Reflections on a Mad and Moonly year of Teaching English

Written by Leah Crawford

Leah Crawford is a Let’s Think in English Tutor.  From Sept 2020 to July 2021 she was contracted to devise and teach post lockdown English interventions at Amery Hill School, a 11-16 secondary school in Alton, Hampshire.  Part of the strategy was to teach Let’s Think lessons and embed the principles in small and whole group teaching.  In this blog, she reflects specifically on teaching Let’s Think in English to a Year 7 mixed ability class of 30, as well as their core English curriculum.

From pagan mythology to literature, the moon has become a symbol of constant change, unreliability, even madness.  

Conversely, during the past year, as scrolling news reports tried to unravel the impact of the fast-changing pandemic, broadcasters seemed to be more than usually attentive to the lunar calendar as a reassuring constant, drawing attention to unusual full moon manifestations: September’s Harvest Moon, January’s Wolf Moon, April’s Pink Moon, and May’s Supermoon.  

Looking back on my 2020-21 year of teaching, perhaps the most ‘lunatic’ year to return to classroom teaching, we had to steel ourselves against inconstancy and ride some rough storms.  There were the lower level but necessary pragmatics of desk cleaning, seating plans and hand sanitising; the logistics of zoned year groups that gave birth to a new breed of masked avenger teacher, scurrying between zones, heroically pulling their trolleys of books and papers; then there was the swift-footed response to burst bubbles, managing in-class and remote learning in tandem.  


We came to expect the waxing and waning rhythms of pandemic life, the full glow and the shadows.  But what we now know that the pagans didn’t, is that the rock of the moon is always reassuringly there.  The full moon is always in orbit – its full glory is just not always visible.

As I returned to the classroom, luckily to a school that has embraced Let’s Think in English, the principles of Cognitive Acceleration (CA) became my rock.  Those principles were always constant but I felt their enactment in practice wax and wane through the challenges of COVID era education.

Although many reading this blog will be familiar with CA in some form, it does not hurt for me to be clear and transparent about the principles we aimed to enact through Let’s Think in English and why:

  1. High and equitable involvement: it was likely that what our most vulnerable learners had most missed out on through a period of remote learning was the efficacy that comes from being a valued contributor in a safe community.  You matter, you all matter, and it matters what you think and say.
  2. The social construction of meaning.  Reading is not an extraction of meaning from the page but an active, constructive, personal and social process.  We needed to test out whether readers were alert, attentive, monitoring and questioning the meaning they were constructing.  Could we help them to become more aware of their own process of meaning making by making it shared and social?
  3. The centrality of challenge.  Without challenge, learners are metaphorically treading water.  This may build stamina, but it does not take you into new ways of thinking: extending cognitive capacity.  Could we help students to move from personal and instinctive responses to texts towards reasoned and critical responses by noticing resonance and dissonance with the thoughts of others?
  4. The nurturing of metacognition.  Becoming more aware of and being able to productively steer one’s thoughts is not a given in our academic or personal lives.  Could students over time become more aware of how they were building understanding, whether that understanding was reasoned and tested and become more able to transfer and apply this to new texts and contexts?

Lofty aims.  So how much of this did we achieve?

So follows my reflections on the past year’s phases of the moon: teaching Let’s Think in a pandemic.

September’s Full Harvest Moon

In the full glow of the ripe promise of September, my very first lesson with my Year 7 group was a KS2 lesson using Smriti Prasadam Hall’s symbolic picture book ‘Rain Before Rainbows’ which you can access here.  It is a story that moves from a place of trauma and loss through struggle, to hope.  The message of the text did not present the usual degree of challenge for a Year 7 group but it was deeply pertinent and we took our journey in deliberate stages to establish the routines and rituals of collaborative making meaning:

  • Can you repeat that so the whole group can hear?
  • Could you share what your group thought?
  • Did you have a similar or different idea to this group?

With subtle metacognitive nudges:

  • What was it in the text that led you to think that?
  • As we continue to read, what will it be helpful to look for?
  • Do you know other symbols of hope?

I was clear with the group that they faced an additional challenge to listen and respond to each other’s ideas whilst being seated in rows facing the front.  They described what they would need to do to show that they were listening other than through eye contact and body language, based around being able to repeat, respond to and question the contributions of others.

We then moved to the usual Let’s Think induction lessons based on a fable, The Bridge, (lesson available here) which provoke conflict in ethical perspective taking and build on awareness of narrative structures.  We began to gain some traction with the power of conflict, working with difference to deepen thinking.  As teacher mediator, I felt the power and responsibility to calibrate our climate.  Yes, I could request elaboration from a student to explain their group’s response – but I could also create the air-time for students to explain what or who had led them to change their mind as the lesson progressed.  I saw that if I made space for and was fascinated by this– the students became so and quite quickly became unafraid, willing even, to share changes in their thinking.  

It was heartening to see the cross-fertilisation of ideas and increased confidence was still happening even without the powerful, physical signifier that is students seated in table groups.  

Waning  Moon…November to December

As the second wave of the pandemic loomed, it became harder to build on our promising start.  I was part of a well-run department: a tight ship.  As bubbles burst and the usual scheme of work was at times disrupted with students having to self-isolate, I felt the very real tension between programming in Let’s Think lessons and making progress through the scheme of work with its valid common assessment tasks and moderation cycles.  A great reminder of the pragmatics of applying research principles in practice.  

January New Moon

It is odd that the very absence of a visible moon is heralded as a new moon.  The ultimate ‘glass half-full’ philosophy, perhaps.  Be patient…it will return.

That’s exactly the position we found ourselves in just a few days into January with the dark days of an extended lock down and a return to remote teaching.  Our school policy was to keep to the usual school timetable, teaching alternate synchronous and asynchronous remote lessons.   Could we maintain the CA principles we had set and begun to enact through this phase?  The attendance of my Year 7 students at live lessons was remarkably good, but only a third or so of students had working microphones to contribute orally, not all initially had access to lap-tops and not all had good broadband connectivity.  

To maintain our principles the pace through lesson content slowed down and innovation kicked in:

  • To maintain high levels of contribution, I would share a recorded reading of a text and pose a question or questions and capture responses asynchronously on Padlets or Google Jamboards.  The beauty of Padlet particularly is that there is the facility for students – and teachers – to respond to each other’s posts, creating chains of thought.
  • To encourage elaboration and the shift from thinking to reasoning, I could select student posts to use as springboards in live lessons – inviting students to elaborate on an idea and explore dissonances between student responses.
  • To maintain the centrality of challenge for progress, whether teaching Let’s Think lessons or the core scheme of work, we worked towards and through binary choices to slow down thinking and provoke reasoning.  Is this Romantic painting/poem frightening or beautiful?  Having read these poems, which poet has the greater respect for nature: Wordsworth or Clare?

Waxing towards a full Supermoon

We returned to school in March 2021.  Every first lesson I taught with every group was a Let’s Think lesson. 

Why?   We had not let go of the importance of equitable conversational turns to build self-efficacy, meaning and cognition during lockdown – but it had been more difficult, more stilted and too reliant on each student’s access to hardware and broadband connectivity and their confidence to share ideas in a chat box or on the live microphone.  We needed the return to class to be a return to valuing, responding to and enjoying each other.  We were unmuted and unlocked – but not unmasked.  Masks made smaller, quieter voices hard to hear.  Ensuring that all pupils were contributing to and accessing the ensuing discourse of the lesson was even harder.  Asking students to discuss and arrive at a small group response, then jot down a phrase or a few bullet points to indicate that response on a white board unlocked the next ‘waxing’ phase of teaching.  If I could see each group’s board, I could reflect back to them the common chords and discords from across the group.  In this way they could still ‘hear’ and respond to each other, and I could more easily distil themes or productive binary conflicts to inform the next phase of the lesson:

  • So I can see many of you think…
  • The most common response seems to be…
  • However, we also have some groups who think…
  • The room seems to be split between those who think…and those who think…

This really was now a phase of waxing growth: I was able to teach lessons with rhythm and regularity across the remaining school term.  There were two major developments that became possible in this phase which I feel are central to embedding Let’s Think as an intervention that works in synergy with the broader curriculum.

  1. The lessons were sequenced and positioned to enable students to bridge concepts from one text to another.  Some might call this interleaving.  When constructing an English curriculum, we are often used to creating tapestries of texts for study by theme or by genre.  So, for example, why would I place the study of a short 1950’s sci-fi story at the end of a unit on Romantic poetry and nature?  By the end of the sci-fi lesson, students consider whether a text that contains some outdated notions can still be resonant and relevant in the present.  When we bridged to the relevance of Romantic visions of nature in 2021, the students argued passionately that we are just as much in danger of losing touch with the natural world.  In the face of the climate crisis, we need humility and respect for the power of nature. And how would we have coped in lockdown without those walks?
  2. I made the group increasingly accountable to set their own direction and goals for development.  We had used dialogic talk reflection tools in the autumn term, but the disruptions to in-class teaching had knocked us off course.  We used the tool below, developed through the Assessment Companion for Thinking Skills (ACTS) project (link to this and other tools here) to assess the strengths and areas for development in the group’s dialogic talk behaviours: moving from foundational behaviours of inclusion, politeness and clarity in exchanges, to ones that are fuelled by a desire to question, share differences and reach for the most reasoned, evidenced ideas.


Developing dialogic norms reflection tool

To improve our group needs..
1 Everyone contributes     
Expect to contribute

Take turns

Be polite

Show you are listening

2 Seek understanding
Make yourself clear

Elaborate your answer

Track the ideas of others

Ask questions of others

3 Explore differences and reasons
Be open to different ideas

Share agreement and disagreement

Ask ‘Why do you think that?’

Ask for evidence & reasons

4 Pursue the best ideas
Be open to changing your mind or adapting your ideas

Work towards well reasoned ideas together


Let’s Think pandemic teaching has confirmed my belief in the full Supermoon principles mentioned at the start of this blog.  It has forced innovation in improved use of white boards, Padlets and binary options as effective dialogic mechanisms.  In the final term, it gave me the opportunity to enact the rich possibilities of embedding Let’s Think lessons in wider curriculum sequencing and design.  In collaboration with department leaders, we drafted the legacy for a more generative Let’s Think pathway through their rich curriculum.  Finally, it has crystallised the importance of inviting students to become co-pilots on their shared educational journeys.  To the moon and beyond…