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Thinking environment for family learning

Maria Brand (Wirral Lifelong and Family Learning Service) and Lou Mycroft (Thinking Environment mentor)

Maria Brand (Wirral Lifelong and Family Learning Service) and Lou Mycroft (Thinking Environment mentor) discuss their experiences of using Thinking Environment techniques in family learning:

More than 100 Advanced Practitioners (APs) across England and Wales have been exploring Thinking Environment processes to create spaces for colleagues and learners to think better together as part of the Education and Training Foundation’s Developing Advanced Practitioner programme.

Maria: “After the Developing APs training course, I was inspired by the Thinking Environment and motivated to use some of the applications in my teaching. I also teach floristry and teaching assistants, but the most remarkable example happened with a family learning English session.”

Lou: “I raised my son in a Thinking Environment and I believe that as a result he has turned into a fine young man. Inspired by this, I’ve always wanted to use Thinking Environments in family learning, but my work has never taken me down that route. I would love to hear more about what happened in the session?”

Maria: “It involved a group of eight parents and their children, aged five to eight years old. The focus was using maps and pictures to tell stories. I’ve worked with families for over four years and one of the consistent issues is that it’s sometimes hard for children to be heard by their parent, so I thought the Thinking Environment might help.

“The children were asked to create a character of their own and the outcome was to build a story together that was child led. Thinking pairs really seemed the appropriate application for this session, to support and develop listening skills.”

Lou: “Thinking pairs are great because the person doing the listening can’t interrupt and the thinkers know that they have got uninterrupted time to think and speak – even if they fall silent for some of that time.”

Maria: “That’s right. You can’t interrupt in a Thinking Environment and, even more importantly, you know you’re not going to be interrupted. I introduced the thinking pairs to the families and urged the importance of following the application completely to test its usefulness.

“With the parents on board, the children were given 90 seconds each to talk about their character and the story it was going to tell. Observing this was a pleasure, the parents struggled at times to hold back their visual feedback and commentary, but they soon got into the task and listened hard.

“The children didn’t struggle at all by being in the thinking role and they had lots to say about their topic with the parents actively listening. After their time was up, the pairs swapped roles. This time the parents had to think about all the ways their children are important to them and reasons why they love them.”

Lou: “That’s brilliant! Appreciation is one of the 10 components that need to be in place, for it to be a Thinking Environment. There are all sorts of neuroscientific support now for the idea that people think better in the presence of appreciation.”

Maria: “Yes, it was a pleasure to watch and some of the younger children couldn’t help but smile and react. At the end of this turn I asked the children to share one of the positive things their parent had told them.”

Lou: “So what you did there, Maria, without even realising, was mirror the Mentoring application of the Thinking Environment. In Mentoring, the mentee (in this case, the child) gets extra time, to balance up the equality.”

Maria: “It just felt like the right thing to do. This five minutes of time had a profound effect on both parents and children. The children were empowered to speak and be heard then they listened, remembered and shared something positive about themselves. The parents were quite emotional, and their children were embracing them.”

Lou: “Wow, what an experience that must have been for everyone present.”

Maria: “The whole segment was profound and the parents said they had not expected to feel so overwhelmed after hearing their children’s thoughts and by thinking about what makes their children so important to them. There is so much more to explore here, this is just a starting point.

“The next step for Wirral Lifelong and Family Learning is for me to introduce the Thinking Environment to the rest of the staff team. I believe the Developing Advanced Practitioners project is only just starting and it is exciting to think what could unfold in the months ahead.”

Find out more about the programme on our Advanced Practitioners webpage.

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