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Claire Warden Educational Consultant

 

Talking and Thinking Floorbooks

16/03/2011

Talking and Thinking Floorbooks
31 March

Using big books to consult children in the planning process. Excerpts are from Claire Warden's new book Talking and Thinking Floorbooks.

This book explores the way that children can be consulted in the early years. It provides clear advice and offers strategies that will support adults to listen to children's ideas. These ideas then influence the opportunities in the early years centres.

For many practitioners the involvement of children has been an integral part of their practice for many years. Many regions across Scotland are now focussing on this aspect of their practice and trying to create strategies that can be embedded in practice. This article will explore some of the strategies being promoted across Scotland, through the Early Years 3-8 policies.

Consultation with children is important because:

  • It creates a closer match between the child and the curriculum it is experiencing.
  • It builds self esteem and positive attitudes when the learner is involved in the decision making.
  • It increases intrinsic motivation, that stays with a child throughout life.
  • Children have a right to be treated with respect as individuals. We can show respect by valuing their thoughts and opinions.

Talking and Thinking Books™ have evolved in my practice over the last 20 years in response to working with children in a variety of environments. When they were initially used we called them floorbooks because we made them with children on the floor, they then moved into the planning frame and were known as Big Book planners! The term I now use is a "Talking and Thinking Book" since it reflects their purpose, which is to encourage thinking skills through talking together in a group so that children are consulted and influence the learning taking place.

The features of a Talking and Thinking Book are that they include:

Children's ideas and thoughts without re-framing or interpretation so that they are a genuine record of their thinking. When children give a response to a question or contribute an idea that is far removed from the rest of the group thinking, the idea should be recorded as evidence of contribution , but not engagement.

Open ended questions that are created in response to an interest from the children. The questions are posed as part of a conversation and are designed to stimulate thought rather than test knowledge. The flow of reflective talk is critical to the process, to create a partnership of exploration and discovery. Question and answer sessions create a completely different atmosphere. Questions are almost philosophical, such as I wonder what would happen if..?

  • Higher order thinking. This level of interest can be stimulated by challenging children to create links in their own learning. Revisiting ideas over long blocks of time support children to see that the process of thinking and learning is full of experimentation and adaptation.
  • Depth of Learning. The flow of the book follows children's desire to explore an area in depth. Depth of learning created through giving children time to explore their own thinking is the key to long term embedded knowledge. Collating children's ideas in a book form ensures that the group focus on continuity and progression over longer blocks of time.
  • Collaborative learning. The books include very large pieces of blank paper that enable children and adults to record their ideas as a group. By giving each person a different coloured marker it is possible to observe who contributes to the group writing. The adult provides a role model for the process of thinking, listening, supporting, suggesting ideas, accepting challenge, of being a writer, making of diagrams, Mind Maps™ to name just a few.

A variety of methods of presenting thinking. To respond to different learning styles and preferences the books incorporate a wide genre of writing. The adult can scribe for the children to release some from the pressure of secretarial skills during a small group experience; individuals can record their idea in a pictorial form, or writing on a thinking bubble.

Collates Child centred ideas that are taken forward by the Early Years Staff. Talking and thinking books are an integral part of planning. They are created with children during the play session, and should be used to analyse the starting points for learning that children are suggesting, rather than adults thinking up random "activities" for children to "do". Responsive planning should be at the root of learning. If we are going to consult children then we should be prepared to change our thinking and actions as a result of it.

The books are available to children at all times. Joint ownership should give children the right to revisit their thinking whenever they wish. There has to be feedback loop to the children so that they know that the process of consultation is actually changing something. In practice this approach has lead to a child centred curriculum, that is based on evidence collated in a child centred way. A feature that many centres felt is being edged out by paperwork demands.

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