Creativity, Sustained Shared Thinking and Screen-based learning in the early years

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By Professor John Siraj-Blatchfordresearch and development director

Do computers encourage creativity? Recent research, detailed in this article, shows their value for young children’s development and learning

Children with  laptop

Sustained shared thinking (SST) was first identified in 1992 as a form of playful interaction that was closely associated with effective early years practice in the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE). A great deal has now been written on the subject but unfortunately a large amount of reporting does not lead to greater clarification. In the case of SST, it has been rather like the story of the blind men describing the elephant; while accounts are often partly right, they can still be misleading when considered on their own.

When we talk about the importance of the products of SST we may be talking about the dialogue or of the particular objects, artefacts, environments, and so on that are the focus of some ‘joint attention’ by the children. We might even be talking about those products that are created by the children in their collaborative activity. In each case these ‘products’ may also provide a focus for a consideration of our ongoing formative assessment and the kind of ‘documentation’ identified in Reggio Emilia.

But, in practice, SST could also be considered to be about simply talking with children and supporting them in developing their oral literacy and communication skills. In the early years we know that this has general implications for their cognitive development and research continues to provide evidence of the importance of early cognitive stimulation and the quality of the language learning environment (both at home and in pre-schools). In the Practice Guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage, reference is made in Communication, Language and Literacy, ‘Enabling Environments’ to:

Provide time and relaxed opportunities for children to develop spoken language through sustained conversations between children and adults, both one-to-one and in small groups and between the children themselves. Allow children time to initiate conversations, respect their thinking time and silences and help them develop the interaction. (p40)

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