Learning and Thinking Skills explains a strategy to teach the thinking skill of analysis to pupils across all subject areas, including downloadable examples of the strategy in use

This e-bulletin continues our focus on developing ‘creative thinkers’ – one of the six areas of the QCA’s Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills framework. So far we have looked at practical ‘creative thinking tools’ that can be used to support both the generation and development of ideas.
In this issue, we will focus on the Control Panel strategy – a tool for analysis and synthesis that can be adapted for use in any subject area.

Thinking tool: Control Panel
The Control Panel helps learners to become aware of the degree of control they can have over their own work, and become sensitive to the key elements of the art form or skill they are exploring, whether this is creative writing, music, drawing, creating their own maths problems or designing a balanced meal.

The tool has a dual purpose: first to encourage close analysis, and then to promote a creative response from learners as they experiment with the key elements they have uncovered, synthesising or ‘putting them back together’ in new ways.

Control Panel: teaching tips

  • Before they use a Control Panel, learners will need to have looked at the key elements of the skill in question, and discussed the different variables under their ‘control’. For example:
    • In drawing: medium; colour/tone; shading; line weight; line texture; line movement.
    • In creative writing: action; colour; detail; sound; viewpoint.
    • In maths problem making: context; units of measure; placement of unknown; relevance of information; number of steps; nature of operations involved.

Select the links above for example Control Panels in each of these three areas.

  • Provide your students with a variety of different examples to look at. To help them identify the different elements under their control, you could ask them to pick out the similarities and differences that they can find between examples. Alternatively, where different examples can be presented on different cards, students can be asked to sort the cards ‘in any way that makes sense to them’ and give each group a heading. This categorisation activity helps learners to uncover, for themselves, some of the key elements that they will be able to experiment with. When the different headings that they come up with are shared across the whole class, they usually cover most of the key elements that you will be looking for. You can add in some of your own at this point if necessary. I have used it recently to help Year 7 pupils explore the different components of maths problems, before creating their own maths problems for each other.
  • The next step is to ask students to ‘analyse’ different examples using their control panel. This is best done in pairs or in small groups of 3 or 4 to encourage students to think aloud, justify their ideas to each other, and negotiate a common analysis. Different group responses can then be shared as a whole class. During this feedback, encourage students to support their analysis with the specific examples that they have found in the text, picture, or example in question etc.
  • In preparation for their own creative work, ask students how the writing/music/picture/ problem/meal etc would change if one dial, switch or slider was adjusted? For instance, if an example piece of writing did not mention any colours, you could ask students to ‘Turn the colour control up a bit. Where could colour be mentioned?’
  • As well as being a useful device for visualisation in this way, the Control Panel can also help students to make imaginative leaps forward when reviewing material they’ve already created, in preparation for a new draft or for a different piece of work.
  • Once they are familiar with the Control Panel strategy and its purpose, students can design their own Control Panels to experiment with other ‘controls’, discussing the results they have discovered.
  • Students enjoy moving their dials and sliders into new positions and then swapping their Control Panels with a partner or another group; challenging them to visualise, or create a piece of work based on their particular Control Panel ‘settings’.

Download here an example of how the Control Panel has been used as a tool for analysis and synthesis in Food Technology.

Control Panel: alternative uses
In this bulletin, we have focused on the use of the Control Panel for creative analysis and synthesis. However, it can also be used to structure student self- and peer assessment of a whole variety of different thinking and learning skills.

A challenging extension task, for example, is to ask students not only to hand in a particular piece of work, but also to hand in the Control Panel that they would like their teacher to use to assess it – this is an excellent test of whether they have grasped the fundamental demands of a particular task, and what they need to do to be successful. A Control Panel helps to make this visible and explicit to young learners.

For more examples of how to use the Control Panel as a self- and peer assessment tool, look out for bulletins next term when we move on to exploring the ‘Self-Managers’ strand of the QCA PLTS Framework.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2009

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.