Could there be such a thing as Let's Think Geography? How to use what we know about Let's Think in 'another' subject.

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Let’s Think is rooted in a subject. The subject provides the context within which pupils face challenges to their powers of reasoning. The challenges also arise from the essential requirements for a pupil’s deep understanding of the subject.

Thus in Let’s Think Secondary Science we have a lesson, ‘The P Word’ which is set in the context of the pitch of a sound wave created within a set of tubes. In this lesson the student has to reason which of three variables has an effect on the pitch. They are faced with the challenge of identifying and then excluding variables by choosing pairs of tubes that differ only in one variable say, length, whilst variables of width and material remain the same. This is the same reasoning necessary to establish a controlled experiment to establish a proof of a relationship of cause and effect.

Let’s Think is also rooted in a pedagogy. The way the teacher interacts with the learners is particular to the Let’s Think goal of engaging the majority of pupils with a higher learning demand than they might be expected to achieve on their own. The Let’s Think teacher gains the skills necessary to quickly establish the context and to build with the learners a relevant vocabulary and concrete understanding of the situation and then present the challenge in such a way that the student can see clearly what is required even though they may not yet be able to puzzle their way to the solution. The Let’s Think teacher’s skills include an awareness of what is happening in the learning and of responding in ways that support peer to peer scaffolding and provide scaffolding for the whole class. The Let’s Think teacher values and finds time for the reflection on learning that provides an opportunity to rehearse the reasoning as well as to consider the strategies they and others have used to arrive at the new meanings.

Let’s Think began as Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education, CASE at KS3 and this in turn spawned interventions in mathematics, technology, the creative arts and English across the primary and secondary age range. It seems possible therefore to attempt some small trials in other subjects. Geography for example.

Where to start? Experienced teachers of geography are well aware of the challenges that their students face. They know when the subject is a struggle although they may not describe the nature of that struggle in terms that a Let’s Think teacher might, as one of a type of reasoning and of reasoning mapped against Piagetian developmental stages. Thus the challenges that pupils face in understanding, using and making maps are well known to be difficult for pupils of all ages. They struggle to translate the 2D into 3D, to adjust the scale of the map to find the distances in reality and to understand and create symbols. They struggle with the absolute and relative orientations of the map and the place of something virtually moving across the map. If the students are challenged by the content and if the content is important to the teacher then this suggests that there is something that could possibly be the genesis of a Let’s Think lesson.

Over the last year and a half I have been working with 4 geography teachers to develop a small number of Let’s Think geography lessons that we have trialled with classes in Y7 and Y8.

We started with the curriculum and the teachers’ intuitions about what is typically more challenging content. We then explored that content to identify and describe a reasoning pattern, something challenging in that content that the student has to get their head around, which some but few students are able to do but where others are likely to struggle.

We developed 10 lessons in the context of maps and the flooding of the Somerset Levels. The lessons were geography lessons but had a Let’s Think focus around a reasoning pattern such as the use of symbols, exploring scale as a ratio, translating 2D to 3D and vice versa, developing formal models, understanding effects based on combinations of causes.

We then taught the lessons. Here we were faced with the issue of Let’s Think pedagogy, the teachers had little iof any experience of Let’s Think and were in fact interested in seeing another approach and another teacher. The lessons were therefore taught by me as a Let’s Think tutor and observed by the geography teacher.

We reflected at the end of each lesson trial on both the quality of reasoning and the quality of the the geography. Some lessons were too challenging for students, too long or not engaging but most were exciting, rewarding and as one pupil put it ‘brain hemorrhaging’ in their power to prompt thought. We have refined the less successful lessons, abandoned some initial ideas and have a small number of trial lessons that the teachers will now teach in what they consider to be the Let’s Think way.

So here lies a challenge for us. If, to be a Let’s Think subject teacher, you need to have the subject expertise and the Let’s Think pedagogy how does one develop a new Let’s Think teacher in geography, or history, or PE?

Perhaps a collaboration of Let’s Think expertise and subject teacher’s expertise is the way forward?