Sticking with it: how dialogic habits take time

Written by Michael Walsh


Cath Dawson from Bexley Grammar School shares her thoughts on how Let’s Think in English helps develop cognitive and dialogic habits over time.

Early sessions of Let’s Think sessions can feel much more stilted and less satisfying than later sessions where the skills and practice have a deeper foundation…

Having taught Let’s Think consistently in KS3 for over a decade, I wanted to explore the characteristics of early Let’s Think lessons compared to Let’s Think lessons with a class who has been involved in Let’s Think practice for a long time in order to better understand the reasons why time and consistent practice are so important to valuable and enjoyable lessons and learning.

To begin, let’s compare the characteristics of a Y7 and Y8 class who both studied the Let’s Think lesson Mama Dott on the same day (November 2022) with the same teacher.

Learning behaviours present in Y7 lesson:
Students tend to be more egocentric in their observations: ‘I think’; ‘I thought’
Students need a few questions before their discussions start to engage with the text
Students interfering with each other’s ideas during feedback

Observations of deeper reasoning via social construction in the Y7 lesson:
Inability to remember group’s discussion on feedback sessions
Less flexible with their ideas and reasoning
A concreteness to their ideas

Learning behaviours in Y8 lesson:
Discussion is immediately animated from social construction: they are raring to go from the off
Animation – hand movement – cueing each other in from discussion; looking at the text; pointing out elements of the text; looking at the person speaking – both in small group and larger class discussion
An important understanding of what questions are a hands up question – knowledge builders and information building
As the lesson continues and the questions get harder, the discussion gets more animated
There are moments of leadership in the group: if discussion starts to wane, a student will say ‘how does…’ and bring it back to the poem

Observations of deeper reasoning via social construction in the Y8 lesson:
Collective thought demonstrated in whole class feedback: “we thought”… “we think”… “we discussed”
More democratic approach to the discussion: inclusive gestures and conversation frameworks
Eye contact is used in group discussions and class discussions
Eagerness for the next piece of material or question
Students in group discussion cue in from previous contributions: ‘as student a said…’

It is clear from the profiles of the lessons outlined above that the Y8 class are further developed in their deeper reasoning and learning behaviours and the correlation between the Let’s Think lessons and this is clear. But how do the Let’s Think lessons enable this?

The Let’s Think Forum mission statement expresses that Let’s Think aims ‘to transform education through high quality teaching and learning which accelerates pupils’ social, emotional and cognitive development.’ Here the connection between social and cognitive development is clear: cognitive development does not occur without social emotional thinking. Both Vygostky and Piaget underpin Let’s Think and in the pedagogy for both, the connection between social constructs and cognitive development is clear. Vygotsky states that ‘we become ourselves through working with others’ and this social construction of understanding indicates that the collaborative, teacher facilitated rather than teacher led, lessons over a long period of time has huge impacts on cognitive development. This is further corroborated by Piaget’s stages of cognitive development where we consider the formal operational stage: both the hypothetico-deductive reasoning and abstract thought descriptors of this stage indicate a flexibility and intellectual dexterity that is practised through collaborative lessons such that Let’s Think promotes.

Ultimately, when it starts to feel tough with a class, stick with it. But here are a few suggestions to help sticking with it a bit easier:
Early text choices in LTE lessons are significant. Try keeping them short to enable time to focus in on those skills early on
Grouping needs to be flexible: do not stay with a group dynamic out of tenacity
Try to ensure that Let’s Think lessons are taught by a teacher who knows the class well, not someone who only teaches them once a fortnight for the Let’s Think lesson