliestheaeroplane?
Amyshouting:Iknowteacher,itsapeelot.
Teacher:WelldoneAmy.Itisapilot.Youaresuchabrainygirl.Greatthinking.I
willletyouandBillgetonwithyouraeroplane.Ihavekeptyoubackenough.

Example5
Afterreadingthestory,TheThreeBillyGoatsGruff,thechildreninsettingDwere
putintosmallgroupsandtheyhadtothinkupsomealternativeendingstothestory.
Onegroupcameupwiththeideaoflettingthetrolleatthegoatswhileanothergroup
decidedthatthetrollbecameafriendlytrollwhoplayedwiththegoatsandwasnever
nastyagain.Asthechildrencouldnotwritetheirideastheyhadtodrawthembut
eachgrouphadtoagreeononeidea,thusencouragingreasoninganddiscussion.

Modellingstrategies
Theteachersmodelledhighqualitythinkinginactioninanattempttoencouragethe
childrentoadoptsomeofthesestrategiesforthemselves.Thefollowingexample
helpstoclarifythis.
Example6
InsettingA,theteachereffectivelymodelledcheckingstrategiesduringanactivityso
thatchildrenknewhowtoensuretheiransweriscorrect.Thechildrencarriedouta
numeracytaskwheretheyhavetoplacethecorrectnumberofelephantsonthe
38

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

numberdisplayed.Jamesrequiredhelpashesaidhewasinamuddleandsothe
teacherpromptedhimandhegotthecorrectnumberofelephants.Thentheteacher
askedhim,Howdoyouknowthatyouareright?andhereplied,Youhaveto
checkit.Theteacherreflectedbacktothechild,Letscountandcheck.andthey
bothrecounttheelephants.

Alsoduringnumberfun,thegroupplayedacomputergameprojectedontothe
overheadwhiteboard.Thechildrenhadtoidentifythenumberandclickontheright
machinewiththecorrespondingnumberofdotsonit.Whenachildclickedonthe
correctmachinewithfivedotsforthenumberfivetheteacheraskedher,Howdid
youknowthatthemachinehadfive?Thechildreplied,Icounted.Theteacher
thensaid,Yes,youcountedandchecked.Welldone.

Scaffolding
Inthesettingsitwasfrequentlyobservedthattheteachershadtomovebeyond
modellingthinkingtoactuallyprobeandpromptthechildrentoextendthethinking
experience.Inthiswayitcouldbearguedthattheteacherswereengagingina
processofscaffolding,eitherthroughtheuseoflanguageoraction.Thefollowing
exampleshelptoillustratethis.
Example7
InsettingA,theteacherencouragedthechildrentorecitethedaysoftheweek.
Whilstpointingtoachartshehasuponthewallsheasked,Whocantellmewhat
theweatherwaslikeonMah,MahMonday?Howcouldwefindout?Achildgoes
overtotheweatherchartonthewindowandpointstoTuesdaysweather.
Teacher:TodayisnotMonday,cananyoneelsetellme?

Thechildrenlookedpuzzledsoteacherofferedsupport.
Teacher:Mondaywasthefirstdaythatwecamebacktoschoolaftertheweekend.
Haveyouanyidea?Whatwouldhelpustofindout?
Child:Sunday.

39

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Teacher:No,lookatallourelephantsandtheyhavethedaysoftheweekonthem
andsoletssaythemagain.HowcouldIfindoutwhattheweatherwaslike?
(Theweatherisusuallyplacedundereachday/elephant)

Child:LookatthefirstelephantonMonday.
Teacher:Why?
Child:BecausethatisMonday.
Teacher:Soremembering,whatwastheweatherlikeonMonday?

ChildpointedtoweathersymbolunderneathMonday.

Teacher:SolookingatwhatHollyhasdone,howcouldwefindoutwhatTuesdays
weatherwaslike?
Child:Thepurpleone.(Tuesdayisapurpleelephant).

Thechildthensaidwhattheweatherwaslike.
Teacher:Whatwastheweatherliketoday?Think,whatyouwerewearingwhen
youwentouttoplaytoday.
Child:Acoat,itwasraining

Teacherinvitedthechildovertoselectthecorrectrainingsymbolandchildplacedit
undertheFridayelephant(today).

Example8
Duringplaytime,theteacherinsettingCnoticedthattheplayinthehairdressers
wasveryboring.Shedecidedtophonethehairdressersandbookedherselfinfora
perm.Soonshearrivedandaskedforsomemagazinestohelpherchoosethe
hairstyleshewanted.Immediatelytheplaywasenhanced.Apurposefuldialogue
soondevelopedbetweentheteacherandthehairdresserandinnexttonotimeother
childrenwerewaitingtogettheirhairdone.

40

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

InsettingsCandDtheteacherencouragedthechildrentoparticipateinasetof
exercisesknownas'BrainGym'wherechildrenundertakeasetofshortphysical
exercisesmodelledbytheteacherimmediatelybeforealessonoractivity.These
coordinatedexercisesarethoughttoimproveconcentrationandcognitive
developmentwithonestudyreportingimprovementinbehaviouraswell(Harris,
2003citedinTaggartetal.2005).Theseclasseshadprimarymovementtimetabled
aspartofthedailyscheduleandthiswasacombinationofmovement(grossand
finemotorskills)andsingingalongtonurseryrhymes.

CreativeLearningExperiences
Creativitywasintegraltothelearningexperienceinallfoursettings,withplaygreatly
inevidence.Adedicatedperiodoftimewassetasideforstructuredplayeachday
andduringthistimethechildrenwereallowedtochoosefromthevarietyofplay
basedactivitiesavailable.Thefollowingexampleshelptoillustratetheemphasisthat
wasplacedonencouragingchildrentothinkforthemselvesinanimaginativeway.
Example9
InsettingC,agroupofchildrenwereinvolvedinpaintingacrazyfaceusing
hairdressersutensils.Theseincludedbrushes,combs,curlers,clips,andscissors.
Thechildreninvolvedthoroughlyenjoyedtheexperienceandshowedpersistence,
individualityandoriginality.Eachpicturewastotallyuniqueandhighlyimaginative.

Example10
InsettingAthechildrenwereinvolvedinstructuredplay.Oneoftheplaystations
wasanigloo.Agroupoffourchildrenwereplayingthere.Theyweredressedinfur
likeEskimosandtheboysweretryingtoshootpolarbears.Skiswereavailablefor
thechildrenaswellasasleigh.Insidetheiglootherewasnoelectricity.The
childrenwereencouragedtothinkaboutwhattheycoulddowithoutithowthey
wouldcookandwhattheywoulddoinsteadofwatchingTV.

Reflection

41

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Theteacherspractisedaplan,do,reviewapproachtosomeextentduringplaytime.
Thechildrenwereencouragedtoinformallyplanwhattheywantedtodoandthenat
theendoftheplaysession,aplenarytookplace,generallyintheformofa
discussionbutsometimesthroughcompletingarecordsheet.Overall,thechildren
wereencouraged(throughanumberofteachingstrategies)tothinkbacktowhat
theyhaddonebeforetoinformnewlearningandtoengagetosomeextentina
processofselfreflection. Example11outlinesthisapproach.

Example11
Duringcircletime,theteacheropenedaclassdiscussion(usinglotsofopen
questioning)aboutwhattoexpectduringaplannedfiredrilllateronintheweek.
Afterraisingallthenecessaryquestionsandgettingthechildrentorespondand
participateasfullyaspossible,theteacherpassedaroundastoneandaskedthe
childrentotakeitinturnsandsaywhattheycouldrememberfromthediscussion.
Whenhalfoftheclasshaddonethis,theteacherstoppedandreflectedonallofthe
suggestionsbysaying,Thatsgreat,wearethinkingofsomegreatthingstodo
whenwearehavingafirepractice.

Oneofthechildrenscontributionswas,Iftheresafiredontworrybecausethe
teacheristheretolookafterus.Theteacheracknowledgedthechildandgave
positivefeedbackbyreplying,Thatsaverygoodidea!Anotherchildsuggested
thatshe,wouldgotoherchildminderiftherewasafireatschool.Theteacher
reframedthequestionbyfirstlysaying,No,weneverleavetheschoolduringthe
day.andproceededbyasking,Whatdowedowhenthereisafireatschool?The
samechildwasstuckandsotheteacherintervenedwithathinkingstrategy.Have
athink.WhatdidItellyouyouwouldhavetodo?Thechildrespondedwiththe
correctanswer,Iwouldlineupandnotruntotheplayground.

Theaboveexamplesallprovidefirsthandevidenceoftheroletheadultsplayinthe
developmentofthinkingskillsinyoungchildren.Bythesametoken,astheliterature
suggests,thephysicalenvironmentalsoisintegraltotheoverallthinkingexperience.
Thenextsectionconcentratesonexemplarsofgoodthinkingenvironments,as
observedinthefourYear1settings.
42

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

43

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

EvidenceFromTheCaseStudies:TheLearningEnvironment
Aswiththeteachingstrategies,theenvironmentineachofthefoursettings:
wascolourfulandstimulating
childrensownworkandthinkingaidswereondisplay
outdoorfacilitieswereavailable
apositiveethoswasinevidenceand
thelearningexperiencetendedtobeflexibleandplaybased.

Eachofthesewillbediscussedinturn.

ColourfulandStimulatingClassrooms
Inthreeofthesettings,theearlyyearsclassroomswereverybrightandcolourful
withcoloureddesks,chairsandstoragefurniture.Theothersettingmadeupforthe
lackofcolourthroughtheuseofbrightandcolourfuldisplays.Alltheactivityareas
wereclearlydefinedandwellresourced.Materialswerestoredinclearlymarked
traysinopencabinetsandsomehadphotographsofwhatwasinsidefixedtothe
labeltomakeiteasyforthechildrentoseewhereaparticularitemwaslocatedand
tohelpthemmakechoicesmorereadilyinplanninganactivity.Theworktopsand
cabinetswerealllowlevelforthechildrenanddisplaysandlearningaidsateyelevel
forthesmallchildren.Therewasacomfortablecarpetareafortaskssharedwiththe
teachersuchasplanning,circletimeandsharedreading.Onotheroccasionsthis
carpetactedasaprivateareawherechildrencouldgoandrelaxandreadabook
quietly.Attractivedisplayswerenotonlymountedonthewalls,butattractive
resourcesrelatingtothetopicforthatmonthweredisplayedaroundtheroomwhich
childrencouldconsultattheirownleisureusingtheirsenses.

ChildrensOwnWorkinEvidence
Therewerelotsofexamplesofthechildren'sownworkondisplayonthewallandall
aroundtheclassroom.

44

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

InschoolA,therewasadedicatedspacecalledtheLearningWall.Thishadallthe
childrensmessagesthetopic,letterandthemeoftheweekaswellasrulesrelating
torespectingeachother. Thiswasinadditiontootherdisplaysofthechildrens
work.

InschoolB,thechildrenhadmadetheirowndrawingsofpumpkinsandhadthe
letter'P'displayedtoo,alettertheyhadlearnedafewweekspreviously.

SchoolChaddisplaysmadebythechildrenrecordingtheirfavouritefoods.These
wereaccompaniedbyphotographsofthechildrenasbabies,concealedbyacard
withthequestion:'Canyouguessthebaby?

InsettingD,thechildrenslearningachievementswereaccompaniedwiththe
narrative,Wehavelearnttosaythedaysoftheweek,makingexplicitwhatthe
childrenhadlearned.InschoolD,thechildrenallhelpedtomakealargedisplay,
chartingeveryone'seyecolour.Thiswaslinkedtoavisitbyanoptician,madethe
weekbefore.

Intwoofthesettingsthechildren'slearningmomentswerecapturedinphotographs
placedallaroundtheroom.Theseshowedthechildrenparticipatingindifferent
activitiesandhadsomenarrativeattachedsuchasWehadgreatfundressingupas
bookcharacters Whocanyousee?

Learning/ThinkingAidsonDisplay
Wordbanksweredisplayedonthewallsoftheclassroomsidentifying:
keywordsthechildrenhadlearnedtodateandotherstheywouldneed
daysoftheweek
monthsoftheyearand
theweeksweather.
Onthechildrensdesksanumberline(110)wasfixed,alongsidetheirname.In
settingC,thiswasaccompaniedbythechildsphoto.Asystemofselfregistration

45

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

wasalsoinoperationwithallthechildren'snamesondisplayaswellasbirthdays
(forexample,Whoisfouryearsoldandwhoisfive?).

Colourfulandeyecatchingalphabetandnumberchartswerehangingateyelevelfor
childrentoseefromanypositionintheroom.InsettingD,thenumberchartwas
accompaniedbysomequestionstoaidstimulation,suchas'Whereistoday's
number?'Inallofthesettingstherewasaposteronthewallthatreferredtowhat
partsoftheirbodycouldbeusedtodevelopskillsthechildrenneedforexampleears
forlisteningandeyesforwatching.Avisualtimetablewasinevidencesothat
childrencouldfollowtheroutineoftheday.

OutdoorFacilities
Outdooractivitywasaplannedpartofallofthechildren'stimetables.Intwoofthe
settingsavarietyofequipmentwasavailableforthechildrensuchasbicycles,
scooters,ballsandhoops.Inonesettingtherewasagardenwherethechildrenhad
theopportunitytodigandthereareplanstodevelopthisareasothatthechildren
cangrowplantsandvegetables.

Theteachersalsohighlightedhowtheoutdoorsissimplyusedasanextensionofthe
classroominthesummertermandtheemphasisisplacedasmuchaspossibleon
exploratoryplay.Excursionsalsotakeplacethroughouttheyeartoextendthe
childrensknowledgeoftheirenvironment,suchasvisitstothelocalsupermarket,
thegardencentre,andthefarm.

TheEthos
Inallclassroomstherewasaveryinvitingandwelcomingatmosphere.Thechildren
appearedrelaxedandateaseandtherewasahumofactivity,coupledwithsmiling
facesandsoundsoflaughter.Thephysicalsettingcomplementedthisrelaxed
atmosphere.Thechildrensatinsmallgroupsandappropriatetalkwasencouraged.
Collaborativelearningwasprioritisedandemphasiswasplacedonensuringthatthe
voicesofthechildrenwerebeingheardandtakenintoconsideration.Positive

46

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

relationshipswereencouragedandatalltimebickering,fightingandtaletellingwere
discouraged.Theadultshadawarm,caringrapportwiththechildrenandstrict
disciplinewasnotinevidence.Inthisway,theenvironmentineachofthesettings
wasconducivetopositivepersonal,socialandemotionaldevelopment.

PracticalandPlayBasedActivities
Theemphasisonpracticalandplaybasedactivitieswasapparentineachofthe
settings.Formalwrittenexerciseswerekepttoaminimum.Atleastanhoureach
morningwasdedicatedtostructuredplaywherechildrenwereencouragedto
engageinavarietyofexploratory,creativeandproblemsolvingtasks.Likewise,
mostmathematicalactivitiestendedtobepracticalandproblembasedandthe
literacyactivitiestendedtobesharedlearningexperiencesusingabigbook,
wherebydiscussion,questioningandreflectionwerestressed.Someoftheactivities
observedwhichappearedtobeparticularlyadvantageousforthedevelopmentof
thinkingskillsincluded:
Planningtime
- childrencanmakechoices
Showandtell
- childsnarrative
Sharedwritingandreadingaswellasindividualwork
- storieswereexcellentforthis
Openplay
- artandcraft,imaginativeplay,dough,waterandsand
P.E.andphysicalactivityandgymequipment
- nurseryrhymesarerecited(questioningbyteacher)
Primarymovement
Musiclesson/musictime
- childrenthoroughlyenjoyedthis
Havingvisitsfrompeoplewithdifferentoccupations
- forexampleanoptician,policemanandactors
Cookery

47

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Plannedvisitsoutsidetheschoolwiththeteacher
- thisprovidesagreatresourceforsharedideasandthinkingandstimulating
recallandrecapandcanthenprovideastimulusfortheliteracytask
Numeracyworktoincludesortingandsequencing,patterns,matchingand
counting
- thiscanbesupportedwithothermediasuchasvideosandcomputerwork
Circletime
- allowstimeforreflection.

Alloftheaboveexampleshelptoprovidepracticalevidencetosupportthefindings
fromtheliteratureontheneedforastimulating,physicalenvironmenttosupportthe
developmentofthinkingskillsinyoungchildren.

48

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

EvidenceFromTheCaseStudies:TheChildrensActions
Theobservationssuggestedthatthemostexplicitindicatorofchildrensthinking
weretheirfacialexpressions,asshowninExample12.
Example12
Benwaswritingastoryaboutaclasstriptoalocalpark.Whilsthewaswritingout
thesentences,hewastalkingaloudtohimself,soundingoutthelettersandhadhis
fingerinhismouth.Hewascompletelyengagedinthetaskandprogressedwellas
hemanagedtocompletethetask.

Ellahadherhandonthesideofherheadasshewascompletingajigsawofadog.
Tomhadhistongueprotrudingwhilstcompletingajigsawofthepark.Katiegently
tappedonthetablewhilstshereadoutthesentencesshehadwrittenaboutthepark.

Similarly,whenagroupofchildrenwereengagedinlisteningtothestoryaboutthe
gingerbreadmananumberofthinkinggestureswereobserved.Theseincluded
pursedlips,facesfixedtotheteacher,runningfingersthroughhairandchewingtheir
fingers.Whenaskedaquestion,Ethantappedhisnose.

Otherindicatorswerealsoinevidence.Theseincluded:
thechildrensconfidencetospeakoutandtakerisks
theirhighlevelofpersistencewhenmeetingdifficulty
theircompetenceatexplainingwhattheyhaddoneandwhy
theiruseofthinkinglanguage
theirabilitytosortandclassify
theirabilitytoreflectandreason
theircompetenceataskingquestionsandmakingsuggestionsand
theircreativeflairwhencompletingtasks.
Examples13,14and15helptoillustratethismorefully.

49

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Example13
Tinawasparticipatinginfreeplayfirstthinginthemorningandhadchosentoplay
withmagneticconstructionshapes.Whilstsomechildrenathertablewere
constructingtheirownindividualdesigns,Tinawascommittedtoconstructinga
designillustratedonacardwithintheset.Sheworkedreallyhardandintentlyand
wasclosetocompletingthedesignwhenshesaidtoherfriend,Ineedthispiece.
Shepointedtothetopofthevandepictedonthecardandthenselectedthecorrect
shape,identicaltothatonthecard.Whenshecompletedthevanshejumpedup
anddownandsaid,I'vedoneit!Tinawasverypleasedwithherachievementbut
thenlookedatitagain.Idontthinkthatbackismuchuse.Itdoesntstayon. Yes
thatsthepieceIneed(addingherownpiecetothedesign).Yes,thatsbetter.That
willworkbetter.
Thinkingskillsinevidenceinclude:
persistenceinfaceofdifficulty
abilitytofollowinstructions
possessingaplanofaction
abilitytomakeadecisionand
beingcapableofreflectingandreasoning.

Attheendofasortingactivitytheteacheraskedsomechildren,Whathaveyou
donewithyourelephantsthismorning?Jessicareplied, Imadeasetofelephants.
TheteacherthenpromptedJessicatoexplainwhatasetmeans.
Jessica:Setsareacollection.
Teacher:(holdingupasetofuniblocks)Ryanwhatdowecallthis.
Ryan:Apattern.
Teacher:Whatisspecialaboutyourcubes?
Ryan:Itsatower.
Teacher:Isitatallorshorttower?
Ryan:Itsalongtower.
Teacher:(asksPaul)Whatdidyoudowithyourdogs?

50

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Paul:Iputtheminyellow,pinkandwhite.(Childpointstothegroupingsinfront.)
Canyousortthemadifferentwayteacher?
Teacher:WellPaul,letmesee.Canyougivemesomehelp?
Paul:Ihaveagoodidea.Letsmakeasetofbigdogsandsmalldogs.
Teacher:WelldonePaul.Whatagoodidea!

Thinkingskillsinevidenceinclude:
abilitytosortandclassify
useofappropriatelanguage
competenceatspeakingoutandaskingquestions
makingsuggestionsand
capableofexplainingandreasoning.

Example14
Amyhadspentmuchofplaytimemakingabirthdaycakewithplaydough.Sheput
someintricatepatternsonitandplacedfivecandlesonthetop.Afterplaytime,the
teacheraskedAmyifshewouldliketoshowherbeautifulcaketotherestofthe
class.Amyexplainedhowshemadeitandwhomitwasfor.Theteacherthen
askedAmythecomplicatedquestion,Ifyouweretomakeanothercakewhatmight
youdodifferently?Amyreplied,WellIwouldmakeitbiggerofcourse,andIwould
likethosesparklythingstogooverittomakeitlookpretty.
Thinkingskillsinevidence:
abilitytobecreative
capableofprovidinganexplanation
abilitytoreflectandreasonand
confidenceinspeakingout.

Example15
InsettingC,thechildrenwerecompletingagrouppaintingactivity.Theywere
makingacollage.Someexcellentdiscussionwasoverheard.Johnthoughtthesky

51

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

shouldbedarkbluebutEmilythoughtthatitwouldlooklikenighttime.Robertthen
suggestedthatlightbluemightlookbetterasitmightlooklikeitwasgoingtorainif
theskywasdark.Johnthoughtthiswasagoodideaanddecidedtoaddsomewhite
painttotheblue.
Thinkingskillsinevidence:
workingcollaboratively
makingsuggestions
offeringalternatives
acceptingtheopinionofothers
confidenceingivinganopinionand
creativeproblemsolving

52

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

PARTB:THEOBSERVATIONINSTRUMENT
Theremitofthisstudywastwofold.Thefirstkeyobjectivewastoundertakea
literaturesurvey,supportedbyevidencefromtheclassroom,toidentifykey
indicatorsofahighqualitylearningexperienceforyoungchildren.Thesecond
objectivewastousetheseindicatorstorefinetheHigherOrderThinkingSkills
(HOTs)indicatorinthealreadyexistingobservationinstrumentknownastheQuality
LearningInstrument(QLI)(Walsh,2000WalshandGardner,2005).Inthiswaya
moreaccurateassessmentofthequalityofthethinkingexperiencecanbemade.
Furthermore,withmoreexplicitdescriptors,teacherscouldperhapsusetheQuality
LearningInstrumentasaselfassessmenttool.

Asummaryoftheliteratureandtheevidencefromtheobservationhavebeen
combinedtoinformtherevisedHOTsindicatorfromtheQLI.Astheliterature
reviewedandthecasestudiesundertakenallconcentratedonahighqualitythinking
experience,theyinformedtheexamplesofhighqualityforthepurposesoftheQLI.

Table3,seeoverleaf,illustratesthismorefully.

53

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Table4:HigherOrderThinkingSkillsIndicator
CHILDRENSACTIONS

TEACHINGSTRATEGIES

THEROLEOFTHE
ENVIRONMENT

Thechildren:

Theadults:

Theenvironment:

displayselfconfidenceinthe
classroom
showpersistenceinwhatthey
do
usethinkinglanguageand
gestures
canengageinplanningfor
exampletheyappeartoknow
whattheyaredoingandcangive
anexplanation
cancompletetaskscompetently
cancategoriseandsequence
successfully
arecapableofreflectingon
previouswork
canmakeacommentontheir
ownworkandinthiswayare
beginningtoevaluatetheirown
work
askinformativequestions
frequently
canexplainwhytheyhavedone
thingsinacertainway
areopentosuggestionsfrom
others
makeanattemptatsolving
problemsforthemselvesand
showsignsofcreativityinwhat
theydo.

aresensitivetothechildrens
needsforexampletheytunein
easilytowhenandwhennotto
intervene
displaywarmthand
encouragementthrough
makingeyecontact,beingdown
atchildrenslevelandgently
touchchildrensheador
shoulders
encourageasenseofselfbelief
throughencouragementand
appropriatepraise
allowchildrenasenseof
ownership/autonomyoftheirown
learning
makereferencetoprevious
learningtoinformnewlearning
usethinkinglanguageincluding
reflection,remembering,paying
attentionandlistening
makeuseofphysicalgesturesto
encouragethinkingtotakeplace
useanarrayofopenquestions
givechildrentimetotalkandto
askeachotherquestions
modelthinkingstrategies
scaffoldthechildrenslearning
throughmakingsuggestions
aboutwhattodonext,asking
probingquestions,amplifying
childrensutterancesand
participatingwiththechildren
duringplay
useprimarymovementwhere
andwhenappropriate
provideanarrayofcreative,
practicallearningandplaybased
experiencestopromotedecision
making,problemsolving,useof
imagination,criticalenquiryand
encouragechildrentoplan,do
andreviewinaninformalmanner
especiallyduringstructuredplay.

isspaciousandcolourfulwith
brightlypaintedwalls,colourful
furnitureandwellpresented
displaysofchildrensownwork
isflexible,wellorganisedand
notoverlystructuredwithclearly
markedareas,appropriate
labels,childsizedfurnitureand
itemsthatstayinafixedplace
isownedbythechildren
childrenspaintings,drawings,
graphs,messages,photographs
areondisplay
ischildled
thinkingaidssuchasword
banks,alphabetcharts,daysof
theweek,numberlists,captions,
questions,keyskillchartsand
selfregistrationareondisplay
outdoorfacilitiesareavailable
andareseenasanextensionof
theclassroom(bikes,scooters,
balls,hoopsandgardenpatch
available)
Theoutsidecommunityistaken
advantageofthroughtripstothe
farm,zoo,florists,supermarket,
gardencentre,localparkandso
on
playbasedandpractical
activitiesarecarriedout(show
andtell,childsnarrative,shared
writingandreading, individual
work,stories,freeplay,artsand
craft,pretend,playdough,water
andsand,P.E.andphysical
activity,primarymovement
wherenurseryrhymesare
recited(questioningbyteacher),
musictime,visitsfrompeople
suchastheoptician,policeman
andactors,cookery,planned
visitsoutsidetheschool,
numeracyworkthatincludes
sortingandsequencing,
patterns,matchingandcounting
(thiscanbeaidedwithother
mediasuchasvideosand
computerwork)andcircletime
withtimeforreflectionand
hasapositiveethos.

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

CONCLUDINGCOMMENTS
Boththeliteratureandthecasestudiesconfirmthatpractitionerscanplayasalient
partinthedevelopmentofyoungchildrensthinking,iftheappropriateteaching
strategiesareused.

Thesestrategiestendtofallintofourmainphases.Thefirstphasecouldbe
describedasatuninginprocesswherebytheteacherstaketimetofamiliarise
themselveswithwhatachildorgroupofchildrenaredoingandthenmakeadecision
astowhethertheyneedtointerveneornot.Iftheydodecidetointervene,theneed
toactsensitivelyisclearlyemphasised.

Thenextphasecouldbereferredtoasadevelopmentalprocesswherebythe
teacherusesmodelling,scaffoldingorquestioningstrategies(amongstothers)to
extendthethinkingexperience.

Thecreativephasemayrunalongsidethedevelopmentphasewherebytheteacher
simplyprovidesopenendedandplaybasedtasksforthechildrentoengageinorit
maybeenvisagedasanextensiontothedevelopmentphase.Heretheteacherwill
encouragethechild/rentothinkbeyondtheroutine,emphasisingtheimportanceof
completinganactivitywithflairandcomingupwithcreativesolutionstoa
problem/question.

Thefinalphasecouldbedefinedasthereflectionphase.Theemphasisduringthis
phaseistoencourageyoungchildrentoreflectonwhattheyhavedoneandengage
inaprocessofselfassessment.Thisphaseintroducesadegreeofcognitive
conflictonthepartofthechild,wheretheteacher/significantother,throughhis/her
tactfuluseoflanguage/questioning,mightintroduceadegreeofchallenge/ambiguity
tothechild/rensthought(seeAppendix1).

Acombinationoftheliteratureandthecasestudieswouldsuggestthatthephysical
environmentalsohasaroletoplayinthedevelopmentofchildrensthinking.The
physicalenvironmentcomprisesthreemainelements:
thephysicalappearance

55

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

theethosand
thecurriculum.
Appendix2detailstheseelementsfurther.

Althoughsomeliterature,suchasthatofAdey,ShayerandVenville(2001),focuses
solelyonthecognitiveaspectofchildrensthinking,asummaryoftheliterature
reviewedinthisreport,complementedbythecasestudies,wouldsuggestthat
childrensthinkingismorecomplex,comprisingsixmaincategories:
social/emotional
dispositional
cognitive
linguistic
creative
andreflectivethinking.

TheseareexplainedmorefullyinAppendix3.

Theliteratureandthecasestudieswouldsuggestthatthelevelofchildrensthinking
canbedetectedby:
tuningintotheirfacialexpressionsandgesturestorevealtheiroveralllevelof
confidenceandpersistence
observingtheircompetenceatcognitivetaskssuchassorting,sequencing,
orderingandclassifying
assessingtheirabilitytoplan,doandreview
notingtheircreativeflairandtheirpowersofquestioning
listeningforthedegreeofthinkinglanguageusedand
observingtheircapacitytoengageinaprocessofcriticalreasoning,reflecting,
considering,takingonboardtheviewsofothers,tacklingambiguityandbeing
opentochallenge.

56

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Thewholethinkingexperiencecanbeconsolidatedandsummedupbywayof
conclusioninthefollowingthinkingwheel.

ETHOS

Key:
Emotionalandsocialprerequisite
Modelling,questioning,encouraging,addingcommentary
Stimulating,flexible,playbasedandwelcoming
Usethinkinglanguage,asksimplequestions,explainandclarify,
generateideas,sort,sequence,classify,justify
Promotecriticaldiscussionanddebate,encouragecriticalreflectionand
evaluation,introducechallengeandambiguity
Creativity,criticality,reasoning,acceptingcognitiveconflict,tackling
ambiguity

57

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

RECOMMENDATIONS
Theserecommendationsbuildonthoseproposedthroughoutthereportandfocus
particularlyonhowahighqualitythinkingexperiencecanbepromotedina
FoundationStageclassroom.

Toensureeffectivethinkingonthepartofchildrenaged45years:

AnappropriateethosmustbeinplaceinanyFoundationStageclassroom.The
classroomethosmustbefriendly,welcoming,caring,encouraging,supportive
andashomelikeaspossible.

Thephysicalindoorandoutdoorenvironmentshouldbebright,stimulating,
colourfulandcheerfulandmostimportantlyownedbythechildren.

Thebestwaytostimulatethinkinginchildrenatthisageisthroughaplaybased
curriculumwithapracticalperspective,basedonchildrensownneedsand
interests.Itshouldbeasopenendedaspossible,allowingforadegreeof
flexibilityandchoice.Theactivitiesofferedtochildrenshouldprovidean
appropriatelevelofchallengeandencouragethechildrentothinkmoreindepth,
withoutcurbingtheirenthusiasm.

Thereshouldbeanappropriatebalancebetweenchildinitiatedactivitiesand
adultinitiatedactivitiestoensurethatchallengeandextensiontochildrens
thinking.

Anauthoritativeteacherisnottheanswerbutratherasupportive,enthusiastic
practitionerwhoiswillingto:
takethetimetotuneintothechildrenslearningbyobservingthemandlistening
towhattheyhavetosayand
followtheirleadandbuilduponthisexperiencethrougheffectivemodelling,
scaffolding,questioningandencouragingstrategies.

58

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Childrenshouldfeelvaluedatalltimes,notfeelpressured.Mistakesshouldbe
acceptedaspartoflearningandadequatetimeshouldbegiventochildrento
allowthemtothinkeffectively.

Toensureeffectivedevelopmentinchildrensthinking,thenextstepfortheearly
yearspractitioneristo:
fostercreativity
offeralternatives
makelinkswithpreviouslearning
promotereflection
providechallengeand
introduceadegreeofambiguityandreflectivethinkingonthepartofthe
children.

59

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Appendix1:AStageBasedApproachtoSupporttheTeachingin
anEarlyYearsClassroom

Tuning In
Phase

Development
Phase

Creative Phase

Reflective
Phase

60

Creative Phase

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Key:TeachingStrategiesUsedinEachPhase
Tuningin

Development

Creative

Creative

Reflective

Observing
Listening
Encouraging
Showingsensitivity
Questioning
Modelling
Scaffolding
Givingtimetochildren
Encouragement
Addingacommentary
Bridging(makinglinkswithpreviousthinking)
Offeringopenended,playbasedtasks
Modellingcreativity
Encouragingautonomy
Encouragingflairandoriginality
Acceptingmistakesaspartoflife
Offeringalternativesandintroducingadegreeofambiguity
Encouragingpredictionanduseofimagination
Encouragingreflectionandselfassessment
Promotingcriticaldiscussionandquestioning
Introducingchallenge
Welcomingcriticalcommentary
Promotingcriticalconflict

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ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Appendix2:TheIntegralFeaturesofaSupportiveThinking
Environment

Childrens
ownwork
inevidence

Attractive
displays

Colourful
and
spacious
Outdoor
facilities

Open
ended

Flexible

Stimulatin
g

Appearance
Curriculum

Friendly

Ethos

Practical

Homelike
Play
based

Encour
aging

Challenging

Welcoming

Supportive

Appendix3:KeyDimensionsofChildrensThinking
62

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

Disposition
Reflective

al
Linguistic

Cognitive

Social/
Emotional

63

ThinkingSkillsinthe EarlyYears:AGuideforPractitioners

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