Data, knowledge, action: Exploring sustained shared thinking to deepen young children’s learning

Funding year: 
2 years
Massey University
ECE sector
Project start date: 
January 2019
Project end date: 
March 2021
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Tara McLaughlin
Research team members: 
Lynda Hunt, RKA; Sue Cherrington, Victoria University of Wellington; Karyn Aspden, Massey University; Gaylyn Campbell and Robyn Vine-Adie, RKA and Claire McLachlan, Federation University Australia
Research partners: 
Ruahine Kindergarten Association; Victoria University of Wellington; Massey University, Federation University

Project Description

This collaborative project explores the nature of teacher-child sustained shared thinking (SST) in two kindergartens. SST involves teachers engaging with children in play, working together in back and forth conversations that provide opportunities to discuss, explore, and think about everyday experiences, problems or challenges in an inquisitive and extended way. Internationally, research suggests SST is critical for high-quality pedagogy as a pathway to deepen children’s learning. Research also shows SST can be complex and nuanced. To address this complexity, the project uses innovative data tools to investigate periods of teacher-child SST with a focus on extending these powerful interactions.


The research aims to explore the potential of data, collected though a range of innovative tools, to inform teachers’ understanding and use of SST for promoting children’s communication and exploration, and to contribute knowledge and practical strategies that strengthen SST to enhance positive outcomes for all children. The project will address the following research questions:
1. How are children experiencing periods of sustained shared thinking with teachers in our kindergartens?
2. How might teachers make sense of and use data about the nature of sustained shared thinking between teachers and children?
3. What changes occur in sustained shared thinking between teachers and children when using data-informed teaching?
4. How do changes in sustained shared thinking between teachers and children promote children’s progress toward communication and exploration curriculum goals?

Why is this research important?

At the heart of this research is the focus on quality teacher-child interactions to support children’s learning. Sustained shared thinking is core to effective pedagogy and involves teachers being intentional in their use of a range of relational, pedagogical, and curricular strategies. Yet research shows low rates of SST in early childhood education settings. The complexity of SST lends itself to multiple ways of investigation and our research draws on a range of innovative and authentic data tools to better understand the complexities of SST, the conditions that strengthen or impede SST, and how techniques within SST might be adjusted to ensure equitable outcomes for a diverse range of learners.

What we plan to do

We will undertake case studies in two kindergartens, each of which will engage in successive cycles of data-focused inquiry using the following data collection tools to examine SST:

  • Child Experience Observation System (CEOS) – live tablet observations of children to document key aspects of children’s experiences including teacher-child interactions and SST.
  • Play & Learning Analysis (PLAS) – video-recorded episodes using GoPro videos worn by children and teacher-researcher video of children to examine selected SST episodes and children’s communication/exploration.
  • Language Environment Analysis (LENA) System - audio recordings of child and adult language interactions to gather data on children’s communication and language environment.
  • Sustained Shared Thinking & Emotional Well-being Scale (SSTEW) – structured observational tool to examine SST practice.

We will also gather data from inquiry meeting and cross-case meeting notes and observations and from focus group interviews with teachers.

We will use Mooses and LENA software to analyse the CEOS and LENA data respectively and produce graphed data reports for teachers. Video data will be analysed through open ended & semi-structured review and discussion by team members and their external researcher. The SSTEW data will be summarised and presented graphically to prompt reflection and discussion by team members. Thematic analysis will be used to identify, analyse and report themes within the qualitative data linked to each research question.

Our partners

Gaylyn Campbell and Robyn Vine-Adie, Ruahine Kindergarten Association; Linton Kindergarten; Makino Kindergarten.

Contact details

Name: Dr Tara McLaughlin 
Institute of Education
Massey University
Private Bag 11 222
Palmerston North 4442  
06 356 9099 ext 84312