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Sustained Shared Thinking – how important is it?

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Sustained shared thinking at the river sideSustained shared thinking has been defined as

” an episode in which two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities, extend a narrative etc. Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend” Siraj-Blatchford et al (2002) Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (REPEY), Dfes.

This is not a new concept, just a new name. Most early years theorist value the adult/child interaction, from Vygotsky’s social interaction and more knowledgeable other; Bruner’s discovery learning; Piaget constructivism right through to Lave’s situated learning.

But what does it look like in reallife, in the setting or school? It is those wonderful times that you get when you are totally absorbed with a child, whether is is in conversation or in an activity, with a genuine interest on both parts to find out more. The sort of thing that, often, you just have to tell someone else – “Josh and I have just had the best conversation about his grandad’s pigeons”, “come and look everyone, we’ve made this!” – those times when you come away thoughtful and you may find yourself thinking about the conversation later on in a quiet moment.

These can happen anytime, anywhere and only requires time and interest on the part of both participants. It can be on a one to one, but can also happen in small groups, especially when there is shared group interest. The important aspect is the ‘meeting of of minds’  and subsequent learning that occurs on both sides.

The practitioner has the opportunity to learn extensive amounts about how the child sees the world, their level of cognitive development, schemas, community and self esteem (to name but a few!). The child may learn things such as social interaction techniques, how to think creatively, cause and effect and factual information.

If the theories about sustained shared thinking have been around for such a long time, and they broadly agree it is a good thing, why is this important to practitioners now? The answer is because it is now explicitly stated in the EYFS that sustained shared thinking should be a part of a child’s creativity and critical thinking (EYFS 4.3). It is also indirectly described in all of the six areas of learning and development (EYFS 4.4). This is because the longitudinal research project EPPE clearly identified that the ‘most effective settings encourage sustained shared thinking’ and that it is a ‘necessary pre-requisite for the most effective settings’.

Don’t forget, sustained shared thinking can also occur between peer groups as well, especially in settings where the older age groups are allowed to mix freely with the younger ones. Even with babies the thinking process can be shared, but instead of verbal language the practitioner has to be guided by the expressions and body language of the baby.

Time is often an aspect which is not discussed. If you are having an in depth discussion, one to one, with a child, then the other children will still need caring for by someone. If the practitioner extends the activity so the thinking and discovery can be ‘sustained’ then there may be implications for the rest of the timetable (such as lunch times!). However, these are not excuses. Good practitioners should be flexible enough to work around this.

Therefore, the answer to “how important is sustained shared thinking?” is that it is fundamental to how practitioners approach children’s learning and development. This is supported by theorists and research. And it doesn’t cost a penny – how often can you say that about such a powerful learning tool?

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  • Jin Lu 27 January 2012, 1:52 am

    This is a clear explanation about ‘sustaned shared thinking” in young children’s education. I am currently doing some research about this area, and wondering you have any more related articles or research journals that can be shared.
    Jin

  • Kathy 6 February 2012, 5:21 pm

    Hi Jin,
    Thanks for your kind comments.

    The EPPE team have written a book called Early Childhood Matters which you can get from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Early-Childhood-Matters-Kathy-Sylva/dp/0415482437 I’m unaware of any research journals at this time, but will let you know if I find some!

    Best of luck with your research

    Kathy

  • Steve 9 June 2012, 4:57 pm

    Hi,
    I have previously attended a workshop with staff on ‘Shared thinking’ and found it very interesting regarding pedagogy in ECE and immediately thought ‘sustained interactions’, ‘shared understandings’, ‘social learning theory’ = development of identity’ & ‘social & emotional development’ as a whole…your thoughts?

    peAce & hAPinESs
    sTEve

  • Kathy 12 June 2012, 10:32 am

    Hi,

    Many thanks for your comment.

    Sustained shared thinking is definitely a building block for personal, social and emotional development. See also Jane’s post about sustained shared thinking supporting children who have had traumatic experiences. Shared understandings is often the ‘X’ factor missing from less able practitioners!

    Best regards

    Kathy

  • AroojFarooq 10 October 2012, 9:19 pm

    Hi I read your article it helped me to clear my vision on SST .is there evidence which proves that screen based learning can help to enhance sustained shared thinking if you how ? Regards arooj

  • Kathy 10 October 2012, 9:51 pm

    Hi Arooj,

    Many thanks for your comments. There is some interesting research about screen based learning.
    Try:
    http://cmslive.curriculum.edu.au/leader/default.asp?id=31948&issueID=12171 Australian research with Kindergarten to older children
    http://digitalstrategist.typepad.com/Readings/EDBT5501/Mayer%20and%20Moreno.pdf computer based multi media (American)
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0030923020380119 The book vs the screen by Terry Hayden, University of East Anglia
    http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ipad-apps-and-screen-time-for-kids-learning-or-babysitting-201205114673 A lovely blog by Nancy Ferrari, with links to further research.

    My personal view, not based on formal research, but experience with young children, is that the best sustained shared thinking occurs when its just you, the child(ren) and something fascinating – whether that’s a spider, a peacock’s feather or fairy glitter.

  • Steph 28 October 2012, 12:22 pm

    Hi, im hoping to do my dissertaion on ‘Sustained Shared Thinking’ and i was hoping to reference you within it. I was wondering how i would reference your work, for example, when was this website first published.

    Thanks

  • Kathy 28 October 2012, 6:47 pm

    Hi Steph,

    Many thanks for contacting me and I’m really pleased the website is useful.

    The date is at the very, very end of the article (1st Feb 2009), so I would reference it as:
    Brodie, K. (2009) Sustained Shared Thinking – How important is it? [online] Available at: http://www.kathybrodie.com [accessed 28th October 2012]

    A great, easy to use site for those tricky references is at:

    http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/nursing/sonet/rlos/studyskills/harvard/index.html

    Best of luck with the dissertation!

    Best regards

    Kathy

  • Anne Purdon 13 January 2014, 8:44 pm

    Hi I have written a dissertation for my MA on sustained shared thinking. Here is an article I wrote on this topic:
    Purdon, A. (2013) How practitioners promote sustained shared thinking, Early Years Educator, Vol 15, No 8, Dec2013, p38-44

  • Kathy 7 March 2014, 9:06 pm

    Hi Anne,
    Many thanks for sharing this – I did see the article in EYE, very good information and some really interesting perspectives!
    Kathy

  • Alonzo 25 April 2014, 9:26 am

    Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.

    When I look at your website in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in
    Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you
    a quick heads up! Other then that, terrific blog!

  • Kathy 9 May 2014, 1:21 pm

    Hi,
    Many thanks for the info – I’ll be reviewing this in the very near future!
    Best regards

    Kathy

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