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Learning in an age of collaboration

Grace Skelton and Carley Dawkins outline how primary and secondary schools can work together to enhance thinking skills  

Posted by Julian Owen | May 29, 2018 | Teaching

Aristotle once said that “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” More than 2000 years later, teachers across the UK are paying close attention to the development of students’ learning habits and thinking skills as a way to enhance teaching and learning. Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is firmly on the education agenda. 

The development of multi-academy trusts (MATs) offers excellent opportunities for schools within the same trust to work together and share knowledge about how to nurture positive learning habits. 

At the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, two of our high-performing schools have worked together to produce an innovative Dr Seuss-inspired story book, which engages students with thinking tools. 

'The 6 Seeds of Cedar', created by Year 10 students from The Victory Academy and Year 5 students from Cedar Children’s Academy, features original characters brought to life in beautiful illustrations to instil positive habits of mind. The project unites cognitive excellence and artistic flair. 

The '6 Seeds' are thinking skills which, when mastered, help students with all aspects of learning, and boost performance across subjects, namely: persisting; managing impulsivity; listening with understanding and empathy; questioning and posing problems; applying past knowledge to new situations; and taking responsible risks. The book has allowed students to understand these habits through literary and visual expression. 

Crucially, the book has shown how primary and secondary students can collaborate to foster thinking skills, which we hope will inspire others. Each week, while completing the project, Year 5 students from Cedar visited The Victory Academy for two hours to learn from their colleagues in Year 10, who are more advanced in their development of learning habits – or “Victory Virtues”, as they call them. 

Year 10 students went around the classroom working with different groups to talk through the learning habits and gather ideas, which were then finessed into art and narrative for the book. Having older role models in these lessons was inspirational for the Cedar students, who could learn from those who are further along their thinking skills journey. 

The benefits were mutual: Year 10s from The Victory Academy also developed their understanding of the learning habits by explaining them to others. As any teacher knows, you have to master a subject before imparting it to others. 

In addition to the great benefits that the collaboration brought while the book was being produced, students gained a sense of empowerment and self-confidence by reflecting on their work, motivating them across subjects. 

The book will form a key part of future lessons in all year groups at Cedar, and those Year 5 students who created it will share their understanding of the '6 Seeds' with their peers. Lessons will be tailored to the level of each year group – for example, reception students might spend one week on each 'Seed', while Year 6 students will progress more quickly. 

Collaboration between primary and secondary schools is a great opportunity for teachers looking to boost thinking skills. 'The 6 Seeds of Cedar' project has already shown what can be achieved when students of various ages work together creatively. 

By Grace Skelton, Assistant Head Teacher of Cedar Children’s Academy, and Carley Dawkins, Head of Visual Arts at The Victory Academy. Both schools are part of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust.

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