Stuff and new stuff
Resources that support curriculum: Re-tell, re-think, and re-build
Beyond the Flannel Board: Retelling Strategies Across the Curriculum
Written by M. Susan McWilliams. Redleaf Press, 2017. ($29.95)
In this new book, Dr. McWilliams establishes the cognitive and social framework for story telling and retelling props and makes a case for integrating story retelling activities in all areas of the classroom to enhance social and emotional development as well as STEM skills.
Working from the belief that good stories, printed in books or spoken from a story teller’s mouth with no props, give order to the chaos of daily life. She holds that children need that order to understand content detail, vocabulary, and purpose. Rather than a focus on rereading books, even class favorites, she offers tools, guidelines, and prop ideas for helping children incorporate the original story by retelling, manipulating, changing, and creating—to deeply understand (comprehend and communicate) all the original story’s features.
The introductory chapters focus on the developmental aspects of story retelling, including planning for diverse age and skill groupings and designing story retelling experiences. The bulk of the volume, however, offers concrete, research-supported, and practical ways for weaving story retelling into all areas of the curriculum. Chapter 7, for example, addresses early math concepts and number sense and how these are reinforced with finger plays, counting books, and explorations of both numbers and numerals (the names for numbers). The chapter offers specific activities and curriculum points for several familiar children’s books.
Especially useful is an extensive chapter on recommended resources with activity samples, story recommendations, and puppet use. McWilliams’s effective and intentional teaching practices will benefit both new and experienced teachers in early care and education classrooms.
Big Questions for Young Minds: Extending Children’s Thinking
Written by Janis Strasser and Lisa Mufson Bresson. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2017. ($29)
Recurrent in much of contemporary professional development literature is the theme of questions: Why they are important to children’s learning, how to ask them, and what responses to teacher’s questions tell about what and how children learn. Too often, teachers ask questions that have minimal import: The question has a single rote answer, for example, or is a question to which the teacher already has the answer.
If teachers are eager to help children develop higher level thinking and reasoning skills, they must ask high level questions that children will answer in their own ways. The answers must indicate that the children are using what they know, negotiating and parsing facts, and sharing information with detail and often complex language rather than a pat, rote response.
Strasser and Bresson use Bloom’s Taxonomy and current modifications (six levels of cognition ordered from most simple to most complex) as a model for the book. Each chapter reinforces the model with specific tips for helping children remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. Simply, the authors offer concrete, meaningful, and applicable tips for improving questions to help ensure better answers. One example offered:
Remember: “What animal is this?” Children identify, name, count, recall….
Understand: “Tell me about this animal.” Children describe, discuss, explain, and summarize….
Apply: “Where else have you seen this animal?” Children explain, dramatize, relate….
Analyze: “How is this animal different from a rabbit?” Children compare, contrast, experiment, infer….
Evaluate: “Why would this animal be a good pet?” Children express opinion, judge, defend….
Create: “What kind of animal can you make that no one ever seen?” Children construct, design, imagine….
Contributing authors describe using the support of the taxonomy in classroom interest areas, and in routine classroom interactions including class meetings and mealtime. Even experienced teachers will find chapters on asking meaningful questions at the start of a school year, during long-term projects, and as children explore issues of diversity both poignant and supportive.
A rich chapter on resources offers examples of questions (some even for parents—Questions to ask about your child’s day) that expand children’s thinking and learning. While not intended as a textbook, Big Questions for Young Minds will be an invaluable resource for college classes in early childhood pedagogy and best practices.
Creative Block Play: A Comprehensive Guide to Learning through Building
Written by Rosanne Regan Hansel. Redleaf Press, 2017. ($39.95)
Brimming with ideas for plans for learning through play, Hansel’s work makes the case for blocks as a timeless and essential classroom tool. Blocks are challenging, stimulating, engaging, and ever-changing. They are open-ended and important learning tools in every area of the classroom.
Opening chapters establish the value of building with blocks, especially with 21st century focus on STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). For beginning teachers, Hansel reviews environmental details such as where to put a block center, how to organize it, and how to care for the precious resource. In later chapters, she dives into the joy of block play as well as gives tips for supporting and deepening children’s engagement, inquiry, and long-term interest.
Most splendid are the numerous color photographs of children engaged in all levels of block play. The photographs should inspire all teachers—from beginning to experienced—to have a new look at blocks and their intrinsic learning potential, from persistence and problem solving to creativity and collaboration, of constructions.