What a Difference a Year Makes!

Thinking Matters Consultant, Lorna Gardiner, recently met with Angela Sandow, Headteacher and Bex White, Assistant Headteacher and Drive Team Leader at Saxon Way Primary School to find out how they have taken forward the Thinking School approach during their first year and what impact they are seeing to date.

Saxon Way Primary School is located in Gillingham, Kent and has 429 pupils. The School’s Drive Team began training as trainers with Thinking Matters in summer 2021, along with Drive Team members from Kingfisher and Lordswood Primary Schools, who are all members of the Griffin Schools Trust.

For Saxon Way, adopting the Thinking School approach in the past year has built upon and tied together the school’s vision, values and characteristics of effective learning. From the Headteacher’s perspective, Angela outlined how the imperative to take forward a focus on ‘whole school metacognition’ had been influenced by the school leaderships’ reflections on the children’s experiences during the remote learning periods in Covid lockdown, as well as the recognition of the particular need to support the children to become more independent in their learning.

On the advice of Thinking Matters, the school leadership identified a strong Drive Team (DT) who commenced training as trainers via online sessions in summer term 2021. Following the DT’s engagement in the initial phase of their training, the two main INSET days for staff at the beginning of the school year allowed the DT to introduce the approach to all staff. At the same time they agreed specific aspects of practice to be developed across the school that term, including the use of Bloom’s taxonomy and questioning strategies, the Thinking Frames and the Pomodoro Technique.

A Bloom’s Taxonomy display from the beginning of the year, before introducing the visual icons

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs had been a whole school focus and there was agreement that the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy could be an important way of deepening children’s self-awareness as well as their thinking. Following the initial training, practical actions were agreed which included:

  • the creation of displays of the taxonomy in each class,
  •  the use of stickers using the language of the taxonomy in teacher feedback,
  • and an agreed expectation that all adults would use Bloom’s language as stepping stones – to deepen and extend children’s thinking and their conceptual development from concrete to abstract.

When practice didn’t initially take off as expected, with some staff finding the language tricky, Bex explained that the DT responded by designing icons representing the Bloom levels. These were then adopted as a whole school visual approach to support the development of a common language of thinking along with increased use of question stems and starters. Within the year, the DT has been able to document encouraging evidence of children increasingly using this thinking language as their metacognitive capacities develop.

In introducing key elements of the ‘Science of Learning’ staff now have better understanding of aspects such as neuroplasticity and modes of thinking. This knowledge has led to some staff using strategies such as the Pomodoro technique, and using enhanced movement and sensory breaks for children with individual learning needs.

The Thinking Frames were also introduced in a carefully paced manner. Staff initially agreed to focus on four (of eight) specific Thinking Frames. Following review and building of confidence, the next two Thinking Frames were introduced, with the final two introduced after a further opportunity for review. The enthusiasm and commitment of the DT to fully embed the metacognitive visual tools in their own practice was key in positively influencing colleagues. This extended, for instance, to not only modelling the use of the Thinking Frames in lessons with the children, but also to modelling their use regularly in CPD sessions and in planning and administrative tasks within the school.

Central to successful implementation, and building consistent and meaningful use of the Thinking Frames across the school, was the DT’s attention to monitoring and thoughtful and thorough strategies utilised. This has included regular opportunities during staff meetings and the hosting of a gallery session to share practice and ideas. Early in Term Two, when all eight Thinking Frames had been introduced, a validation check was conducted by the DT.  This included a review of children’s work through ‘book looks’, by using a TM questionnaire to survey staff and by engaging with cohorts of pupils to seek the ‘pupil voice’ about their experience of using the Thinking Frames.

Pupil voice is being used routinely and particularly effectively to measure impact – less than one year on and Angela and Bex report that many children can define metacognition, can identify each of the Thinking Frames, understand their purpose and the use of the Reflective Lens and can provide examples of how they have been using them in their learning.

Many of the children also demonstrate a deep level of understanding of Bloom’s. It was noted that significant progress is evident in particular year groups, so a future target will include further opportunity to share pedagogical practice in deepening the role of teaching staff as Cognitive Coaches.

It is evident in listening to Angela and Bex that their school’s success to date is the result of several important factors. The vision of senior leadership to equip their children with the tools they need to succeed in learning and in life has underpinned the establishment of systems and procedures.  This includes the appropriate prioritisation of time to support the DT in their role and for staff INSET and meeting times throughout the year.

A recent display from Term 6 from Saxon Way PS’s Year 5 cohort, demonstrating some beautiful artwork they produced along with the visual cues depicting the thinking skills they used during their learning.

Bex explained the importance of knowing your staff colleagues and planning to suit their particular needs, expectations and the school culture. For Saxon Way PS, this meant that the Drive Team carefully considered the pace of implementation from the outset and built in regular opportunities for monitoring and review to ensure that staff weren’t being bombarded by lots of different ideas. The school clearly demonstrates a culture in which honest and transparent reflection encourages staff to seek and be responsive to feedback. Within this culture, the DT have been tuned into staff needs and issues as well as their successes, and they have at times been courageous in tackling challenges to keep building momentum.

When asked what advice Saxon Way Primary School would give to other schools starting out, there is enthusiastic encouragement to ‘give it a go’ and ‘take the risk’! However, they also recognised that perseverance is important as the approach does take time to embed.

Although just one year since their Thinking School journey commenced, implementing the approach in the way that they have is already having positive and significant impact in Saxon Way PS. In Angela and Bex’s words:

“Children are developing more independent skills… skills not just for now but for their future”;“…it has transformed our learners and we are excited to see where it will go.”

This excitement is shared by all in Thinking Matters and we look forward to continuing with you on the journey ahead!

Lorna Gardiner
Thinking Matters

To find out more about Saxon Way Primary School, click here to visit their website

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