IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Sustained Shared Thinking in early years

Maximising opportunities to sustain, model and challenge children’s thinking through high-quality interactions both between children and between adults and children.

Child climbing in nursery playground (Photo: Phil Meetch for UCL Institute of Education)

11 February 2021

IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society, was approached by a large private nursery provider based in the London area to deliver a series of workshops where practitioners could consider the significance of sustained shared thinking (SST) in early years.

SST was identified by both the EPPE (Sylva et al, 2004) and REPEY (Siraj-Blatchford et al, 2002) research projects as a key feature present in high-quality early years settings. It can be defined as ‘an episode in which two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities, extend a narrative etc’ (Siraj Blatchford et al, 2002: 8). Sustained shared thinking provides opportunities to extend the learning that can result from both inquiry and playful learning and is a key approach in helping children to become lifelong learners with transferable skills.


Practitioners expressed a will to improve practice and outcomes for children, and the nursery group was keen to use SST as a key pedagogy within their curriculum. For the nursery leaders a key outcome of the workshops was that practitioners would fully understand how SST is defined, its positive impact and ways to input in with daily practice. 

Although engagement and participation in the workshop sessions was high, evidenced by the positive feedback, a particular challenge was due to the differing profiles of practitioners. Participants had followed a variety of routes into early years education, holding a range of levels and types of qualifications. The amount and type of experience also varied, with practitioners often at differing stages in their understanding of concepts.


In order to fulfill the varying needs and levels of all participants the training was delivered through two practical workshops situated at IOE followed by joint tutor and practitioner observation sessions in the participant’s workplace. The workshops allowed for collaborative engagement between practitioners across the nursery settings and locations. Using video footage of child interactions supported the participants in engaging with the concept of SST and what is might look like in practice in settings. Facilitating joint observations provided a vehicle for professional dialogue, as well as a moderation and modelling opportunity.

Impact and results

Observation of practitioners undertaken by IOE tutors and nursery leaders following the training noted increased strategies being incorporated to develop SST. All practitioners engaged in self-reflection and an audit of their practice, identifying next steps to refine their own and their setting practices. This allowed for individual and bespoke targets to be mutually set, which took account of the practitioners own role within the nursery setting and where they could build upon their understanding of key concepts.

Evaluations of the SST workshops and observations identified key impacts on participants and practice, as well as potential positive outcomes for the setting and children. Several participants noted the value of being able to discuss concepts with colleagues and the IOE tutor, with self-reflection particularly useful in impacting positively upon their own practice within the setting. In auditing their practice practitioners valued the opportunity to identify further training needs and professional targets.

  • “It was very informative and I learnt a lot. Very good course. Thoroughly enjoyed it.” 
  • “All the information provided (was particularly useful). It helped me to affirm my own practice and gave me confidence to mentor others”. 
  • “I found the video sessions very good. It helped me to think and reflect on activities we provide”.
  • “Preparation and interaction had a good balance and we were able to discuss”.
  • “We learnt more about children’s thinking and different ways to approach this.”
  • “I was not aware of the many different ways of thinking”.
  • “(The workshops) helped the team to look at SST in the same way, allowing them to support the nursery.”


Phil Meech for IOE

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