Thinking Skills: Bridging into English and Art

Tony Hickling (Head of Language and Aesthetic Studies, Dalton Middle School)

For the past year, as Language and AAS Co-ordinator, I have taken a supportive role in the Thinking Skills lessons (TSL): helping individuals and small groups with their various tasks; making observational notes about individual children, but chiefly looking for possible links between these lessons and the English and Art lessons I take with this same class of Year Six children.

The Thinking Skills programme has added a new dimension to the way(s) these children approach learning, not only because it is activity based, but because it provides a range of situ-ations which encourage precision in their speaking and critical listening. The children show confi-dence in varied situations and are developing a clarity of expression which must help their learn-ing strategies in other subjects. Their ideas tend to be better organised, sustained speaking takes place regularly and the children have a greater appreciation of whether or not information is relevant to the task they are completing. These same characteristics have been evident in other English lessons, particularly in situations requir-ing the presentation of opinions where supporting reasons have to be given, in work lending itself to a dramatic interpretation and in tasks where opportunities are provided to read aloud with expression. Writing based on interaction between characters, in both realistic and imaginary settings, has been dynamic, showing a better under-standing of how people relate or fail to relate to each other. Although divergent ideas have sur-faced in much of their personal writing, when opinions have been expressed contrary to the general feeling of the group, the pupils have been ready to modify their opinions and have been more willing to accept non-conventional theories.

Specific terms used in TSL have been applied in my own lessons and it has been interesting to observe the pupils, typically in more open-ended work, automatically approach it in a more critical, individual manner, providing quality ideas with-out teacher prompting and didactic teaching methods. This interaction, although occasionally difficult to monitor and control, has teased out many surprises which without the pupils' personal confidence and an ease with language and ideas would possibly never have materialised. Less aca-demic children have also responded more positively in English and Art lessons; although their level of concentration has not been as sustained as their brighter contemporaries.
I have used the following English/Art lessons based on the strategies and linked to the materials used in the Thinking Skills programme.

Focusing on two series of stills from cinema film which have then been sequenced and analysed with particular reference to the technical devices applied in film making and to how they compare to methods used in narrative writing. Scenes from the film 'Great Expectations' were used to explore a. the devices used to highlight weakness and strength and b. the language of mood, atmos-phere, characterisation and stereotype - 'the ones with big noses always play baddies'.

Discussing stereotypes with real photographs of people as the main resource. Here the children have been presented with visual material demon-strating how stereotypes are presented to us in our culture, particularly through the media. The aim has been to encourage the children to be more conscious of how unreliable surface appear-ances can be and how groups and individuals can be damaged through crude stereotyping.

Presenting a traffic accident situation where the children based their hypotheses on the evidence available, eventually compiling a dossier of writ-ten reports in which they not only produced descriptive writing, but explained, with reasons, how they would apportion the blame.

Analysing painted portraits in which the chil-dren were required to express their preferences and to reach conclusions about the different mean-ings these pictures portray, and what meanings and explanations can be read into them. The various pictures reflect different methods of work-ing which have also been discussed. This explores the language of visual symbols, media, emotion and context, by studying the use of pattern, feature and colour to depict the picture e.g. look-ing at the abstract mood symbols in the back-ground of a Picasso portrait.

Predicting/presenting photographs of an actual event/situation with no verbal clues. In groups, the children decided what had happened, predicted what happened next and discussed the likely consequences to the characters involved.

Producing a play (in small groups) which was based on one of the naturalistic situations in the STC programme. All the children took on differ-ent characters and invented characters to recreate the scene 'murder in the garden'. This emphasised the importance of precision and clarity in language when analysing data and hypothesising about the course of events.

In Art the project is helping the children focus on the more contemplative aspects of this subject, giving them ideas to help promote more varied types of verbal communication, rather than just a series of practical sessions.

As far as fulfilling the requirements of the National Curriculum is concerned, the Thinking Skills programme, supplemented by/with the lessons mentioned, has certainly provoked results that match the levels described towards the upper end of the scale within the Speaking and Listening component.


Overall the Thinking Skills provided the children with a wide range of verbal skills that enables them to tackle other curricular areas in a more consistent, structured and yet precise and divergent way.
Taken from SCEA Bulletin No: 29 Autumn 1990


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