Skip to content ↓

What is the impact of teaching 'thinking skills'?

Published on 21/02/14

Having a thinking skills lesson on the timetable once a week for each class in the Junior School allows us to take a step away from the job of imparting knowledge and ensuring understanding, which is the normal routine of most classrooms, and concentrate on arguably the more important role of developing children's thinking.

But the power of the learning in this lesson cannot really be seen until it is embedded in the subject lessons that follow as only then is the depth of learning really evident.

Take a recent Year 5 (4th grade) lesson on the Tudors. With a focus on becoming critical thinkers, the pupils were taught about cause and effect in their thinking skills lesson. They looked at the following events and came up with as many causes and effects for each situation as they could.

  • It is made illegal to watch television for more than one hour a day. What might be the causes and effects of this?
  • Schools decide to double the length of the holidays. What might be the causes and effects of this?
  • A law is introduced that makes pet ownership compulsory for every household. What might be the causes and effects of this?

After some interesting discussions the pupils filled in cause and effect multi flow maps to make a visual representation of their ideas.

However the real learning began when they were able to use their understanding of cause and effect in a History lesson about the problem of the poor in Tudor times. With a central statement that one third of the population was living in poverty in England during Tudor times, the pupils were asked to sort out possible causes and effects. Once these had been discussed and agreed, they were then given the task of coming up with a solution to the problem to present to Queen Elizabeth I.

Previous thinking skills techniques were used to clearly identify the problems the poor were facing and some creative thinking was employed to begin to find ways of alleviating their distress. Finally the pupils wrote speeches as members of her Privy Council to persuade the Queen to do something about the poor in her land. The quality of their writing is a testament to the depth of their thinking.

Here is an example of some of the very best work produced, written in class by Lisa and Amy (Year 5).

Your Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I, the Queen of England and Ireland, most noble ruler and great monarch.

We, the members of your Privy Council, have spent much time considering the problems presented by the large numbers of poor people in our towns and countryside. We have consulted with our fellow gentlemen and agree that a series of ‘Poor Laws’ should be passed in order to solve these problems.

Firstly, the dissolution of the monasteries has proved a big problem for the poor, needy and deprived. The places of food and shelter they used to be able to reach so easily have gone, and you need to do something about that. From your father’s reign, Catholic monasteries seem to have become a thing of the past. Does it matter about religion when people are suffering? You may not want to re-open the monasteries and we would understand that but it is vital, your majesty, that you do something about this problem. Think of how you will be remembered if you leave this alone.

Second, disease is spreading from those living in poverty. I would humbly like to point out, your majesty, that that is one third of the population and increasing fast. While the population is increasing, the number of jobs is decreasing. The towns and cities are becoming overcrowded and disease-ridden. I know that the wealthy people are doing a fine job staying clear of these towns and cities, but we cannot just stand around and watch them die. Do you not want to be remembered as a fine monarch who helped the poor survive?

Most of these problems are caused by the fact that there are not many jobs available. Most of the poor famers that have a source of land to farm look after sheep but no crops. The poor can’t earn money without having a job. If they don’t have a job they could grow their crops and sell them in the village. The Privy council have been thinking of having jobs for the poor. They would go to the rich and work for them twice a week and they get a few shillings. That would help the rich and the poor. We think that something on that line would work.

Another thing we need to do, if you have a final decision on not opening the monasteries, is build some shelters in towns that are particularly disadvantaged. These shelters do not need to be associated with religion or be particularly luxurious, they just need to be a form of charity for the poor. We at the Privy Council must insist that something of this nature happens.

Now let us focus on the problem of disease. The main difficulty is that the poor are drinking water out of filthy, grimy and unclean sources. We think that new water pumps should be installed in the poor villages, allowing the poor access to clean water. Due to lack of shelter, the poor have to sleep with their animals, thus causing disease. If we enforce a law that the rich have to give 8% of land to the poor villages they can keep their animals on that land and stop having to live with them. If your majesty will allow that former law, 24% of any newborn animals born from a large group should be given away to the people that need it. I think I have covered this point.

I beg you, your most royal highness, to listen to the members of the Privy Council about these laws.