How has LT affected the way you approach teaching and learning? What difference has it made to pupils you teach and what's your evidence for this?
My teaching has been influenced by the Piagetian foundation that is present in the Let’s Think approach.
I think this Piaget quote summarises my approach, and by inference, the affect that Let’s Think has had on my teaching:
“Each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered for himself [sic], that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely” 1
One must grapple with the detail here. What is meant by ‘discovery’, ‘inventing’ and ‘understanding’? Are we permitted to explicitly teach something that a child could not have discovered for themself? If understanding can be complete, what is incomplete understanding and what criteria governs the boundary between incomplete and complete? Are we to assume that children should invent, for themselves, Einstein’s general theory of relativity before understanding is complete? There are many more questions we need to ask, but you get the idea.
The path to understanding is not the same for any two learners, each bringing their own notions and ideas about any concept that a teacher wishes to ‘teach’. At the heart of the Let’s Think approach is the goal of positioning the teacher as a learning partner who provides the stimulus and situation for children to question, to wonder, and to begin the process of ‘inventing to understand’. It is this distinction that sets Let’s Think apart and makes it so useful in the cognitive development of children.
On reviewing some of the more pragmatic approaches to teaching and learning, in particular the recent calls for a focus on explicit instruction, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Let’s Think approach is inefficient. Why spend time thinking and inventing if the goal of education is to pass on the key pieces of knowledge that curriculum writers have so carefully curated and deemed necessary? If, however, the goal of education is to equip learners with the cognitive capacity to tackle complex problems and apply knowledge to new and challenging situations, then Let’s Think provides a tried and tested way to achieve that goal. I’m of the opinion that to ignore the long-term, far-transfer effects of Let’s Think is not just the true inefficiency here, it will significantly short-change our learners.
It’s for this reason that my work has turned, in recent years, from the classroom (I’ve not taught since 2014) to providing support around Australia for teachers at the chalk face. I’ve worked with over 300 teachers and since the Thinking Science Australia project in Perth, Western Australia, we’ve provided training to over 100 schools. We face some of the well-known problems of sustaining the various Let’s Think programs, and some schools are citing curriculum demands as the reason they are dropping the program. I’m committed to working on a sustainable model of Let’s Think and I share the view that education needs to hear and listen to the messages about teaching and learning that Let’s Think offers.
What evidence do I have that Let’s Think makes a difference for learners? Personal anecdotal evidence of improved motivation, better questioning, and better problem solving which I view alongside the research evidence provided by a myriad of studies that have been carried out within the Cognitive Acceleration field. One such study is my own; I’ll talk about it in the next section.
Where are you now with Let’s Think and where next?
I recently completed a PhD at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia, which I titled: Cognitive Acceleration and the Science of Learning: In Search of the Plasticity of Intelligence. I set out to see if I could obtain evidence of improved general cognitive ability, brought about by the Thinking Science (CASE) intervention. I used a small mix of tests to measure general cognitive ability before the intervention, and again after the intervention and, using Rasch analysis, I showed that there were significantly better gains in some (but not all) measures of general ability, brought about by Thinking Science (CASE). Publications are pending but if you are keen to read more, I’d be delighted to share the thesis with you (or available through the UQ library eSpace).
I continue to offer CPD support for teachers here in Australia, mainly around Thinking Science (CASE) and I am in the process of applying for a post-doctoral fellowship; I hope to carry out research into cognitive development beyond the secondary school, in tertiary education settings.
I meet regularly with a small group of like-minded individuals (Mundher Adhami, Alex Black, and Ian Mclachlan) to talk about future developments in Cognitive Acceleration and how we can draw on the intellectual wisdom that is contained in the years of work that has gone before us. We hope that a program of research and development will be born out of this collaboration.
So, my future with Let’s Think is very much assured in terms of a commitment to further research and supporting the network of teachers here in Australia. It’s a community of educators that I’m proudly associated with. I’m always keen to hear of stories of how Let’s Think is impacting learners too so, if you’d like to share your story with me, please send me an email. I’d be delighted to hear from you.
1 Piaget, J. (1970). Piaget’s theory (Cellérier, G., Langer, J., Trans.). In Mussen, P. H. (Ed.), Carmichael’s manual of child psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 703–732). John Wiley & Sons. (Original work published 1968)