Let’s Think in Lockdown

Written by Leah Crawford

As I write, schools in the UK and across most of the globe are closed.  I have been continuing to support trainee teachers, school leaders and their teams and my own children at home.  It didn’t take long to realise that however creative we try to be, remote learning provision alone will always be a poor substitute to learning in the social ecosystem of the classroom or training venue.

The ticking engine of every Let’s Think lesson is the minute to minute, live social construction of understanding.  If students are truly developing new understanding – not consolidating existing understanding – then adult mediation and collaboration with peers is essential.  Cognitive processes are shaped in and by our social context.

I’m admitting to myself as I write this, that I’m sounding not only dry, but disconnected from the human and emotional dimensions of the impact of Covid 19 and the current lockdown.  So, it’s going to be much harder for many students to make cognitive progress without being in school.  Aren’t we actually more worried by their social and emotional well-being?  School aged children are in the process of becoming themselves, shaping their sense of who they are and their worth through interactions with others.

Well-being or intelligence?

We’ll cut back to my own situation for a moment.  Thinking about my extended family, nephews and nieces, my head was firmly in the well-being camp.  How could we stay connected in lockdown?  Sure, we were bound to try some video-calls, but these are notoriously hard with lots of participants.  What we’d need is some kind of engaging structure.  There are only so many quiz nights one can bear….  Then I thought about how silent and solitary our young people’s remote learning was going to be, however hard their schools were trying to keep the show on the road.  What did we have to lose?

‘So, I’ve been thinking.  I do this thing called Let’s Think.  I think it could work in family teams.  We do some thinking and puzzling about texts together.  It could feel like a fun challenge.  What do you think?”

They were in.  As with every extended family in the current climate, this is a group not without its distractions and anxieties.  I did not bombard them with the theory behind the programme or its potential cognitive benefits.  What I did do, however, was take the connection and climate of the social group very seriously.  When you ask a group of people aged 10 -79 to think together, honestly, openly and aloud, particularly on a video call where all sorts of social signals can be lost, the social emotional stakes are high, however close we believe ourselves to be.  Families are constantly under construction.

So, I sent out guidelines for engagement:

“What could be tricky is that we are used to being playful together for playful’s sake – to make each other laugh, to connect.  There’s nothing wrong in that.  I’m hoping this will feel like fun, working through some questions and problems together, but the idea is not to say the funniest thing or to win an argument.  It may be helpful to talk through these guidelines together:

When you work in your family group:

  • Everyone should have the chance to contribute
  • Explain your ideas, rather than just state them
  • Listen to the ideas of others and share what you think about them
  • Respect and consider differences – they are often useful
  • Try to work towards a family group response that you will share with the whole group when we come back together

As I could rely on some adult mediation, for each session I sent out some guidelines on preparing for the session, the reading matter, and the first social construction question.  Each video call session could then open with a swift review of the concrete preparation and move to the negotiated family response: ‘We thought…’  ‘We talked about…’  which quite quickly became ‘Well, we just couldn’t agree because….’  I stuck to my principles and cued in our young folk to speak for their family group, even though I could see some worried eye-movements, hear their initial uncertainty, a certain lack of confidence and a lack of elaboration in their answers.  Cruel?  Yes – a bit of me felt so – particularly as their aunty, but the ‘tutor on autopilot’ knew this was no time to change the rules and rely on confident, elaborated adult responses to move through the sessions.  We would lose the kids in no time – mentally and physically.

So where are we?

If I had had to predict what would happen back then, I think I would have admitted that we would work through three, maybe four sessions, then return to the odd family quiz.  In fact we are nine sessions in.  The group initially wanted two sessions a week.  As the kids’ schools have found their feet and home learning has a more regular rhythm, we are back to weekend only sessions.  It is our young people who have pressed for more sessions, asked for the video calls to go through their devices and sat increasingly centre stage in their family group.

I have my own thoughts about what may be happening here.  If you would like to follow my more detailed account of each session, I am blogging my reflections here.

Have we been attending to well-being or intelligence?

To close this blog, I’d prefer to include some reflections from family members:



I feel more than ever that the kind of disciplined inquiry that is Let’s Think could be key to managing the return to learning together in-school and being together in school.