Four years ago when Anna Bolt was appointed Principal of Glyncollen Primary School in Swansea, she asked her staff to abandon the formal literacy program and adopt the Story Telling Curriculum (STC) instead. As a pilot she focused on the Foundation Stage, which includes the Nursery School (3 to 4 years) Reception, Year One and Year Two.
This was radical thinking and planning. It challenged officially sanctioned ways of promoting literacy. It questioned the assumptions made about how children learn to be literate. It disrupted the views of ‘good practice’ and ‘what works’. The approach is led by the theory that narrative understanding is the primary meaning-making tool. It reinforces that children from 3-7 are highly imaginative. As an example of the theory into practice, young children tell their stories to an adult who scribes them. These stories are then read back to the children then become part of the class reading, drama and philosophy stimuli for discussion. In all classrooms, teachers leave motivational triggers for children to explore.
The morning I visited the Reception class, the children had found a letter from the Queen asking for help to find her crown. In the captured moment below, some children were writing letters to the Queen on Ipads, others were creating possible scenarios on how the heist happened and others were redesigning another crown. In this Reception class the class were using The BFG by Roald Dahl as the year long novel.
I observed how all aspects of the learning curriculum stemmed from the novel like ‘Who is the class giant?’ (measurement), tallying the giant’s tasting table (numeracy), ‘describe the BFG’ (literacy), writing letters on Ipads, creating menus for the BFG, writing stories, drama and of philosophic discussions the emerged from the story. This week the discussion question was ‘are Queens and Princesses always good?’ Children are responsible for their own progress which has led to a change in classroom structure. Children work on tasks and the teacher and two aides (yes a teacher and 2 aides for 30 children) move between groups to support the the learning. Teachers programs in Foundations Stage are written after the event demonstrating what and how the teacher has covered rather than the traditional way of planning what will be taught and directing the learning to prescribed outcomes. I talked at length with Sian, the Year Two teacher who had based her year program around James and the Giant Peach and I was able to retrospectively read through her program. Sian had built not only her Literacy program on the novel but also her entire program including Science, Mathematics, and Personal Development. Dr. Sue Lyle had undertaken action research with Sian and in brief they noted that standards had risen dramatically and the biggest impact had been on reading and writing.
My initial thinking is that Story Telling Curriculum could be an effective planning tool in Preschool and Kindergarten classes in Australia. However, I am still trying to get my head around how the dictated outcomes of the curriculum are achieved without any explicit teaching.
Reference:The Impact of the Storytelling Curriculum on Literacy Development for Children Aged Six to Seven and their Teachers, Sue Lyle & Anna Bolt, University of Wales.
I awoke bubbling with questions after spending last night reading the recent research Dr. Sue Lyle had undertaken on the impact of Philosophy for Children (P4C) on children, teachers and schools.
My interest in this paper was that it underpins the purpose of my scholarship: to examine the impact of P4C practice in the early years (particularly years 3-6) and to find a baseline when proposing effective professional development for educators in the early childhood sector.
Sue is a P4C teacher educator and former Head of Continuing Professional Development at the Swansea Metropolitan University’s School of Education. The focus of her research and training is with P4C, the Storytelling Curriculum and action research with a particular focus on how young children make meaning through talk.
This study involved 1800 trained P4C teachers and 64 schools, with 110 teachers continuing to advanced P4C training. The findings were challenging and concerning with three dominant themes emerging that hinder the implementation of Philosophy in schools
Power and Authority: the reluctance of teachers to surrender their role as authority figures.
The Perception of the Child: the view that children were not capable of engaging in inquiry or abstract concepts and the uncritical acceptance of development psychology theories as a measure of a child’s capabilities.
The Model of Childhood: children seen as ‘innocent, untamed, blank slate or developing’ and the impact these models have on teachers’ attitudes.
Sue’s paper proposes pathways to promote a paradigm shift in teacher understanding of children. These include a critical look at the ‘privileged’ role of the teacher, revisiting the relationship between teacher/child, child/teacher and child/child in the learning environment, disrupting the historical models of childhood and deconstructing developmental psychology.
True to Sue’s belief in ‘making meaning through talk’ we walked and talked during our five hour walk from forest to sea with Dr. Julia Harper a colleague and expert in restorative justice.
Over the next two days, I will visit two schools in Wales to observe what changes have been made as a result of P4C training. It’s thrilling stuff.
And blown we were by icy Atlantic winds as we trekked ‘in the dying light‘ across the dramatic landscape of the Gower peninsula near Swansea in South Wales. Here in this ancient land where fact merges with fiction, we followed the paths of moles and badgers, fairies and ghosts, wild ponies and wild poets, and got to know each other.
Sue is a teacher trainer, a prolific writer and a passionate promoter of Philosophy for Children (P4C) and has so generously programmed my next three days. The current focus of Sue’s research is how children make meaning through talk and particularly the role of collaborative learning and P4C on young children’s learning.
Home now and after homemade soup and fresh baked bread I climbed into bed with a pile of reading material. Tomorrow is a talk day.
Just five weeks away from departure and with a mixture of panic and excitement I’m trying to finish mid year reports, do daily checks on the exchange rate and lock down the meetings many which were arranged over six months ago. During this trip I will use this site as a diary, categorising posts by noting special people, places and ideas I gather.
The image is from the cover of Tomorrow by Mark McLeod and illustrated by Kirrily Schell. It is one of my favourite books to read to young children.