Thinking Framework School-Wide Strategies

Paul Main

How can you adopt the Universal Thinking Framework across your school?

Adopting the Universal Thinking Framework across your School

Introduction

The Universal Thinking Frameworks purpose is to help children understand how to think and learn effectively. It is easy to adopt and provides classrooms with a clear language for learning. You can use it for stretching higher-attaining learners or scaffolding the demanding tasks that lower-attaining students might struggle with. Ultimately, the framework’s classifications provide greater access to any curriculum and are fundamental for promoting independent learning behaviours


The following strategy document provides you with some initial ideas of where the framework can be embedded. Ultimately, the more familiar your learners are with the terminology, the more benefits you will see. 


Guiding classroom talk 

'Oracy, dialogic teaching, speaking and listening skills'


What is the strategy?

Dialogic pedagogy, or oracy, is a method where the teacher encourages and facilitates child-led discussion. It's a vital tool to developing students' understanding of subject knowledge. With the teacher's guidance, there is an opportunity for students to learn from questions, build on each other's ideas and share knowledge.

 

Educational rationale

Vygotsky argued that language is the driving force behind cognitive development. We know that children's language experience is crucial for their educational progress.

 

What learning need does the framework address?

Classroom talk is a vital tool for increasing children's engagement in the classroom. However, it is an aspect of teaching that must be thoroughly planned; otherwise, the discussion can lose focus. Steering children away from idle 'chit-chat' and providing topical talking points is central to its successful implementation.

 

How do we embed the framework?


The thinking actions combined with the question stems provide a rich repertoire for guiding purposeful discussion. Before the lesson, the actions and question stems are carefully adapted and ordered into a logical sequence. During the class, as new ideas emerge, the teacher can add different talking points that capitalise on the interests in the room. The framework shapes the type of thinking and conversation essential for exploring a new idea successfully. 

 

What impact has it had?

  • Focused learning conversations
  • Broader use of vocabulary
  • Increased confidence
  • Deeper knowledge
  • Clear writing

 


Guiding writing assignments

'Writing plans, writing frames, plotting out ideas.'


What is the strategy?

When students get a writing assignment, it is often challenging to start with a completely blank page. Planning is an essential part of the writing process, and it should be taught as a critical step to build into students' routines. However, often, just telling students to plan what they are going to write before they begin is not sufficient. Because the framework is based on specific student actions rather than just filling in a worksheet or graphic organiser, it is the perfect tool for pre-writing that is adaptable to any writing assignment. The framework helps students to learn what types of actions they should be taking during the process of pre-writing based on their assignment or prompt.


Educational rationale

When students engage in meaningful planning before engaging in a writing assignment, they are set up for success. They can ensure clarity throughout their work, clear transitions, logical organisations, and that all of their content is relevant.


What learning need does the framework address?

The framework scaffolds the pre-writing process by providing actions for students to complete in relation to their assignment. It teaches students what to do when sitting down to plan their writing so that they can independently and efficiently complete the process in the future.


How do we embed the framework?

The framework's actions provide clear steps for students to plan their writing, but what's more - the organisation and colour-coding of the cards makes it logical for students to choose which steps they should complete at each stage of the process. Based on the prompt, students can look at the How do I get started cards and pick out which one or ones they have to complete. They can continue to do this for each colour/category of cards. This activity is a great opportunity for collaboration on writing assignments.

Using the Universal Thinking Framework for Writing Plans
Using the Universal Thinking Framework for Writing Plans


What impact has it had?

  • Building confidence in writing skills
  • Increasing fluency in student writing
  • Increasing clarity in student writing
  • Incorporating opportunity for collaboration with independent writing assignments

 


Practice for tests

'Exam preparation, familiarisation with course requirements'

What is the strategy?


All education systems around the world place a premium on higher-order thinking. Enabling students to think about 'how to go about answering questions puts them in a position to cope with future academic challenges. The Universal Thinking Framework system was created to break down these complex tasks and questions into more manageable parts. Any time it is used, it is essentially preparing students to encounter the more complex and all-encompassing questions they often see on tests.


Educational rationale


The best way to practice something that has not been grasped is not always to just keep looking at it in the same way. Break it down into its component parts in order to diagnose exactly where the disconnect is. At its core, this is what the UTF does.


What learning need does the framework address?


Using the UTF builds higher-order thinking skills into all areas of the curriculum. The process is gradual and subtle, enabling critical and creative thinking to be integrated into any classroom task.


How do we embed the framework?

Every time you use the UTF, you are prepping your students for tests. Placing the framework alongside your exam bodies guidance materials enables you to plot out a path forward that meets the grade requirements.


What impact has it had?

  • Increased independence
  • Ability to tackle complex tasks
  • More confidence going into tests

The thinking taxonomy enables students to better prepare for exams
The thinking taxonomy enables students to better prepare for exams

 

Teacher Training/CPD

'Professional learning tasks, collaboration exercises, alignment activities'


What is the strategy?


For anybody hosting professional development sessions for colleagues, the UTF is a great way to show teachers how to break down tasks for students. The framework makes the process of scaffolding visible and shows clearly how to chunk complex tasks and what each action or step actually means or asks for. Utilising the framework during teacher training sessions will ensure that there is a common language among colleagues and that teachers are able to provide incremental support to their students. 

 

Educational rationale

Professional development is necessary no matter where you teach. Making use of the UTF as a manual for professional development sessions for teachers will ensure that there is a clear direction as well as a strong and versatile resource for teachers to take with them and consult after these workshops. The framework is easy to re-visit as the year progresses and to implement as a guide for assigning tasks to teachers that can be reported back on during follow up sessions.


What learning need does the framework address?

The framework acts as a guide for teachers as they work through the process of scaffolding various learning activities for a diverse set of learners. 


How do we embed the framework?


Provide teachers with the complete set of the UTF resource and work through it as you see fit based on the needs of your teachers. Within the package is an explanatory set of slides that can be used to introduce teachers to the resource, the cards can be used as manipulatives while teachers practice applying the tasks to an upcoming learning activity. Allow teachers to collaborate with colleagues so that others can offer feedback and new ideas.


What impact has it had?

  • Common language among colleagues increases the opportunity for collaboration
  • Clear and guided practice for teachers that is immediately applicable in the classroom

Using the Thinking Framework for Professional Development
Using the Thinking Framework for Professional Development

As a general curriculum tool


'Instructional guidance, planning meetings, faculty reviews'


What is the strategy?


The UTF is an excellent tool for teachers as they collaborate to plan engaging and rigorous units of work, either within the same subject or across multiple subjects. Teachers will be able to plan common task pathways for students to follow while also sharing content information that can be incorporated into other classes.


Educational rationale


Collaborative planning is central to building a common curriculum vision. When teachers apply content and processes that they have used in one class to another class, it becomes a transferrable skill. This can continue to develop and be utilised at higher levels of complexity. The UTF is a multi-disciplinary tool that teachers can refer to as they plan to ensure this cross-cutting goal is achieved for students.


What learning need does the framework address?


When teachers use the framework as a planning tool, they are creating consistency for students. Consistency builds learner confidence and skills. The framework is not a straight-jacket; it allows room for curiosity and choice. 


How do we embed the framework?


The framework is composed of specific terminology and actions. While planning, teachers should be challenged to introduce new ways of thinking for their class. Previously made unit and lesson plans can be converted to "framework friendly" terminology by reviewing the tasks within those plans and revising terms where necessary. Additionally, teachers should display the poster in their classrooms so that students begin to recognise and refer to the framework.



What impact has it had?

  • Increased student confidence and buy-in
  • Increased teacher collaboration
  • Increased sense of school community and positive school culture as a "one team" approach is clear
  • Clear vision and approach to teaching and learning
  • Development of genuine curiosity among students
  • Increased peer-to-peer collaboration 

Supporting curriculum deliver using the framework
Supporting curriculum deliver using the framework

 

'On the fly' challenge cards for learners


What is the strategy?


Task cards are a phenomenal way to engage students in checks for understanding, especially when there is an unexpected block of time. The UTF can easily be used as a set of task cards for students to flip through and complete. Once students are given a card, they immediately experience a new way to process the curriculum.


Educational rationale


Academic rigor relies on the variety of intellectual tasks that students are asked to tackle. Task cards allow for content review in a creative and unpredictable way without the simple and somewhat mindless regurgitation of memorised facts and data. 


What learning need does the framework address?


Utilising the UTF as task cards or challenge cards allows for in-the-moment checks for understanding that are based in application rather than just recall.


How do we embed the framework?


The UTF task cards can be used on the fly in any class where a teacher notices checks for understanding are necessary. Simply provide a set of the cards to each student, pair, or small group and display a content topic for students. Instruct them to shuffle the cards and place the stack face down. As they flip the top card over, they should complete the task on the card or record reasoning for why that card does not apply to the given topic. Responses can be recorded on a worksheet that can be used in tandem with this method.


What impact has it had?

  • Increased academic rigour during content review
  • Logical opportunity for peer-to-peer collaboration
  • Decreased predictability of learning tasks
  • Increased engagement

'On the fly' higher-order thinking challenge cards

 



Scaffolding one-to-one/group interventions


What is the strategy?


The UTF provides guidance for one-to-one or small group interventions by allowing the adult to isolate a specific learning task or concept that is causing the struggle. During these small meetings, if there is little to no guidance, there will be little to no progress made. When the adult is equipped with the UTF, they can assist the student(s) in understanding the learning task by co-creating a series of manageable steps. On the other hand, if the student(s) is really struggling with a specific concept, the adult can break down the concept for them, even if the whole class does not require instruction this way.


Educational rationale


Many students require one-on-one and/or small group attention at some point. Having a clear plan for these types of meetings is critical to their success. Furthermore, these meetings can often require heavy and specific documentation in the case of students with special needs. The UTF allows the intervening adult to clearly communicate what tasks and concepts were reviewed in the meeting.


What learning need does the framework address? 


Individual and/or small group instruction, especially in the case of students with special needs.


How do we embed the framework?


Use the UTF cards as focus objects for students struggling with specific tasks. The adult can also use the accompanying book to help students make sense of the task and break down the task into simpler and ordered steps. When used to break down a concept, the intervening adult can again use the UTF cards in several ways to guide student thinking depending on the needs that are present. The adult can isolate the task cards or can ask the student(s) to choose what they think will best help them to understand the concept.


What impact has it had?

  • Providing more guidance for one-on-one or small group meetings
  • Allowing clear communication and documentation of what was covered in meetings
  • Ensure that intervening adults are using a common language

Supporting one-2-one work using the framework
Supporting one-2-one work using the framework

 

Promoting independence 

'Metacognition, learner choice, task ownership'

 

What is the strategy?


Using a shared language across the curriculum for the different skills and stages of problem-solving will enable pupils to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills routinely. The use of the framework helps pupils become more aware of the impact of their choices when problem-solving.


Educational rationale


Allowing student choice is a well-researched strategy for improving student engagement. It builds confidence and allows students to advocate for themselves and their needs. It allows children to be successful as they can express their knowledge in a way that suits them.


What learning need does the framework address?


They are building learner independence and incorporating student voice to breed stronger and more creative outcomes. In addition, students are able to incorporate their skills and talents into demonstrating content knowledge, showing the ability to draw meaningful connections across content areas and skillsets.


How do we embed the framework?


Present one section of the framework to students and allow them to choose how they will approach a given task. For example, for any given concept or project, present the guiding question How should I get started? Allow them to choose one of the four green cards that makes the most sense to them.


What impact has it had?

  • Increased independence
  • Development of student voice and choice
  • Allows students to advocate for themselves 


Encouraging pupils to reflect and improve

'Metacognition, appraisal, feedback'

 

What is the strategy?


Metacognition is essentially reflection on the micro-level, an awareness of our own thought processes, and analysis of our performance. It helps us to perform better in the future because it boosts our sense of self-efficacy. As we reflect on our performance, we gain control over our actions, understanding exactly how specific outcomes came to be. Ultimately, metacognition allows the learner to talk more effectively about their learning as they come to understand the process better.

 

Educational rationale


The Education Endowment Foundation recognises metacognition as one of the most powerful strategies for improving learning, while also being low cost and well-evidenced. Metacognition was first defined by Flavell (1976) as: 'one's knowledge concerning one's own cognitive processes.

 

What learning need does the framework address?


Knowing how to reflect on our own performance is a skill and habit that needs nurturing. Children are often not aware of the strategies they have at their disposal. The framework provides an objective toolkit to reexamine our past work and a range of opportunities to improve our decision-making process.

 

How do we embed the framework?


The framework can be used to encourage pupils to reflect upon the steps they took to complete a piece of work and answer the questions: What alternative choices might I have made? And How would I do it differently next time? Students can use the framework to re-trace the steps they took and look at other choices they could have made. From there, students can either explain their process and justify the steps they took or decide that another step would have made more sense.

 

What impact has it had?

  • Enabling learners to make continuous improvements
  • Helping children adopt healthy mindsets about their abilities
  • Imparting lifelong learning strategies
  • Improving learner autonomy
  • Allows students to take ownership of learning
  • Facilitates communicating progress to parents by allowing the teacher to verbalise what hurdles/difficulties they encounter
  • Challenges conventions of what learning involves

 

 

Transition tool

'Reflecting on progress, changing classes, make new starts'

What is the strategy?


Students can use the UTF to evaluate their skill sets throughout their schooling, aiding in the transition from one year to the next. Students will be able to organise their learning into buckets of skills and set goals for how they want to improve each skill.


Educational rationale


Reflection is a key component of growth and development. However, reflection that is not specific does not yield the same caliber of positive results. When goals are specific, they are more likely to get done.


What learning need does the framework address?

The framework guides students through the process of reflection and goal setting.

How do we embed the framework?


There are several ways to utilise the framework as a reflection and transition tool. Students can look at the guiding questions and reflect on how well they were able to tackle each of those actions. Students can then set goals for improving their competencies throughout the next unit, school year, etc. Students can also name the actions that they utilised for one unit and which actions they would like to utilise more in upcoming units. Essentially, the UTF can act as a malleable road map for students to name where they have come from and where they want to go.


What impact has it had?

  • Enables guided reflection
  • More specific goal setting, leading to more growth
  • Allows students to talk about their own learning

If you want to find out more about the universal thinking framework and how you can use it to deliver your curriculum, please do have a look on the frameworks dedicated webpage. If you are looking for educational research to support your work on higher order thinking skills and creativity, you can find some interesting articles within our ‍

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