Continuous Provision: The Skills (2015)
by Alistair Bryce-Clegg
Book Review by Sarah Gilmore
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 his book, Continuous Provision In The Early Years (2013), 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.
Bryce-Clegg, Alistair. (2013). Continuous Provision In The Early Years. Published by Featherstone, an imprint of Bloomsbury, London/New York. ISBN 978-1408175828.
Bryce-Clegg, Alistair. (2015). Continuous Provision: The Skills. Published by Featherstone, an imprint of Bloomsbury, London/New York. ISBN 978-1-4729-0952-7.