Professional Learning International
REVIEWS

Alistair Bryce-Clegg | "Continuous Provision: The Skills"  2015

For Early Years teachers, the topic of how to provide their students with truly meaningful and effective learning opportunities during independent working time is a central issue. Independent working time is both a need for students and a reality of a schooling system where a one-to-one teacher to student ratio is neither possible nor desirable, but how do we help students to use that independent time effectively? How can we structure it, assess it, and resource it to make it more than simple “waiting in play” until an adult comes along to impart knowledge, as Alistair Bryce-Clegg put it in his Professional Learning Conversations interview, but a truly beneficial learning experience?

According to the author “... continuous provision should continue the provision for learning in an absence of an adult”. While this might sound simple, as he explains in detail in the forerunner to this book, “Continuous Provision In The Early Years”, planning for and providing learning opportunities where students will really do what the educator wants them to do while working independently takes a shifting of mindset on the part of educators to thinking less about ‘activities’ and more about the purpose of the learning: the skills they want their students to learn.

In this follow up book, "Continuous Provision: The Skills", Bryce-Clegg provides educators with an accessible, practical handbook filled with his years of experience, illustrated by examples and pictures of children at work that not only explain what continuous provision is, but more importantly how to do it in a way that really works.

Starting with the important business of assessment, Bryce-Clegg demonstrates in detail how educators can use the results of a gap and strength analysis to identify and structure areas of provision in their classroom to best meet the needs of their students. It is common for areas of provision in Early Years classrooms to include sand, water, mark-making, building and role play, but what sets this book apart from standard practice is its focus on guiding educators to think deeply about the skills those areas of provision can foster in students.

“Why,” Bryce-Clegg challenges educators to ask, “do we have a sand tray? Why do we do role play? What is the purpose of water play?”. The questions we are encouraged at every stage of this book to ask ourselves are “What is the purpose of this area of provision? What skills do we want our students to learn?”. Through this lens, the author unpacks the ‘facilitative skills’ and ‘pure skills’ in each common area of provision. In his words:

“The first thing that you have to do in each and every area of provision is to identify which are the ‘pure’ skills and experiences that the area offers, and which skills and experiences are ‘facilitative’. If they are pure skills or experiences then you will only be able to experience them through that area. If they are facilitative, then you will be able to experience them through a number of areas”. (p. 22)

As Bryce-Clegg points out, the act of thinking deeply about and identifying these skills in each area is far from easy, but in "Continuous Provision: The Skills", educators find clear guidance, support and helpful examples of a huge range of motor, cognitive, social-emotional and language skills, including valuable information about levelling and differentiation, challenge, student interest and learning environments.

With clear and practical information and examples rooted in real-world practice, "Continuous Provision: The Skills" is a must-read for Early Years educators who are ready to take their understanding and implementation of continuous provision further, or who have questions about how to make their classrooms and their students’ independent learning experiences more meaningful.

Jo Fahey

I am Reading: Ways to Learn Through Inquiry: Guiding Children to Deeper Understanding (2012)

Book Review - Angeline Aow

When you meet Jo Fahey in person, you are met first with a smile and then by conversations that leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. You immediately get a sense that this educator professional is going to share everything she knows very openly with you. If you haven’t been lucky enough to meet Jo Fahey in person, her book is written with the same spirit of openness, leaving you feeling like you’ve been given a large educational hug and been invited into a conversation with the author about best practices in the early years.

Fahey’s experience as an early years practitioner and researcher in classrooms is evident in the many resources she shares in her book. As one of the educators involved in the PYP’s inception when it was a part of the International Schools Curriculum Project (ISCP), Fahey has a deep understanding of the origins of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP). This curriculum framework is an inquiry-based programme and Fahey’s book is a rich resource of the multiple ways teachers foster early learners to learn through inquiry.

Unlike other leading inquiry-based learning gurus (such as Kath Murdoch and Kathy G. Short), Fahey’s first name isn’t Kath and she hasn’t created her own inquiry cycle or model. Instead she clearly states that “...inquiry is dynamic and organic” and that one’s understanding of inquiry is always evolving. Fahey also makes it very clear that the units presented “are not intended to be off-the-shelf resources”. Her book uses her doctoral research into inquiry-based learning theories and research work in early years classrooms. Observations of ways children inquire in the early years is documented and shared through units of inquiry; learning engagements and samples of student work. An abundance of photographs illuminate the described student learning.

To make ideas accessible Fahey has strategically coded tips, suggestions and strategies with icons. Each chapter is full of detailed learning engagements that are authentically linked to concept-driven units. Inquiry and assessment strategies are described in detail with variations and tips to inspire teachers with their own implementation.  

Fahey organises these practical examples through looking at inquiry with different lenses. Inquiry is seen as language acts, as tensions, as problem-posing and problem-solving, and play is seen as a way of inquiring. Chapters of her book share how teachers can promote early learners’ inquiries through key strategies such as sharing read-alouds and responses, through organizing ideas, role-play and drama, research and the arts. These are strategies that every well-trained teacher is familiar with. Although the pedagogical ideas are nothing new or technologically innovative, the way Fahey walks readers through PYP units of inquiry is inspiring to read as she explains with careful intention the purposes of these strategies, how to support learners’ engagement in the early years and how best to identify, interpret and document the learning that is occuring. This makes the book very practical and a must-have for all PYP educators working within the 3-8 age group.

Although this book is published well before the release of the PYP enhancements in 2017-18 the content is still relevant and important today as “The aim of this book (is)... to explore how a broadened understanding of inquiry… (leads) to a rich range of ways in which young children learn in early childhood settings, enabling them to deepen their understanding of themselves and the world.” The IB PYP wrote in the Early Learner section of “The Learner in the Enhanced PYP” that:

“The power of play will become the primary vehicle for inquiry, supporting thoughtful and intentional opportunities for child-initiated play, hands-on learning, and the co-construction of learning between teachers and young learners. Through play and exploration, students will learn to inquire as they build and test theories to help make sense of the world around them.”

Fahey’s book is, a deep-dive into exactly this; ways to learn through inquiry, play and exploration.

Another way in which Fahey’s book is in alignment with the new PYP enhancements lies in her understanding of the learner and valuing of young learners’ agency.

“Valuing agency begins by accepting that students are capable learners and natural inquires. Members of the learning community are encouraged to regularly reflect on how their decisions regarding time, spaces, materials, interactions and relationships support student agency.”

These concepts are explored throughout Jo Fahey’s book and the ideas she shares transfer to the new, enhanced PYP. If anything, it is of vital importance to understand the fundamental ideas in Fahey’s book from which to further develop with the PYP enhancements.

As a primary school educator and pedagogical leader, Fahey’s book and workshop has opened my eyes to the wonder of the early years and I have taken away many new understandings from which I now apply to my own parenting of a toddler as well as in interactions with early years colleagues. So, if you are a PYP Early Years (infants: grades K-2) teacher, are new to the PYP, or a pedagogical leader then this book is a must have in your professional library.

Kathy Collins and Matt Glover

I am Reading: Nurturing Young Children’s Meaning Making and Joyful Engagement with Any Book (2015)

Book Review - Angeline Aow

My son is three years old. We recently went on a one-month holiday to visit family in Australia. To get there, from our home in Berlin, we got on two very big aeroplanes and flew through very large and busy airports. During the trip we took along the book Der Flughafen (Airport in German) and have since spent many hours reading it, answering questions about it and making comparisons with the information found in the book with our shared flying experiences. Months after this trip, Der Flughafen has become a book of choice for my son. No matter how many other books I lay out for him and strategically place around the house, he chooses to read this familiar text. My conclusion was that he must really love aeroplanes and airports. After reading ‘I am reading: Nurturing Young Children’s Meaning Making and Joyful Engagement with Any Book’ by Kathy Collins and Matt Glover, I came to realise that there was more behind my son’s choice than first meets the eye.

Ask my husband, who is not an educator, why our son chooses Der Flughafen over and over again and the answer is a mumbled “because he’s trying to torture me”. For him ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Collins and Glover believe that “there are many positive attributes of familiarity and potential opportunities in the world of the familiar, especially with regard to familiar reading”. For the authors “Familiarity breeds comfort, enthusiasm, and confidence.” The benefits of reading familiar books is explained so that one understands what children are doing and thinking about when they reread well-loved and familiar books.

Once Collins and Glover establishes their stance and joint belief about familiar books, they go on to explain how we can support children’s reading growth. Through QR codes and website links, Collins and Glover share video clip examples from their research to illuminate their points. They also devised Language Levels that are explained in detailed tables. These Language Level tables articulate what a child might do when reading, how educators can support or nudge readers forward and transcripts of what support might look like between young readers and an adult.

Collins and Glover emphasise that skill development is not the only aspect of reading and that a love of reading and the development of a healthy reading identity is also of vital importance.

“Although we’ve categorized the ways that children may approach the reading of familiar texts into language levels and offered ideas for what to say to children to nudge them forward, we want to be clear that our biggest priority in these conferences with early readers is to make connections with them and to enjoy the book together. It’s important to bear in mind that we aren’t just teaching children how to read, we’re also supporting them so they love to read.”

A part of fostering a love of reading is understanding how to empower children to choose texts and to help them develop a positive image of themselves as readers. Collins and Glover share how to motivate early readers to choose unfamiliar books, how to intentionally provide opportunities to navigate unfamiliar texts as well as instructional support ideas to “open up new frontiers for young children’s reading explorations”.

Throughout my years as an educator I have been an avid promoter of nonfiction texts as I believe that this genre is vastly underrepresented when modelling and promoting reading. I remember, in a lead up to Book Week, working with my teaching assistant to reconstruct the cover of the 2004 edition of Lonely Planet Berlin’s city guide for our Grade 4 classroom door. That year I was transitioning from being a homeroom teacher in Nanjing to Berlin and that piece of nonfiction was a well-thumbed, well-loved resource. Needless to say, my favourite chapter in I am Reading is Chapter 6 - Reading Informational Texts Before They’re Reading Conventionally. This chapter was like reading 20 pages of belief validation that affirmed my personal reading identity. It also made me understand that although reading Der Flughafen aloud may not make for the most engaging or dramatic bedtime story, Collins and Glover reminded me that:

“To best support children’s growing comfort and familiarity with informational books, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of providing children with many examples by regularly reading aloud informational books whether or not they connect to a study, inquiry, or theme.”

Collins and Glover’s book is mostly focused on the time when children are reading unconventionally and developing their relationship with texts. Towards the end of the book  they focus on what growing independence with texts looks like and the intersection between their language levels and the independence levels. The authors also provide strategies for supporting emergent kindergarten and first-grade readers in the next stages of development. For those of you who value mapping out your literacy curriculum there is also guidance on yearlong planning and support on how to turn your new learnings into strategic action.

Kathy Collins and Matt Glover’s book has made me rethink how I need to provide my son with opportunities and motivation to pick unfamiliar books. It has also opened my eyes to notice what my toddler is doing whenever he selects (again!) his well-thumbed, well-loved nonfiction book about airports. More importantly it has equipped me with strategies on what to do next to further his development and love of reading. I must also get my husband to read this book, then again I wouldn’t want to be torturous to my non-educator spouse. So, for now, I would recommend this book to early years educators, parents of toddlers and children entering formal schooling, teachers in the early primary years, pedagogical leaders and any administrators who need to look beyond reading levels as a measurement of early literacy success.

Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, Cheryl Tyler

I am Reading: Purposeful Play: A Teacher’s Guide to Igniting Deep & Joyful Learning Across the Day (2016)

Play is a vitally important and central part of the lives of children outside school, and any person who knows or works with children will be acutely aware of that. However, along with the awareness of the importance of play in children’s lives, for educators there are important questions about the role of play in learning and how they can, or indeed whether they even should, make space for play in the school day. How, teachers wonder, can we find time for play when we have so many pressures with curriculum, academic rigour, testing and even space and resources? Fortunately, in their book, ‘Purposeful Play: A Teacher’s Guide to Igniting Deep & Joyful Learning Across the Day’, Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli and Cheryl Tyler explain how and why to do just that.

‘Purposeful Play’ is the kind book educators long for but rarely find - it is hands on, relevant and practical, but also rooted in deep concepts, research and written in a supportive, accessible and professional tone that makes it both very readable and deeply informative. Highly visual, the book is filled with illuminating photos of students at work and play, examples of teacher displays and strategies and the colourful formatting and style is both welcoming and in keeping with its positive and playful nature. The frequent illustrative case-studies and practical examples of schedules, resources and teacher and student work and interspersed with references to current high-quality research, which all works to give the reader the sense that the book and its authors are speaking from a place of collegiality, experience and knowledgeable authority.

The book is structured into three sections built around its big themes: “All About Play”, “The Work in Play”, and “The Play in Work”. In “All About Play: The Reasons, Research and Resources” the authors make the case for the importance of play in education, and from the very start they make it clear that “Play isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity”. For teachers and school leaders who are concerned about play detracting from “learning time”, or academic rigour, or the need to meet national curriculum standards, this chapter explains how play is not only a necessity for students, it can and should also be meaningful, rigorous learning time that doesn’t take away from curricular teaching: it enhances it. Looking at different categories of play, such as imaginative play, rough and tumble play, games with rules and constructive play, Mraz, Porcelli and Tyler guide the reader through how each type of play builds vital skills and understandings for children. They also look at how the conflicts and difficulties that arise out of these types of play might make us uncomfortable, but that these are vital learning experiences for children, in developing empathy, physical control and social skills. Sample schedules for teachers to build meaningful choice time, recess time and real-world, easy-to-implement advice on how to create playful spaces provide a practical framework for teachers to apply to the research and conceptual ideas in the section.

In “The Work In Play: Using Play for Social and Emotional Growth”, the reader will explore how they can support their students to really use play as a tool for learning important social skills. When children play problems occur, much more than when we sit them on their numbered spot on the carpet out of reach of each other, or make sure than there are enough resources so that nobody ever needs to share. However, avoiding the problems that come with play doesn’t teach them to deal with problems when they arise, and as this section explores, it is actually these problems that are the fertile ground for essential social and emotional learning experiences. From empathy, to perspective building, managing emotions, taking turns, sharing and negotiating, there are thoughtful and helpful possible teaching sessions, and lesson plans with suggested resources and step-by-step guidance.

Finally, “The Play in Work: The Whole Day Can Feel Playful” moves the reader beyond the general definition of ‘play’ as an activity, discrete from ‘work’ and starts to look at how all learning can embody the spirit and benefits of play. Chapters on identifying and leveraging student interest, using playful tools and the role of inquiry as a playful mindset for learning guide the reader to reconsider how they teach on a day-to-day basis, and make it clear that play is not just an activity, it is an approach and a mindset and one that all educators can choose to make a core part of their classrooms and schools.

Purposeful Play is an essential resource for teachers and school leaders who value the role of play in the lives and learning of children. As Mraz, Porcelli and Tyler put it, “[...] hold tight to the idea that no matter what curriculum you are asked to teach, you have the power to make it playful and joyful. There is no “they” that can stop you from finding the lightness and pleasure of learning”.

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