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Sustained shared thinking in an early childhood setting: an exploration of practitioners' perspectives

  • Norland College Bath


Sustained shared thinking (SST) has been identified in the Teachers Standards (Early Years) (2013) as contributing to good progress and outcomes by children. In this paper, I define SST and discuss the outcomes of a study of practitioners' understandings of SST, its challenges and benefits. Writing frames, questionnaires and focus group interviews were used with 19 practitioners. SST was considered a child-initiated interaction with links to co-construction. The interaction occasioned deep-level learning in children, who were often totally absorbed and showed learning which was ‘sustained’ over time. Implications are highlighted, especially the need for additional training in using SST.
Sustained shared thinking in an early childhood setting:
an exploration of practitioners’ perspectives
Sustained shared thinking (SST) has been identified in the Teachers Standards (Early
Years) (2013) as contributing to good progress and outcomes by children. In this
paper, I define SST and discuss the outcomes of a study of practitioners’
understandings of SST, its challenges and benefits. Writing frames, questionnaires and
focus group interviews were used with nineteen practitioners. SST was considered a
child-initiated interaction with links to co-construction. The interaction occasioned deep
level learning in children, who were often totally absorbed and showed learning which
was ‘sustained’ over time. Implications are highlighted, especially the need for
additional training in using SST.
Sustained shared thinking
deep level learning
thinking skills
child- initiated
early years
Introduction and Aims
It has been claimed that the capacity to engage in sustained shared thinking (SST)
with children is central to effective Early Years pedagogy. (Allen and Whalley,
2010:98). But what exactly is SST? Sustained shared thinking has been defined as:
‘An episode in which two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to
solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities, extend a narrative etc. Both
parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend the
understanding.’ (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2002a:8)
This definition from The Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (REPEY)
(Siraj-Blatchford et al, 2002a) study identified interactions such as SST as a significant
means by which performance in early years’ settings could be enhanced. Although the
REPEY project considered that such interactions were characteristic of high quality
settings, the claim does beg the question of whether and how other practitioners
working with children on a day to day basis would understand the term and put it into
practice as part of their daily routines? Allen and Whalley’s (2010:99) interviews of a
number of practitioners about SST had, after all, suggested some ‘widespread
confusion about … the meaning of the term’.
The aim of the current study was, therefore, to explore the views of a number of
nursery practitioners about the term SST and its associated practices. Would this form
of interaction be embedded in the practice of these practitioners and how would they
conceptualise the benefits of engaging in SST with children? Much debate has taken
place about the role of the practitioner in early years settings but how would these
practitioners see their role in supporting children’s thinking skills in an early years
The concept of SST incorporates a number of themes which need to be explored, such
as, the nature of thinking skills, the pedagogy of thinking skills including links with
language development, the role of the adult including links with the Zone of Proximal
Development and co-construction. Other issues to discuss also include listening to
children as a prerequisite of SST and the role of the environment. SST certainly
highlights many important aspects of early years practice.
Firstly it is necessary to establish what thinking skills are and how children might
develop them. Fisher (2005:x) suggests that thinking is the primary process of human
life for there is no doing without thinking. Therefore it is crucial to support children at an
early stage to help them think and make sense of the world. In the knowledge that
children think in different ways, Robson (2012 : 31) suggests that ‘the creation of an
atmosphere in which talking about thinking happens and in which children are
encouraged to reflect on their thinking, may be most important,’ an idea supported by
Salmon and Lucas (2011:373) who suggest that practitioners’ attitudes to thinking are
There are many contrasting theories about teaching and learning thinking skills.
Whereas Piaget (1951) stressed self-initiated discovery, Vygotsky (Ford, 2009:70)
stressed the role of the adult in contributing to a child’s learning and development.
Rogoff (1990) supports this by emphasising ‘guided participation’ in cultural activities
and the effect of interpersonal and community processes in thinking: ‘cognitive
development consists of individuals changing their ways of understanding…in shared
endeavours with other people building on the cultural practices and traditions of
communities.’ (Rogoff, 2003: 236).
Piaget (1951) believed that children already think before the onset of language. He
saw the role of language initially as expressing thought (rather than creating it) but as
children got older, language was seen as the key way in which initial ego-centric
thought became more social and abstract. In contrast Vygotsky (1986) considered that
for a child under two years of age, thought was non-verbal, but by the age of two,
language and thought become connected. From that point on, intellectual development
would be determined by language. For Vygotsky, (1986) language skills and new
concepts develop as a child speaks, listens and plays. Johnston and Nahmad –
Williams (2009: 145) agree, explaining that children make sense of the world through
language. Palmer and Doyle (2004) explain that the structures of a child’s thought
processes emanate from the speech structures which they have acquired. Therefore
their linguistic skills affect the development of their thought processes. The acquisition
of language relates closely to SST as sharing the thinking with someone else through
language helps to promote thinking skills.
The Effective Provision for Preschool Education (EPPE) project tested the hypothesis
that ‘children whose thinking skills have been nurtured in the company of supportive
adults will do better than children whose thinking has developed alone or in the
company of their peers’ (Sylva et al, 2004). The EPPE project showed links between
positive learning outcomes and effective support offered by adults through language.
(Sylva et al, 2004). In the related REPEY study (Siraj-Blatchford et al, 2002a) effective
settings were found to be those balancing learning opportunities from teacher-directed
interactions with opportunities for freely chosen play activities. In settings considered
effective, practitioners guided children into thinking in deeper ways by challenging their
thinking. This was usually initiated by the child but then sustained through skilful
interactions facilitated by practitioners.
Through Olusoga’s (2009:42) summary of the key features of Vygotsky’s Zone of
Proximal Development (1978:87), clear links can be seen with SST. Siraj -Blatchford
and Sylva (2004: 725) have suggested that adults need to have understanding of the
child’s ‘cognitive, cultural and social perspective’ to enable bridges to be built between
the child’s current knowledge and knowledge the child is capable of gaining. Therefore
the adult has a key role to play in knowing the child, being aware of their level of
development and through SST having the skill to support them to move their thinking
skills onto the next level.
Several researchers (e.g. Rogoff,1990; Rinaldi, 2006; Jordan, 2009) emphasise the
importance of sharing the thinking, engaging with the understanding of the other and
studying meaning with children, which suggests some possible links between co-
construction and SST. Siraj-Blatchford (2002b: 85) in addition, states that ‘child
development progresses as children experience more challenging sustained shared
thinking in their play initially with adults, then in reciprocal peer play and later in
sophisticated collaborative play.’ Whereas in scaffolding the teacher is in control and
often has an outcome in mind, in co-construction, the interests and dispositions of the
learner are all important and the skill of the practitioner lies in establishing
intersubjectivitiy, allowing the child to accept responsibility for their learning (Olusoga,
2009:47, Jordan, 2009:50).
Ford (2009) suggests that ‘all contemporary theories are agreed that the environment,
both physical and social, plays an important role in nurturing children’s learning.’ In
terms of the most effective intellectual environment for SST, Siraj-Blatchford (2005)
has identified a number of strategies to support children’s SST one of which is ‘tuning
in’ or listening effectively to what is said. Dowling’s (2006) teaching materials to
support SST in the early years are based on these strategies. (A list of these strategies
can be seen in question 4 of the questionnaire in appendix 3.) Nutbrown (2011:149)
maintains that ‘educators must be tuned into young children’s thinking, open to their
ideas and responsive to ever active minds.’ Many researchers including Clark and
Moss (2001), Dahlberg and Moss (2005), Rinaldi (2006), have highlighted the
importance of listening to children. Fumoto and Greenfield (2012:48) suggest that
when we communicate by really listening, all the parties involved are empowered. In
Siraj-Blatchford and Smith’s study (2010) one of the success factors for effective SST
was the ability of adults to show an interest in a conversation led by the child, extend it,
and develop it without resorting to their personal agendas which often involved trying
too hard to lead children to the ‘right’ answer.
The findings of the EPPE project suggested that the quality of interactions between
practitioners and children were crucial. Where warmth was displayed and adults
responded to children’s needs, more progress was made (Sylva et al, 2004). Sarsani
(2005) maintains that building self-confidence in a child is the most important factor in
encouraging creative thinking skills. Drawing on Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems
Theory (1979), Fumoto and Greenfield (2012) have recognised the influence of the
environment on the development of a child’s thinking skills. Therefore the promotion of
children’s creative thinking and social relationships are vital in enhancing the quality of
early childhood practice as a whole (Fumoto and Greenfield, 2012:8).
The REPEY report (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2002a) stated that interactions such as SST
played an important part in raising levels of achievement and were mostly found in
settings of the best quality. Walsh, Murphy and Dunbar (2007:15) stated that ‘staff in
excellent settings were: more likely to encourage children to engage in new
experiences; more enthusiastic about the child’s efforts; and more proactive in seeking
out opportunities to scaffold children’s thinking.’ Research by Siraj-Blatchford and
Sylva (2004:720) concluded that ‘positive cognitive outcomes are closely associated
with adult - child interactions of (the) kind that involve some element of ‘sustained
shared thinking,’ which they consider supported learning effectively across the whole
curriculum. The benefits of a structured approach including the use of SST were
considered to be better cognitive and linguistic outcomes.
So how does SST relate to government policy? The Early Years Professional Status
(EYPS) Standard 16 states ‘engage in sustained shared thinking with children,’ which
‘refers to the development of children’s thinking skills … essential tools that enable
children to learn’ (CWDC, 2010: 41). In addition in the EYFS (DfE, 2012) one of the
three characteristics of effective teaching and learning is described as ‘creating and
thinking critically – children have and develop their own ideas, make links between
ideas and develop strategies for doing things.’ However Fumoto (2012: 120) proposes
that some of the challenges faced by the early years workforce in promoting SST
include ‘practitioners pay and conditions, the training of the workforce, the resourcing
of early childhood provision and practitioners’ professionalisation.’ The Nutbrown
Report (Nutbrown, 2012) raised concerns about the standard of qualifications and
career pathways in the early years, stressing that high quality early education and care
should be led by well-qualified staff. Nutbrown (2012: 12-13) states that ‘children learn
much in sustained interaction with other children, as well as adults who are attuned to
children’s learning and development needs who can support their play and foster early
interactions between young children.’ Nutbrown’s recommendations (2012), if
implemented, should help practitioners to be equipped to support children’s thinking
skills. Fumoto (2012:128) concluded that practitioners’ efforts to engage in SST with
children would be enhanced through commitment by policy makers to this interaction
evidenced by adequate resourcing and training. It appears that the government have
recognised the link between effective SST and high quality settings but has not
followed this up with funding to develop training. In the knowledge that engaging in
SST has been identified in the Teachers Standards (Early Years) (Teaching Agency,
2013) as part of promoting good progress and outcomes by children, it will be
interesting to see how the training for Early Years Teachers proceeds.
In defining SST the literature has highlighted ‘guided participation’, sharing the thinking
through language and co-construction as important themes and suggested that
challenges for practitioners including finding time to talk about thinking, listening and
‘tuning in’, knowing each child well, providing strong emotional support and being
committed to the interaction. My aim in this research was to find out practitioners’
experiences of SST, thus the research questions which guided the study were as
1. How do a group of practitioners conceptualise sustained shared thinking?
2. What do practitioners consider to be the benefits of SST?
3. What do practitioners consider to be the challenges of SST?
My perspectives on early childhood practice are influenced by a socio-cultural
approach which recognises the significance of social context in children’s learning. If
the fourth overarching principle of the EYFS (DfE, 2012:3) is correct, that is that
‘children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates,’ then it is likely that
the cultural context of children will affect the development of their cognition and that the
role of SST within this is worth investigating.
In terms of methodology, the aim of qualitative research is to ‘understand individuals’
perceptions of the world,’ (Bell, 2010: 5) – in the present case, the ways in which a
group of early years practitioners conceptualised and used sustained shared thinking.
A variety of data-gathering techniques were employed to gather evidence. Writing
frames, similar to those used by Egan (2009), were chosen because respondents
could use their own words without judgment, the researcher could take a non-
participatory approach, participants were empowered and writing could be as detailed
as wished.
Taking into account the limitations of the open question style of the writing frame,
principally in the way they make data analysis more complicated (Cohen, Manion and
Morrison, 2007:330), two other methods of data collection were used. Focus group
interviews allowed power to be shared between facilitator and group members
(Mukherji and Albon, 2010: 123). Questionnaires, with some open questions, allowed
for in depth replies and easier data analysis. Using these three different methods of
collecting data would, it was felt, enhance the validity of the research (Mukherji and
Albon, 2010:194).
Using one setting provided the opportunity to ‘see effects in real contexts, context
being a significant determining factor of both cause and effect.’ (Cohen, Manion and
Morrison, 2007:253). My sample comprised nineteen practitioners in one nursery.
Practitioners were asked to reflect on their experiences of SST using the writing frame,
to participate in a focus group discussion and to complete a questionnaire (shown in
the appendices). Practitioners were asked to reflect on any recent experience of SST
with any child or group of children in any location in the nursery at any time of day
during any type of activity for as long a period of time as the practitioner wished.
A consideration of ethics is important at every stage of the research process (Mukherji
and Albon, 2010:40, Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2007:51). Letters of consent were
collected and confidentiality maintained as no names could be matched to any data.
The direction of the discussion could have been influenced by the researcher’s values
and beliefs but with only one researcher, the influence would have been the same for
each focus group. Honesty is critical at all stages of the research process (Walliman,
2005: 337), since the researcher is accountable. ‘Silently rejecting or ignoring
evidence which happens to be contrary to one’s beliefs constitutes a breach of
integrity’ (Walliman, 2005:337). This was considered when transcribing the focus group
interviews and analysing data.
In case studies, participants should be allowed to have their own voice, since
respondents’ own words are often rich in detail and more illuminating than researchers’
words (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2007:254). Therefore quotations directly from
practitioners were used to enhance validity.
One strength of my research methods is that I used both deductive and inductive
research approaches. Where the questions were closed, as in the questionnaire, then
this ‘top down’ approach or deductive method enabled me to move from the general to
the more specific (Hitchcock and Hughes, 1995:22). Where the questions were open,
for example in the writing frames and in the focus groups, a ‘bottom up’ inductive
approach allowed me to start with the ideas of the practitioners and see if their ideas
matched the literature or if they expressed new insights.
The data was analysed using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke’s, 2006:82), which
involved ‘searching across a data set…to find repeated patterns of meaning.’ The
process of analysis involved six distinct phases. After becoming familiar with the data
through reading and rereading, and the transcription of the focus group interviews,
some initial codes were generated manually, driven by the three research questions.
Once all the data was both coded and collated, decisions were made about combining
various codes to configure an overall theme using tables as a tool to facilitate the
analysis. After reviewing, refining, defining and naming the themes, the final phase
involved writing a report by producing an analytic narrative of the data.
Although all the nineteen practitioners agreed to take part in the research, four
practitioners did not return their writing frames. Fifteen questionnaires were distributed
but only seven of these were returned. There were four focus group interviews
involving a total of fifteen members of staff.
The first theme which emerged from the data was related to how practitioners
conceptualised SST. ‘Learning and exploring alongside the children’ was a response
from nine practitioners from the writing frames and seven highlighted ‘engaging with
and alongside children to encourage a deeper level of understanding through shared
research, questioning, active dialogue and participation.’ Six practitioners described
SST as ‘sharing a conversation’. Four practitioners from the writing frames highlighted
the fact that the play was child-led and that practitioners had to wait to be invited to join
the play. One practitioner explained that, for her, SST was ‘when both practitioner and
child become absorbed in a discussion through play.’ ‘Tuning in through the use of
verbal and non-verbal means’ was emphasised by six practitioners, giving the children
‘an opportunity to think and improve their thinking.’ One practitioner explained that
‘SST could include interactions between child and child as well as between child and
adult’. Yet another practitioner said SST was ‘children building on each others ideas,’
which might include children ‘asking each other questions.’
Some significant responses help to explain the word ‘sustained’ more clearly. ‘Adults
need to provide opportunities for children to return to their previous investigations.’ In
addition one focus group response was: ‘The fact that they brought it up the following
week showed it was deep level learning.’ Another significant response in a focus group
was: ‘If it’s important to them, they remember it afterwards.’ So perhaps the word
‘sustained’ does not just mean sustained for a period of time while the interaction is
taking place but also ‘sustained’ in the sense that the learning has made an impact on
the child, it has been remembered after a period of time. I consider this is a significant
leaning point from this study.
The four focus groups provided an opportunity to explore some of these themes in
more detail. Some important questions were posed to practitioners around their
conceptualisation of the term SST. When asked ‘What made you decide that SST had
taken place?’ in all of the focus groups, practitioners explained ‘…because we were
learning from each other.’ In one focus group a practitioner responded ‘it was really
deep level learning.’ In two focus groups there was a discussion about SST enabling
children to focus on the activity more effectively. One practitioner explained: ‘You can
tell when it’s really good because they don’t get distracted by anything else around
them,’ with which other practitioners agreed. Another reply was: ‘You can tell how
deeply engaged they are. A child who was very unsettled and found separation from
his mother difficult– when involved in SST didn’t even notice his mother wasn’t there.’
The fact that SST appears to promote such deep level learning leading to very focused
activity I consider is a second significant learning point from this study.
When asked ‘What did you do to make you consider that SST had taken place?’ One
focus group agreed that: ‘You have to engage them.’ In all four focus groups,
practitioners agreed that ‘You have to keep asking open ended questions and keep the
conversation going.’ One practitioner in particular explained that ‘You have to ensure
you’re taking the conversation to a place of their interest and not going off to my
knowledge and interest.’ Focus group members in three of the focus groups
considered this to be an important part of facilitating SST. Two focus groups
highlighted the need to let the child lead the interaction. This was clear by responses
such as: ‘Don’t take over by giving them too much information or it is no longer shared
thinking it’s you taking over ’ and ‘You need to wait for them to introduce you into their
play.’ What seems important in the comments above is that the interaction was
considered to be child led and a practitioner would only follow if they were sure that
was what the child wanted.
The idea of listening to children as a concept underpinning SST was emphasised in
responses in all of the focus groups through the words ‘listening’, ‘watching’ and
‘waiting’ and also through ‘asking sensitive questions.’ One practitioner said: ‘We listen
to them, they listen to us, but they take the lead.’ Another member of staff explained
their role was ‘To ensure the correct resources were at hand, modelling, asking open
ended questions, engaging them.’ These were all seen as crucial skills to help them
guide children to improve their thinking.
When asked ‘What did the child do to make you think that SST had taken place?’ two
focus groups said ‘Show a high level of engagement.’ One practitioner said that her
episode of SST lasted 40 minutes. Another commented that SST is ‘When both
practitioner and the child become absorbed in a discussion through play.’ These are
powerful responses and the last one in particular sums up what SST is about. Despite
the difficulties with trying to define SST, when it has taken place practitioners know. It
is a magical experience that is totally absorbing for both parties. Two focus groups
discussed the children’s eagerness to find things out. One practitioner said: ‘They can’t
wait to find out more.’ Another said ‘They can’t wait to go on to the next part.’ Yet
another said ‘You can tell by their facial expressions and their body language almost
buzzing off what you are learning together.’ The majority of staff in the focus groups felt
that SST encouraged children to have great enthusiasm for learning.
The practitioners’ responses to the question ‘How can you ensure SST is a genuinely
shared experience?’ provided insight into strategies used to get involved in the thinking
process with the child or children.’ One member of staff said ‘…by really knowing the
child.’ Another said ‘You can see it on them if it’s shared or of it’s just you.’ Other
responses included ’By accepting as an adult you don’t have all the answers.’ ‘Be
prepared to learn alongside them and give them time.’ It could be deduced that
practitioners consider that their attitudes to learning are critical in supporting children to
improve their thinking skills.
When asked what are the best contexts for developing SST, three focus groups said
that ‘outside, learning from nature, ’ provided an effective context. Two groups said ‘a
quiet place’ was important and other responses from individual focus groups included
‘a place where they feel confident and at ease’, ‘when there are plenty of staff around’
and ‘it happens all the time.’
Another revealing question posed in the focus group was whether practitioners’
conceptualisation of SST had changed as a result of this research and the discussions
ensuing from it. Various responses were received such as.’ My practice hasn’t
changed but my understanding of it has. I’ve always done it but this has made me
realise how important it is and how much children can get from it.’ ‘The more
committed and enthusiastic you are the more you do it. And then it becomes
embedded in your practice.’ Some practitioners explained that they didn’t realise SST
was taking place and another commented that she now ‘realised how often we do it.’
Practitioners at this nursery highly value SST.
Practitioners identified a long list of benefits from SST, for the child, the adult and the
setting. Allowing a child to explore with wonder and excitement and be really
engaged,’ was a response seen in three writing frames. ‘Helps a child share and
express ideas,’ was written in three writing frames and highlighted in one focus group
discussion. Six practitioners expressed through the writing frames that SST helped a
child to ‘learn for themselves’, ‘encouraging more confident learning.’ High levels of
well being, self esteem and trust were seen as benefits of SST through one writing
frame, two focus groups and two questionnaires. The notion of SST facilitating deep
engagement with the process of learning must be considered a significant benefit.
In the writing frames, two members of staff considered benefits for the adults
concerned included ‘…an improvement in their listening skills.’ Four practitioners in the
writing frames considered SST ‘Helps you understand the child better.’ One response
in the writing frame was ‘It forces practitioners to think outside the box, to be creative
and enthusiastic.’ Five responses in the writing frames were that ‘SST will allow adults
to discern the children’s interests and see how the child explores and discovers.’ In
one writing frame the benefit for the setting in engaging with SST was ‘Higher
engagement leading to a calmer environment.’ Another response was ‘A more
motivated team, better staff retention.’
Numerous challenges were listed by practitioners in promoting SST. Five writing
frames suggested ‘Finding time can be hard, especially equal time for each child and
time to finish the activity.’ Four said it was ‘Difficult to maintain in a busy environment.’
Six staff mentioned ‘Exhaustion, long hours,’ as a significant challenge. Three said
‘Others can distract and interfere.’ Five said ‘Ratio- group size or one to one, or
understaffing’ was a problem. One practitioner wrote about ‘lack of understanding or
support by other practitioners.’ Another explained: ‘the whole team need to understand
SST in order for the spontaneity to support children to continue to discover.’ In one
focus group practitioners explained that it is not an interaction that comes easily as
‘you learn it from experience’ and another stated ‘you need to practice it ’. The four
practitioners in one focus group commented on the need for professionalism in their
work, commenting that: ’The more committed and enthusiastic you are the more you
do it,’ and ‘You need to practice it and do it again.’ ‘If you’re not truly passionate I don’t
think it’s something you would do.’
Research questions will be considered in turn:
1. How do a group of practitioners conceptualise sustained shared thinking?
Initial definition of SST
Practitioners comments such as ‘sharing of ideas’, ‘encouraging a deeper level of
understanding through shared research’ and ‘learning alongside each showed their
agreement with many concepts expressed in the initial definition of SST. Such
responses may also be linked with Rogoff’s (1990) explanations of ‘guided
participation’ in cultural activities’ and developing understanding through ‘shared
endeavours with other people building on the cultural practices and traditions of
communities’ (Rogoff, 2003:237).
Attention was drawn to emotional contexts where children ‘feel confident and at ease’,
where ‘it is quiet’ and ‘plenty of staff’ can support. This provided further evidence for
the idea that cognition is ‘”situated in” specific contexts’ (Rogoff, 2003: 237).
Practitioners also highlighted the importance of their own attitude to learning, such as
‘learning alongside each other’, ‘by accepting as an adult you don’t have all the
answers,’ ‘adults can learn from the child,’ and ‘shared research’. Salmon and Lucas
(2011:373) conclude that when thinking is valued, children are more likely to value
thinking too. Enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism, is clearly needed to
engage in SST as reflected by the high level of skills practitioners considered
necessary and also comments such as : ‘the more committed and enthusiastic you are
the more you do it’, ‘you need to practice it and do it again’ and ‘if you’re not truly
passionate I don’t think it’s something you would do’. Numerous participants pointed to
the need to listen effectively to children as part of SST including ‘showing an interest’,
‘tuning in with children’, ‘listening to the ideas, not interrupting them.’ This is supported
by many discussions about listening skills and SST including those of Siraj-Blatchford
(2005), Dahlberg and Moss (2005:99), Egan (2009) and Fumoto and Greenfield
The role of the adult in sustaining thinking
In this study, when practitioners were asked to plan a session of SST, many said they
could not as it would not then be SST as SST is initiated by the child. This view is also
seen from their responses such as ‘learning that is child led’. Practitioners at this
nursery considered SST is child initiated, not adult led.
The fact that it is ‘shared’ indicates that the thinking and interaction between the two
participants is apportioned. Olusoga (2009:48) in a discussion of the concept of
‘control’ in adult child interactions, suggests that SST is different from teacher directed
play, for in SST power is shared with control being passed from one participant to the
other, but in direct teaching control is in the practitioner’s hands. The word ‘shared’
does not indicate that it is just a sharing of time or resources but indicates some
sharing of power, of direction and guidance. This was made clear in responses such as
‘asking open- ended questions’, ‘exploring and extending an idea,’ ‘encouraging a child
to make connections,’ adults guiding the children,’ ‘suggesting to a child,’ ‘you have to
keep the conversation going,’ ‘by helping to lead them in their thinking.’ Practitioners
considered that they have a crucial role to play in SST.
These ideas of the practitioners are clearly supported by literature. For example, Siraj-
Blatchford (2005) lists strategies to support children’s SST including tuning in, showing
real interest, re-capping, clarifying, suggesting and speculating. Dowling’s (2006)
teaching materials to support SST are based on these strategies.
Strong links can be seen with co-construction as evidenced by comments such as
‘generating new ideas,’ ‘engaging with and alongside children to encourage a deeper
level of understanding through shared research, questioning, active dialogue and
participation,’ ‘by sharing suggestions,’ ‘by sharing ideas,’ and ‘making meaning,
constructing understanding.’ This supports Siraj- Blatchford and Sylva (2004:720) in
their premise that SST includes elements of co-construction in which both parties are
‘involved’ and the content is ‘instructive’.
The second research question asked:
2. What do practitioners consider are its benefits?
SST can ‘allow a child to explore with wonder and excitement and be really engaged’.
In addition SST can ‘allow children and adults to discern their interests and see how
the child explores and discovers’, and SST ‘ helps you understand the child better’,
which supports the suggestion that SST provides an opportunity to learn more about
children’s thinking and learning styles (Robson, 2006a:3).
Practitioners have suggested SST: ‘expands the child’s learning’, ‘helps a child share
and express ideas’, helps to further the child’s development’. This adds to evidence
from literature including the EPPE project suggesting that children do better when their
thinking skills are supported by adults rather than developing alone or with other
children (Sylva et al, 2004), research by Siraj-Blatchford and Sylva (2004:720)
suggesting higher cognitive outcomes are closely linked with interactions such as SST
and Sylva et al’s (2007) reference to cognitive and linguistic outcomes being better as
a result of SST.
Social and emotional well-being is also considered a huge benefit shown through such
comments as : ‘helps them be a confident learner’, ‘high level of well-being, self-
esteem and trust’, ‘better relationships and foundation of trust.’ Sylva et al (2004),
supported by Fumoto and Greenfield (2012) suggests children’s progress was
improved where adults made close relationships with them.
The third research question asked:
3. What do practitioners consider are its challenges?
Finding sufficient time was considered ‘hard, especially finding equal time for each
child and finding time to finish the activity.’ Perhaps the revised, simplified EYFS (DfE,
2012) will help staff to have more time to spend with children.
Although it is suggested by McInnes et al (2010:19) that children might lose confidence
when adults engage with them in their play, practitioners expressed the view that you
should wait for children to ‘invite you to join in’, and most effective is ‘waiting for them
to introduce me into their play,’ and ‘you need to take a step back and really listen to
the children first.’ This provides more evidence for Nutbrown’s (2011:149) ideas about
tuning into children to ensure you are supportive and not interfering.
The most important challenges seen by staff were ‘exhaustion and long hours’ and
‘ratio-group size or one to one, or understaffing’; also mentioning that ‘others can
distract and interfere.’ Fumoto (2012: 120) drew attention to pay and conditions,
training and resourcing for early years’ staff. Participants highlighted the importance of
‘the whole team needing to understand SST’ and ‘lack of understanding or support by
other practitioners.’ Robson’s study (2006b) of 80 early childhood professionals
concluded that training needed to focus more specifically on teaching thinking skills.
Changes recommended by Nutbrown (2012) might help to alleviate this.
This research has several potential implications for practitioners. Recognising the
immense value to children of engaging in SST should give practitioners pride in their
work knowing that their involvement with children can make a difference. In terms of
SST the following attributes have been recognised through this study as being most
seeking opportunities to make meaning together
providing meaningful contexts based on children’s interests
recognising that sometimes children will know the most about the topic
listening carefully
looking for ways to reflect on previous episodes of SST
There are also important implications for settings as practitioners suggested that
‘higher engagement leads to a calmer environment’ that ‘deeper understanding of the
child leads to a more motivated team, higher adult engagement and staff retention.’
Further training in SST especially for those new to the role would therefore be
Challenges practitioners outlined included ‘understaffing’, ‘finding time’, the fact that
the ‘whole team need to understand SST’, ‘not having the right resources’, ‘lack of
understanding or support by other practitioners’ and ‘exhaustion.’ Fumoto (2012:120)
proposes that some of the challenges faced by the early years’ workforce in promoting
SST include ’practitioners pay and conditions, the training of the workforce, the
resourcing of early childhood provision and practitioners professionalisation.’ ‘We need
political commitment to creating safe and secure environments in which good early
childhood practice can thrive’ (Fumoto et al, 2012:137).
Nutbrown (2012: 12-13) states that ‘children learn much in sustained interaction with
other children, as well as adults who are attuned to children’s learning and
development needs who can support their play and foster early interactions between
young children.’ The Teachers’ Standards (Early Years) (Teaching Agency, 2013)
identified engagement in sustained shared thinking as an important part of promoting
good progress and outcomes by children (criteria 2). The government needs to invest
in high quality training for early years’ professionals to ensure that all involved have a
full understanding of SST, this crucial interaction which can clearly be seen to have
many benefits and is a valid criterion for a quality setting.
Further research is necessary to discover practitioners’ perspectives from other
nurseries to compare their views and to gain the perspectives of parents and children
themselves. However practitioners at the nursery in this study have spoken
passionately about the benefits of SST, which has contributed to our understanding of
this interaction. Although difficult to define, SST can be recognised by deep level
learning. Children become totally absorbed and wish to revisit their investigation later
showing that their learning is truly ‘sustained’ over time.
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Appendix 1
Focus Group Questions
1. How did your episodes of sustained shared thinking go?
2. What made you decide that this interaction was truly SST?
3. What did you do to make you consider that SST had taken place?
4. What did the child do to make you think that SST had taken place?
5. What have you found are some of the best contexts for developing SST?
6. How can you ensure SST is a genuinely shared experience?
7. Has your understanding of sustained shared thinking changed by carrying out
this episode of SST? If so in what way?
8. What do you think might be some of the benefits of carrying out SST?
9. Can you describe any difficulties you encountered about planning your episode
of SST?
10.Were there any difficulties in carrying out your episode of SST? If so, what were
11. Do you have any final reflections on SST?
Appendix 2
The Writing Frame
In my experience sustained shared thinking is …………………………………………
In my experience the benefits of sustained shared thinking include……………………
In my experience sustained shared thinking is difficult because……………
Appendix 3
Questionnaire on Sustained Shared Thinking
1. How did your episode of SST go?
2. Do you consider that you were able to get involved in the thinking process with
the child, and if so how did you do this ?
3. Tick which of the following features of early years practice are the most
important things a practitioner can do to encourage SST to take place.
4. Which ones did you actually do when you carried out your episode of SST? Put
a star by these features.
Showing genuineness and real interest
Respecting the child’s own decisions and choices
Reminding – of something the child said earlier
Encouragement to further thinking
Offering an alternative viewpoint
Use of open ended questions
Modelling thinking
Clarifying ideas
Offering your own experience
Inviting children to elaborate
5. Which of the following aspects are most important in an early years setting to
facilitate SST?
Reflective practice
Staff knowledge and training
Establishment of effective trusting relationships
Effective listening to children and tuning in to them
Sound knowledge of child development
Opportunities provided for children to become involved in activities that interest and
intrigue them
Finding meaningful ways of engaging children’s thinking e.g. mark making and drawing
6. Do you think SST is a helpful and worthwhile type of interaction to practice and
perfect? If so why?
List the main benefits of SST.
7. Do you think SST helps you to understand how a child sees the world? What is
meant by this and can you give any examples?
8. Do you think sheer exhaustion could be one reason why SST does not happen
more often and if so what can be done to change this?
9. Do you think SST is easier or harder to carry out in a free flow setting? If so
10. Do you find using open ended questions is a challenge in the promotion of
effective SST and if so what can be done about this?
... The materials aim at the development of competencies to support children in gradually mastering their living environment. Therefore, important skills to be taught are the ability to observe and interpret complex situations in pedagogical daily routine (Fröhlich-Gildhoff et al., 2011) and to design and elaborate processes of interaction between teachers and children (Purdon, 2016), falling back on area-specific knowledge and didactics (Duncan et al., 2007). ...
... Dimension 1: students can choose ways to start a conversation with the child in the situation. The possible phrases integrate elements of a didactic approach called Sustained Shared Thinking (Purdon, 2016). It is defined as a problem-solving form of communication, including elements such as active listening and positive questioning. ...
... Dimension 2: the users are asked to identify the mathematical competencies of the child and mathematical phenomena underlying the illustrated situations. Here we build on subject-specific knowledge of early daily life-based mathematical education (Purdon, 2016). ...
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This paper focuses on the development of a learning app in the area of STEM education for future professionals in the area of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). We discuss how differing expectations of various actors have influenced the concept, structure, and content of the app. The app discussed here is part of a project that aims to raise future educators’ levels of awareness of STEM learning opportunities for kindergarten children. A central objective of the project is to facilitate the transfer from vocational schools to practice (and vice versa) as well as the application of the apprentices’ theoretical knowledge (disposition) in the kindergarten (performance). To identify expectations about the app, we conducted workshops and developed questionnaires aimed at users of the app, teachers employing the app in their lessons, experts in early STEM education, and experts in the area of digital media. The results indicate somewhat differing expectations toward a learning app, the need for expertise of many stakeholders, and the need for several rounds of coordination and adjustment of the app.
... Eine Einstellung verstehen wir als "a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor" (Eagly & Chaiken 2007, S. 598). Studien, die sich konkret mit dem Einfluss der Einstellungen pädagogischer Fachkräfte auf die Entwicklung der Kinder befassen, sind rar (Kluczniok & Roßbach, 2014). 2 Purdon (2016) beschäftigte sich mit den Perspektiven pädagogischer Fachkräfte auf das als besonders anregend geltende Interaktionsformat Sustained shared thinking und zeigt, dass es den Fachkräften u. a. wichtig ist, Anregungen basierend auf den Interessen der Kinder anzubieten, das eigene Denken zu verbalisieren, zuzuhören oder empathisch zu sein (Purdon, 2016). ...
... (2) Die Fachkräfte assoziieren mit anregender Interaktion v. a. sozial-emotionale Aspekte in ähnlicher kognitivaffektiver Weise (Purdon, 2016). Differenziertere Repräsentationen zur Lernanregung durch eigene pädagogische Interaktionen (z. ...
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(Der Beitrag wird 2021 in Heft 2/3 der Frühen Bildung erscheinen.) Wie eine pädagogische Fachkraft mit den Kindern interagiert und sie damit in ihrer Entwicklung unterstützt, hängt maßgeblich davon ab, wie sie lernanregenden Interaktionen gegenüber eingestellt ist. Diese Einstellungen werden im Beitrag mit sogenannten cognitive-affective maps (CAMs) erfasst. Zur Erstellung der CAMs wurden leitfadengestützte Interviews mit pädagogischen Fachkräften (N=18) aus sechs verschiedenen Einrichtungen analysiert. Die CAMs zeigen, dass die befragten Fachkräfte hauptsächlich auf sozial-emotionale Aspekte von Interaktionen rekurrieren und ihre täglichen Interaktionen mit den Kindern selbst positiv bewerten. Konkretes Wissen zu lernanregenden Interaktionsformaten benennen sie hingegen kaum. Ein Vergleich der Einstellungen der Fachkräfte deutet auf teamspezifische Besonderheiten hin. In einigen Einrichtungen sind die Einstellungen der Fachkräfte deutlich homogener als in anderen. Die Ergebnisse werden in ihrer Bedeutung für Fortbildungsangebote diskutiert und CAMs als gewinnbringende Methode zur Eruierung teamspezifischer Fortbildungsbedarfe und als Fortbildungsmethode selbst vorgeschlagen.
... Children evaluate, observe, and learn about adulthood within the cultures and about the adults' rules and expectations (Purdon, 2016;Wood, 2014). These two microcultures consist of many opposite expectations. ...
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This research describes the rules and ways of forming playgroups in the children’s peer culture. The data were obtained through observation by videoing children’s activities in various play situations. The data were analysed through ethnographic thick description by using microanalysis and participation framework. The analysis was focused on who could participate in play and what kind of behaviours inhibit participation. In addition, children’s actions in order to get in play activities were observed as a part of the children’s peer culture. To become included, four various methods were noticed: (1) Prowling the play activities; (2) Nonverbal communication; (3) Abstaining from critiquing; and (4) Showing enthusiasm and worming one’s way to play with a toy. Furthermore, tattlers, emotionally incompetent, or dominating children were not accepted in play activities. This research provides information and increases understanding about children’s behaviours and how to guide their emotional skills development.
... Auch weitere Studien zeigen, dass pädagogische Sprechhandlungen, die anhaltendes dialogisches Nachdenken im Kindergartenalltag initiieren, selten sind (vgl. Hopf 2012;König 2009;Purdon 2014) und noch kaum von den Fachkräften -als Methode einer alltagsintegrierten sprachlichen Bildung -bewusst angewendet werden (vgl. . Dies deckt sich mit anderen Befunden, die die dialogische Interaktionsqualität als unzureichend beurteilen (vgl. ...
Museums provide rich multimodal learning opportunities and long‐lasting memories for children and teachers who participate in museum excursions and outreach programs. Museum programs for preschool children embed hands‐on opportunities to engage children with new and diverse artefacts. Interactions in museum settings provide opportunities for adults and children to collaborate in learning. Our aim in this project was to explore the elements of museum programs that prove essential in engaging young children in museum education programs. Five museum presenters and 14 early childhood groups (14 teachers and 296 children) participated in the research project. Data collection included audio recordings of museum presentations, observations of child‐teacher interactions, multiliteracy observations, teacher interviews, and written reflections from the museum presenters. Coding across all datasets contributed to the five main themes in the findings, which we detail using the acronym LEARN: Learning artefacts; Embodied teaching and learning; Asking questions; Repetition: and Narrative. Multiple elements of museum education programs influence learning opportunities for young children. Both structural elements (e.g. designing a core narrative around concepts, or time for children’s individual queries during the program and hands‐on explorations with museum artefacts) and learning interactions (e.g. conversations where children and adults collaborate) contribute to engaging museum education programs for young children.
Adult-child interactions can support children's development and are established as predictors of program quality in early childhood settings. However, the linguistic components that constitute positive interactions have not yet been studied in detail. This study investigates the effects of hypotheses proposed by adults on children's responses in a dyadic picture-book viewing situation. In 2 experiments, adults’ use of hypotheses (e.g., “Maybe this is a dwarf's door”) was tested against the use of instructive statements (“This is a dwarf's door”) and in combination with open questions (“What do you think, why is the door so small?”). In Experiment 1, hypotheses differed from instructions only by the modal marker “maybe”. Children's responses to hypotheses were longer and contained more self-generated explanations as compared to responses to instructions. The use of hypotheses also seemed to encourage children to attach more importance to their own explanations. In Experiment 2, combining hypotheses with open-ended why questions elicited longer responses but no more self-generated explanations in children than open-ended questions alone. Results indicate that subtle differences in adults’ utterances can directly influence children's reasoning and children's contributions to dialogues.
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The primary objective of this article is to create a conceptual Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) happiness framework for preschool children in India. Although happiness is regarded as one of the key elements that influence early childhood development, an effective happiness framework does not exist for preschools in rural and socio-economically disadvantaged areas in the state of Punjab in India. Therefore, based on research gaps and existing literature, a conceptual framework has been developed to promote social and emotional competence among preschool children through the happiness intervention. The article also discusses (a) the concepts of happiness, and social and emotional competence; (b) the importance of happiness in preschool; (c) the association between happiness and social-emotional competence of preschool children; and (d) the role of preschool teachers in implementing the framework. Future implementation of this framework in the preschools of India will help overcome the limitation that exists in regard to its validation.
The early childhood programme of Reggio Emilia in Italy is acclaimed as one of the best education systems in the world and this book offers the unique insight of Carlina Rinaldi, the former director of the municipal early childhood centres in Reggio Emilia and successor to Loris Malaguzzi, one of the twentieth century's leading pedagogical thinkers. Rinaldi has an enviable international reputation for her contribution to the Reggio approach and has given talks on the topic around the world. A collection of Rinaldi's most important works, this book is organized thematically with a full introduction contextualising each piece. It closes with an interview by series editors Peter Moss and Gunilla Dahlberg, looking at Rinaldi's current work and reflections on Reggio's past, present and future. Much of this material is previously unpublished and focuses on a number of questions: • What • were the ideas and legacy of Loris Malaguzzi? • What is unique about Reggio Emilia? • What are the issues in education today and what does it mean to be a teacher? • How can educators most effectively make use of creativity?
The early childhood services of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy has gained worldwide interest and admiration. Drawing on the 'Reggio approach', and others, this book explores the ethical and political dimensions of early childhood services and argues the importance of these dimensions at a time when they are often reduced to technical and managerial projects, without informed consideration for what is best for the child. Extending and developing the ideas raised in Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Care and Education the successful team of authors make a wide range of complex material accessible to readers who may have little knowledge of the various important and relevant areas within philosophy, ethics, or politics, covering subjects such as: post-structural thinkers and their perspectives the history and practice of early childhood work in Reggio Emilia globalization, technological change, poverty, and environmental degradation ethical and political perspectives relevant to early childhood services from Foucault and Deleuze, to Beck, Bauman and Rose. This book presents essential ideas, theories and debates to an international audience. Those who would find this particularly useful are practitioners, trainers, students, researchers, policymakers and anyone with an interest in early childhood education.
Developing Thinking and Understanding in Young Children presents a comprehensive and accessible overview of contemporary theory and research about young children's developing thinking and understanding. Throughout this second edition, the ideas and theories presented are enlivened by transcripts of children's activities and conversations taken from practice and contemporary research, helping readers to make links between theory, research and practice. Each chapter also includes ideas for further reading and suggested activities. Aimed at all those interested in how young children develop through their thoughts and actions, Sue Robson explores: • theories of cognitive development. • the social, emotional and cultural contexts of children's thinking. • children's conceptual development • visual thinking • approaches to supporting the development of young children's thinking and understanding • latest developments in brain science and young children • the central roles of play and language in young children's developing thinking. Including a new chapter on young children's musical thinking, expanded sections on self regulation, metacognition and creative thinking and the use of video to observe and describe young children's thinking, this book will be an essential read for all students undertaking Early Childhood, Primary PGCE and EYPS courses. Those studying for a Foundation degree in Early Years and Childcare will also find this book to be of interest.
Invaluable for anyone looking to understand young children's thinking, this essential textbook helpfully combines introductions to theories about thinking with observations from real-life practice. The book explores underlying theories behind topics such as: The relationship between nature and nuture, models of cognitive development, with ideas from key thinkers such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner, basic neuroscience and its application to early childhood, the social, emotional and cultural context of children's development, emotional intelligence, language and thought, including the use of motherese and children's talk in pretend play, whether children can think philosophically. The author accompanies every topic with observations from the classroom, supported by her own critical analysis linking theory to practice throughout. © 2006 Sue Robson, except Boxes 5.5 and 10.3. All rights reserved.