Thinking Together


We often ask learners to work as part of a group.  Collaboration can sometimes lead to success and the language we use to communicate with each other is important. We need to know how to work together effectively because the same message given to a group of people may be interpreted by each person in different ways.  This is quite normal as understanding always requires interpretation.  Learners may misunderstand what has been said by a teacher.  Sometimes in class, group work can prove problematic, so wotworks for us is using these tips for group work developed by Neil Mercer, Professor at Cambridge University, working with Lyn Dawes, Karen Littleton and Rupert Wegerif:

1. All relevant information is shared amongst the group
2. Assertions and opinions should be backed up with reasons
3. Suggestions and opinions can be challenged and discussed
4. Alternative opinions are considered before any decision is made. Each person
in turn should be invited to speak.
5. Everyone in the group should be encouraged to speak by the other members.
6. The group should try to reach an agreement.
7. The group accepts collective responsibility for decisions made and any actions taken because of these decisions.

Are we allowed to make mistakes?

Do our learning environments encourage learners to expand their capacity to learn?  If we don’t allow learners to make mistakes they will not experience frustration and be able to display determination to overcome problems.  Learners may want to maintain their comfort zone, even when this may hinder their ability to move forward. As teachers there is a need to transmit knowledge, skill and understanding but just as important is the need to expand the capacity to learn by challenging thinking.  Watch Diane Laufenberg’s Ted Talk on How to learn?  From mistakes.

Effective ways of thinking

If a teacher can demonstrate problem solving strategies to learners in a calm manner, they are sowing the seeds of effective ways of thinking.   It can be useful to deliberately make mistakes and talk through how to solve the problem.   Learning is a social process so classes can be organised in a way in which learners’ contributions are used to build common knowledge within the classroom but guided by the teacher.  Pupils could work as a pair or even a group.  Ground rules for group work seem to make a difference to the effectiveness of collaboration.   The thinking together approach, created by Neil Mercer, Lyn Davies, Karen Littleton and Rupert Wegerif has been shown to improve communication in the classroom.

Learners could use the thinking together talk tally to note the kind of talk they observe:

They could then set rules for their own way of talking within a group by using the ground rules devised in the thinking together programme.



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