Sunday, 11 April 2010

What is Sustained Shared Thinking?

In an effort to 'jargon-bust' the EYFS I have looked up sustained shared thinking and have discovered that it is something that we all (hopefully) do everyday as we play alongside the children we care for!  According to Kathy Brodie, sustained shared thinking is "those wonderful times that you get when you are totally absorbed with a child, whether is is in conversation or in an activity, with a genuine interest on both parts to find out more".  The thinking can occur one-to-one between child and adult, or between groups of children, epecially where there are older children mixing with younger ones (such as childminders and your own home amongst siblings!). 

Let's break it down a bit:
  • SUSTAINED - it must carry on for a while but this could be varying lengths of time; this therefore requires flexible planning and contingencies for ensuring that other children are safe and provided for.
  • SHARED - both child and adult must be contributing, there are various ways to encourage the dialogue and find out the child's ideas.
  • THINKING - there are six critical thinking skills identified that are developed through sustained shared thinking.
During periods of sustained shared thinking "the practitioner has the opportunity to learn extensive amounts about how the child sees the world, their level of cognitive development, schemas, community and self esteem (to name but a few!). The child may learn things such as social interaction techniques, how to think creatively, cause and effect and factual information" Kathy Brodie (2009)

The six critical thinking skills are:
  • Enquiry skills - asking and answering appropriate questions, deciding on the next question.
  • Information procesing skills - these help the child to 'do something' with the information they receive in answer to their questions; organising it and retaining the most important parts.
  •  Reasoning skills - forming an opinion based on the information gathered (cloesly linked to the development of language, social and emotional skills).
  • Evaluation skills - children look at the information they have and decide whether they agree with it or not.
  • Problem-solving skills - recognising that a problem is something to be solved rather than a failure and being able to recognise that changes can be made that will affect the end-result.
  • Creative thinking - using the imagination to generate new ideas, looking beyond the obvious.
Research has shown that there are three essentials to encourage sustained shared thinking.  The first is OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONING, using such questions as:
  • I wonder if.....?
  • What could we do......?
  • can you find a way to......?
  • What would happen if.....?
  • Why do you think that happened.....?
  • What did you notice about.....?
  • tell me about.....?
The secret to open ended questions is that they don't put children on the spot to find the 'correct' answer; the children use the knowledge they have to think creatively and come up with a suggestion.

The second essential is ADULT MODELLING; wonder aloud about things to demonstrate problem solving for events in your own life, or the day ahead with the children.

The third essential is that children are engaging in FREELY CHOSEN PLAY ACTIVITIES as these provide the best platform for extending children's thinking as they are motivated and absorbed.

Other strategies that you can use are:
  • SUGGESTING - you might like to try this......
  • INVITING CHILDREN TO ELABORATE - I'd really like to know more about this....
  • RE-CAPPING - so you think that.......
  • SHOWING GENUINE INTEREST - give whole attention, make eye-contact, smile, nod, affirm.
  • SPECULATING - do you think that the wolf really wanted to be little red riding hoods friend?
  • USE MAKING-SENSE WORDS - I agree, I wonder, I think, I imagine, I like......
Sustained shared thinking is part of the EYFS under 'Creativity and Critical Thinking' (4.3).  I have printed out the strategies and open-ended questions and have put them up on the wall for a short time to remind me to use them more!! My sources and further reading for you are here, here and here!


  1. Little Explorers12 April 2010 at 13:49

    When do you have the time?? Your childminding, your completing your montessori qualification, you have children .. how do you possibly manage to fit it all in?? I barely have time to complete the paperwork I have without going onto other "adventures" ... Let me know your secret, please ....

  2. Bless you!! The secret is that I make the time beacuse I like doing it.... shhh don't tell anyone but it's my hobby as I have children and don't get out much in the evenings!!!! I have also worked on streamlining my paperwork to a format that works very efficiently and is considerate of my time!! Anything you want to know, please e-mail me, I'm ahppy to share!

    jen x

  3. This has really helped me with my university as the way you have broken down makes it easy to understand thank you

  4. Excellent! Bringing theory and practise together in an easy to understand way that is relevant to the purpose of our jobs - to move children on and help them to make progess!

  5. thank you :D this has helped me with part of my level 3 CYPW. You help has truely been appreciated

  6. Im currently doing my level 4 early years degree and I love how you have broken this down into sections, really helped, thankyou!

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  8. I agree with above comments, it has really helped with my uni work!
    The break down is good and it gave me that 'light bulb moment!'

  9. Jenni could you by any chance give me a citation for Katy Brodie quote you made? Just studying child dev degree and id like to use that quote about sst

  10. It didn't let me complete that post x thanks in advance x

  11. Sure, it came from the first of the reference links I put at the bottom of the post - here is the link again, it is an article writeen by Kathy herself, and it's a great quote!! Kind Regards, Jenni