15 October 2018

Head of Junior School

Understanding is Key

A key area for development in the Junior School for 2016 is the development of our boys' higher order thinking skills. We will be following the work of Dr Barrie Bennett and reviewing our teaching methods and techniques, our questioning and the activities and inquiries we plan.

Learning is making meaning. Meaning is making connections. Connections are in concepts. In order to learn something, we must understand its meaning. We make meaning by connecting new ideas to ones we already have. The links or chains with which we connect new ideas or information to ones we already know are their common concepts.

The importance of develop higher order think skills is clear. We need our boys to be able to think beyond simple retention and relaying of information. We currently work to develop thinking skills through the PYP and its approached to learning:

  • Acquisition of Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation
  • Dialectical Thought
  • Metacognition

We will be exploring Bloom's taxonomy and using it to assist us in our work on higher order thinking. Bloom divided learning into three domains of educational activity:

  • Cognitive: Mental skills (knowledge)
  • Affective: Growth in feelings or emotional area (attitude or self)
  • Psychomotor: Manual or physical skills (skills)

The attitudes and skills within the domains are listed in six categories, starting from the simplest thinking behaviour to the most complex.

General belief is that each behaviour needs to be mastered before the next one can take place.

The work we will be undertaking this year and next will assist the boys to think more often at the top levels of the taxonomy. Our goal is to achieve even deeper understanding, retention and transfer of knowledge in a number of different ways.

"Only in some very special cases is comprehension the point of reading--in things like recipes and "reading material." The point of reading is understanding, and comprehension is to understanding as getting wet is to swimming. You must do the one before you can hope to do the other, but you don't do the other simply because you do the one."
Richard Mitchell, The Leaning Tower Of Babel And Other Affronts By The Underground Grammarian

We have implemented a new reading assessment programme this year. The Fountas and Pinnell Reading Assessment System assesses the boys on their higher order comprehension skills. It divided the understanding of texts into three areas: reading within the text; reading beyond the text; and reading about the text. Questions that focus on a boy's understanding of sequencing, characters and story structure are at the within the text domain. At the beyond and about the text level, we are asking the boys to develop and use skills that require them to predict, make connections, synthesise, infer, analyse and critique the text. These higher order comprehension skills are essential for a reader to fully understand a text and to be able to apply what they have read to other situations. It allows the reader to apply their reading across disciplines and to engage in in-depth conversations about a text.

We will be working to further develop these abilities in our boys. We will also share materials parents can use at home when they are reading to and with their sons that will provide additional structure for conversations about what they have read. In upcoming Parent Engagement Workshops, we will demonstrate to parents our approaches for comprehension development and how we can work together to assist our boys to fully understand what they read.

Mr John Stewart

Head of Junior School