What power in communication skills?

Back in January, we argued the case that it was important to teach children to think; this is the philosophy on which Meta Prep is founded. What use is it to fill a child full of knowledge if they do not have the tools or curiosity to apply it?

Educational approaches, just like technology or clothing, go in and out of fashion throughout history. The way children are taught changes depending on the prevailing trends. Recently, experts have been calling on schools to increase opportunities for students to develop their communication and thinking skills. Polar opposite to just focusing on the 3Rs, a traditionally Victorian-era concept, which seems to have come back into fashion in recent years. 

The power of oracy

An article in The Times, by Nicola Woolcock, highlights the dangers of a narrow curriculum. “Children are unable to speak confidently thanks to ministers’ obsession with phonics, literacy and numeracy, experts have warned. A shake-up is needed in schools to improve children’s chances of going to leading universities or impressing employers, they said in a report.” It suggests that reintroducing a speaking element to exams is key and highlights the power of verbal communication to improve a child’s chances across the whole curriculum. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agrees: “Oracy underpins everything, all research evidence shows that. Some children do not improve at writing until they improve orally… there hasn’t been enough focus on this from the government.”

Thankfully, the 11+ assessments are seeking to look beyond candidates whose only skill is to regurgitate answers. What the research shows is that behind all of the exam questions – and indeed most problem solving required in life – what is really being assessed is a pupil’s understanding of a number of core thinking processes. Drilling information to answer a specific set of questions is not the goal. We want to create conditions for the development of cognitive skills: critical thinking, self-reflection and self-evaluation.

Tom Sherrington’s book, ‘The Learning Rainforest,’ examines the contrast between a learning plantation and a learning rainforest. A plantation is carefully planned and managed with flora growing in neat rows, whereas a rainforest nourishes the growth of trees and plants through freedom and the natural factors present in the habitat. Stepping inside the classroom, we want to provide the right conditions to allow pupils the freedom to grow in knowledge and understanding. Moreover, their individual interests are piqued and stimulated through creativity and nourishment. 

Small groups

Learning on your own is no fun and is not the best environment for making progress. The joy of a small group is the opportunity to develop confidence in oracy. Importantly, teachers and coaches need to skilfully ask questions that point children in the right direction. Small class sizes and group work also enable pupils to get to know their classmates well, building camaraderie and learning how to listen well. 

At Meta Prep, with class sizes no larger than six and technology providing instant data on each child’s progress, our cognitive coaches are able to provide targeted attention exactly where it’s needed. Above all, our teaching approach is based on the science of learning. It is sequenced and structured to enable optimal recall using the concepts of spaced practice and subject integration. 

Thinking skills

Metacognition explicitly taught prepares students with the communication and thought processes required for senior school, university and job interviews. We should be encouraging children to identify the core thinking processes to use when solving problems. Additionally, cognitive ability tests, interview questions that probe for higher order thinking skills and team exercises seeking out emotional intelligence are now universal assessment tools. Armed with the knowledge of how the brain works and that it can change, pupils are ready to engage. 

At Meta Prep, we make learning visible through constant self-evaluation and reflection. This increases problem-solving skills as pupils can quickly identify the core thinking processes, whilst thinking routines and levels create a gateway for deep and profound reasoning. Consequently, if you can see more steps to climb, a curious child is going to keep climbing.

Interview skills

Our combined experience interviewing at our previous schools and speaking to colleagues across a wide network of other schools, shows that there are three core characteristics that nearly all schools are looking for at interview:

  1. Cognitive Ability & Potential 
  2. Attitude / Mindset
  3. Interpersonal Skills

In conclusion, the Meta Prep approach of developing its pupils underlying ‘way of thinking’ leaves them able to answer any question that is posed to them with confidence, rather than trying to memorise the answers to possible questions that are unlikely to ever come up. It will also set them up for the type of more challenging questions they will face once they get into their senior schools and beyond.

To reinforce all that they have learnt, we offer all our pupils a mock interview to help them hone their ability to communicate. Read more about the power of the senior school interview in our February blog.

For the next 8 weeks, we will be giving away, each week, a completely new free 11+ resource designed by our experienced 11+ teachers to develop and reinforce exam skills. Sign up to the newsletter to access all our free resources. Our first week’s video is all about Ratio.