Using Big Books to Consult Children in the Planning Process.

Mindstretchers 1997
Using Big Books to Consult Children in the Planning Process.
For many practitioners the involvement of children has been an integral part of their practice for
many years. Many regions across the UK 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 the UK, 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
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.
Cross references to daily planning through dated entries, and an overview to monitor breadth
and balance
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.
Excerpt from Claire Warden's book Talking and Thinking Floorbooks.