What Does Sustained Shared Thinking Mean in EYFS?


teacher working with child

Interactions are important in a child’s early years of development.

By engaging in activities and conversations with adults and their peers, children learn about the world through verbal interactions.

This enables them to build on their existing skill set and improves their critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and confidence which are useful foundation blocks for future learning.

Interactions help maintain a child’s attention and interest by actively engaging them in conversation so that they can think about different topics. This helps them think about ideas independently and how to solve problems on their own.

An effective way of interacting with children is through questions. This encourages children to analyse and think about different concepts.

Questioning makes a child stop to think about what they are doing and why.

Verbal interactions which include sustained shared thinking have been proven to be very effective in supporting a child’s development.

Let’s take a look at this in more detail.

What is Sustained Shared Thinking?

Sustained shared thinking involves two or more people (adults and children) working together to think about different problems and to analyse different concepts. It is when you are totally absorbed with a child, whether that’s in a conversation or an activity.

This process can happen anywhere and at time but requires all participants to be actively involved. There needs to be genuine interest from both parties so they can work towards resolving the problem.

An important aspect is the ‘meeting of minds’ regardless of whether this interaction occurs in a 1 to 1 setting or in a group.

As a nursery practitioner, you would have experienced these interactions numerous times throughout your working day. These interactions allow you to see into a child’s mind by seeing the world through their eyes.

It also allows both practitioners and parents to monitor a child’s self esteem, confidence, and engagement. You should be truly engaged in the experience and should want to learn more about the childs way of thinking.

In the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), sustained shared thinking is part of the Characteristics of Effective Learning which are the methods by which children learn.

Sustained shared thinking appears when children think deeply and critically about different topics as this relies on their thinking and problem skills skills. This process encourages children to make links between different ideas and to create their own solutions to these problems.

This is an indication of how children might approach the Prime and Specific areas of learning as they become more inquisitive in their thought processes.
teacher showing child paintbrushes

How Does Sustained Shared Thinking Support the EYFS Framework?

The EYFS framework suggests there are 7 core principles to a child’s learning which should be followed to ensure their education is a success.

Below, we will look at how sustained shared thinking supports the Prime areas of these core principles as defined by the EYFS framework.

Communication and Language

Sustained shared thinking relies on effective communication, either between children or adults.

This is not limited to only children who can talk but also younger children and babies. For example, when you hide your face in front of a child then say ‘peek a boo’ they start to anticipate seeing you face again and get excited.

This is a key as children are building up their knowledge and understanding of different interactions. As a nursery practitioner, your role is to provide children with lots of visuals and feedback.

This could be acting surprised when they drop their toy or smiling as you hand it back to them. When this activity happens again, children will have prior knowledge of the situation and will wait for you to act surprised or smile as they hold their toy.

Physical Development

Children should be encouraged to think about their own physical development and how this could be improved.

Parents and nursery practitioners should open conversations about exercise and food to promote the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle.

Physical development offers children the opportunity to explore different problems. Children need to try something before they understand it as they learn experientially.

When it comes to physical activities such as children wanting to climb onto furniture or run around the playground too quickly, don’t just tell them to stop, open a conversation up about the potential risks.

This is an excellent opportunity for sustained shared thinking as they can consider how this physical activity can be done more safely.
children lying on grass together

Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Sustained shared thinking can be a powerful tool in harnessing a child’s emotional wellbeing and development as you’re taking the time to listen to their thoughts.

You could use role modelling here to support interactions between two children. This is at the centre of sustained shared thinking as it focuses on being respectful and listening to each other’s feelings.

You could also introduce a doll into the situation and hold them to talk to them as if you were talking to a child. Explain to the child what emotions the doll is feeling, are they shy, sad, embarrassed?

You can then progress onto how the child might be feeling in a safe and supportive way. There is less pressure on the child in this scenario, as you have focussed on the doll first.

What Does Sustained Shared Thinking Sound Like?

For sustained shared thinking to be a success, interactions and conversations must regularly take place.

It is not enough to have a single, stand alone conversation with a child as they learn over time through their experiences.

Below is an example of how sustained shared thinking can be used to support a child’s learning and development. In the example the teacher encourages thinking and speculation through questioning.

Teacher: If I take away a side of this shape, what other shape can you make?

Child: A circle

Teacher: You might be able to make a circle. Why don’t you try it and see?

Teacher: If I give you another piece, can you make a different shape? What shape can you make?

Child: Rectangle, look I’ve done it! (they made a square)

Teacher: What shape is it?

Child: Square!

In this scenario, children are playing with materials to solidify facts. They are working things out as they play, and experimenting with different ideas until they solve the problem at hand.

The teacher is acting as a guide rather than an expert, and is encouraging children to try out their own hypotheses.

When they get it right, they will feel a true sense of achievement as they have worked it out for themselves.

They were not pushed to find out what a square is, but have discovered it independently by the process of ‘doing’.

The Importance of Questions in Sustained Shared Thinking

Questions are key in sustained shared thinking and can either inspire a child to find out more or shut them down completely.

During interactions with children, questions should be structured in a way that provides children with the opportunity to think.

A simple yes or no does not provide this opportunity and stifles their ability to think outside the box. They should be encouraged to think creatively and openly about different concepts, so it’s important you ask the right type of questions.

This is important in both a classroom and home learning environment as good questions enable children to feel more comfortable and confident when offering up solutions.
children asking teacher questions

Open Questions

These are the best type of questions when interacting with young children.

There are many answers to open questions which gives children the freedom to think about different possibilities.

They encourage speculation, for example a teacher or parent could say ‘Hmm I’m not sure about that. What do you think?’

This puts the focus back on the child and encourages them to investigate further. This leads to enhanced cognitive achievement as the child is able to think about concepts independently rather than the adult leading the conversation.

Children should be curious about the world and should want to find out more.

Closed Questions

It’s not that these questions are necessarily ‘bad’ but rather that they don’t offer the same levels of opportunity for exploration that open questions do.

With a closed question, there is usually a right or wrong answer.

This reduces a child’s communication to a short, one-worded answer and doesn’t provide teachers or parents with much insight into their learning.

Whilst they are important and ensure a child is paying attention and understands basic concepts, they are quite limiting.

You are not allowing children time to think and reflect but are instead pushing an answer onto them. It can also make children feel a little uncomfortable if they get the answer ‘wrong’ as you are testing their ability to recall information.

Other considerations

For sustained thinking to work, adult follow up is important. Whether this is through nursery practitioners or parents at home, there needs to be frequent interactions with children.

The most successful questions rely on adults sitting down with children and asking them again as this helps to solidify different concepts in a child’s mind.

Also, asking questions requires an adult’s encouragement and patience. Children are not always going to get the ‘right’ answer or understand a question straight away so make sure you break it down for them.

This will encourage their participation as they will understand what is being asked of them.
teacher helping child with work

What Did Vygotsky Say About Sustained Shared Thinking?

Vygostky was a Russian Theorist who placed emphasis on the importance of social cooperation in a child’s development.

For Vygostky, development is influenced by the environment and culture in which a child lives. He argued that social relationships are pivotal to a child learning as they learn through communication and collaboration.

These interactions help a child to develop their own thought processes and encourage them to interpret different experiences.

He also focussed on the importance of play in a child’s development as this allows them to operate at a higher level. He believed teachers were important in this process and guided children through activities to ensure they were both educational and fun.

Vygostky is most well known for developing the Zone of Proximal Development which bridges the gap between what a child knows and what they need support with. This is also referred to as scaffolding.

Parents and teachers who know children need further help will provide just the right amount of support so they can work independently.

For the ZPD to be successful, it requires the engagement of knowledgeable participants (either students or teachers) who can be used to model activities as well as providing the learner with opportunities to play an increasingly important role. Furthermore, goals should neither be too difficult nor too easy and should be understood by the child.

The Zone of proximal development plays an important role in the classroom setting today. The theory has enabled teachers to understand the importance of collaboration in learning so they can structure different activities.

Although sustained shared thinking wasn’t developed by Vygotsky, it does encapsulate Vygotsky ideas, by placing emphasis on the relationship between a teacher and a child during early years development.

What Does Sustained Shared Thinking Mean in EYFS?

Interactions enable children to learn about the world through their experiences with others. This provides deep and meaningful experiences which shape their future learning.

Both teachers and parents play an important role in these interactions by structuring conversations and activities which encourage a child to think.

Sustained shared thinking focuses on the importance of children being curious, motivated, and inspired to further their own learning.

This element of independence is important in sustained shared thinking, as the adult acts as more of a guide rather than an authority figure. This approach is also reminiscent of Montessori classrooms where teachers facilitate a child’s learning rather than lead it.

As previously mentioned, it’s places focus on the ‘meeting of minds’ as the adult guides the narrative of the interactions whilst encouraging children to reflect on their own views.

This shared interest leads to meaningful and useful outcomes as children have the opportunity to build on their own thought processes which puts them in good stead for further education.

At Learning Journals we understand the importance of development in your child’s progression. We know you want to be part of it, and feel included at every stage of this exciting journey.

With limitless observations which you can easily upload and share with teachers, you can monitor the progress of your child both at home and in the classroom setting.

Our platform can also be tailored to the EYFS framework which includes the core principles of sustained shared thinking. Not convinced? Request your free trial and enjoy the benefits for yourself and your child!

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