Maximising young children’s involvement in sharing the learning process with their parents and with one another.
It was the first day of the school year in my Early Years class. At the end of the day we talked together about what the children had been doing: printing fossil shapes in playdough; digging for dinosaur bones in the sand; painting outdoors; playing with finger puppets and creating a collage, amongst other things.
I said to the children before they left for home:
‘When your parents ask you what you did at school today, what are you going to say?’
The little boy in front of me immediately replied with a twinkle in his eye:
Although this appears to be the default setting for many children regardless of how much fun they have had at school or how engaged and interested they have been in their learning, it was also a good reminder of how important it is to allow children opportunities to reflect upon their learning from a young age.
In our Foundation Stage classes (age 2-5) at Dulwich College Yangon’s Star City Campus, we are using what is known as a ‘Talking and Thinking Floorbook’ approach to document children’s learning and to teach them how to communicate about their learning. This approach was developed by Dr. Claire Warden (an educational consultant based in Scotland, U.K.) and is now used in a range of formats in Early Years settings around the world. It is important to note that our setting is very child-led. We strongly advocate learning through play and focus on developing an outstanding learning environment, both indoor and outdoor, which supports and extends children’s interests.
What is a Talking and Thinking Floorbook?
We have developed our Floorbooks in a way which suits our context and approach to learning at Dulwich College Yangon, Star City.
- The start of the floorbook always stems from the children (this could be an idea they have or a big question)
- The pages are developed and put together, as much as possible, by the children
- The floorbook records children’s thoughts, ideas, theories and questions (without re-framing or interpretation)
- The floorbook serves to support children in making links and connections within their learning, as they are easily able to revisit learning over time.
Whilst we continue to use an online learning journal (Tapestry) so that parents can access information about and see examples of their child’s learning on a regular basis (photos, videos and assessments based on the U.K. Early Years Foundation Stage framework), the Floorbook provides something slightly different. It is a way of gathering together the children’s ‘lines of inquiry’ to create a ‘big picture’.
This does not mean that having a Floorbook simply leads to the recreation of a topic or theme. Topics and themes are traditionally pre-planned. With a Floorbook approach, teachers and teaching assistants will use the book to discuss and analyse children’s learning. They can predict what may happen next in their learning environment but cannot presume to know! This is because the children are genuinely taking the lead with their learning. The adults’ role is to listen, watch, guide and extend, based on what they observe the child doing or saying.
Having used this approach for nearly 18 months now at Dulwich College Yangon, Star City, the areas we have seen the biggest positive impact (for our 3-5 year olds) are:
- Children’s language development
The children are inspired to talk about their learning with each other, to their parents and in front of the class, using the book as a tool to help them to reflect.
- Teamwork and collaboration
The children work together on the book. As it is large and is situated on an easily accessible table or on the floor, they tend to gather round it, either sitting or lying on the carpet. They help one another with cutting out photos taken of their learning, sticking them into the book, annotating them and drawing pictures – all the while talking about their learning.
- Maximum student agency
The children are welcome to engage with the Floorbook in any way they like. For a very young child, this may even mean simply making marks in the book. Therefore children feel they have ownership over the Floorbooks. This year we have extended this further by providing a child-friendly polaroid camera so that the children (as young as three) can take photos of their learning, print them instantly and add them to the Floorbook. Needless to say they are very motivated to do this and have been learning the basics of photography at the same time!
- Authentic opportunities for writing
As the children get older, or feel ready to do so, the Floorbook provides them with an excellent chance to write for meaning and purpose. Whether this is writing a label or caption for a photo or writing something longer like a list, letter or recipe, the Floorbook makes writing meaningful.
- Emotional development
As children are listened to, and their thoughts and theories are recorded and entered into the Floorbook, they are valued. Children know that what they say matters and that their perspective will be taken into account.
A Floorbook Case Study – Documenting Young Entrepreneurship
The ‘Selling Tomatoes’ Story Floorbook was an inquiry which started when a child asked, “How about we sell our tomatoes?” while picking tomatoes from our class garden. The learning documented within the floorbook shows the entire inquiry process followed by a class of young entrepreneurs who, having grown a huge crop of tomatoes, then set up a shop outside their classroom and sold them, along with eggplants, basil and watermelon, to parents and teachers, making 60,000 mmk over a period of several months.
The floorbook also documents how the children researched the pricing for their shop, decided on their target customers, set up a shop opening and closing schedule and finally debated what to spend the profits on. The floorbook shows the thinking process of these young children who wanted to spend the money by going to the airport to fly to Vietnam, Egypt, New Zealand or Taiwan. It shows their questioning and their suggestions:
‘Do we have enough money to go to the airport? We should go to Vietnam by train.’
‘When we go to Vietnam by train, it takes a long time to arrive there.’
And when the children realised it would be too expensive to fly:
‘How about we grow more tomatoes and eggplants so that we can sell and go on the trip?’
‘We are quite rich but not ‘onefinity’ rich.’
Eventually, and after much debate, the children went on an excellent trip to the wonderful Calorie Cafe in Thanlyin, where they spent their money on fresh juice and a snack, rather than a plane ticket. In the process, they had learned something about the value of money and felt that their thoughts and ideas were listened to and heard. This was supported by documenting the learning journey in a Floorbook.
Ms.Baek Eun Kim, a Dulwich College Yangon Foundation Stage parent commented:
‘I absolutely love the concept of Talking and Thinking Floorbooks. It opens up kids’ imaginations and is very effective. I’m glad that Dulwich College Yangon has qualified and skilled teachers who are able to incorporate innovative methods of teaching. I had heard about this style but when I saw it in practice I was pleasantly surprised about how it aids in developing language, conversations and overall development of children. Huge thanks to all involved and I personally definitely second this teaching approach.’
If you are interested in finding out more about our Floorbook Approach, either as a parent or an educator, or would like more information about our Early Years setting, please do not hesitate to contact: [email protected]