You will have noticed that Book Reviews no longer appear on the pages of the TACTYC Early Years Journal. We will, therefore, now be putting Book Reviews for open access on this page. Check it out occasionally to see if there’s anything new that interests you!
Ulrike Hohmann reviews: Laura Gilliam and Eva Gulløv (2017) Children of the Welfare State: Civilising practices in schools, childcare and families London: Pluto, 304pp (pbk), £24.99, ISBN: 9780745336046. Inspired by Norbert Elias’ theory of civilising, this book explores the civilising intentions of the Danish welfare state and the planned interventions of social children’s institutions. The authors present and analyse a number of ethnographical studies undertaken in Danish child raising institutions between 1995 and 2011.
Laura Gilliam and Eva Gulløv develop the theoretical and institutional context in the first two chapters. Chapter 1 introduces Elias’ concept of civilising, which is based on the premise that state and society are not distinct from individuals, because they are made up of individuals who act upon and reproduce social order. In countries with high population density and long ‘chains of interdependence’ the state monopolises taxation and the use of violence and punishment. It requires codes of conducts which are internalised as self-restrain. Consequently transgressions by oneself and others trigger feelings of shame and disgust. What counts as civilised conduct changes over time and reflects hierarchies of humans and human behaviour. Childrearing engages with key elements of civilising, the control of bodily functions, the exercise of emotional self-control and the mastery of social conventions and manners. As societal norms are inculcated in children, boundaries of civilised behaviour are contested and negotiated and civilising of parents takes place, too.
Danish children spend a large amount of time in public children’s institutions. Chapter 2 describes the changing concept of children and childhood in Denmark over the course of the past 150 years and traces enhanced expectations on children’s institutions to engage in the civilising project of future citizens. Changing social constellations, power relations and conflicts result in shifting ideals of childrearers and educators. In contemporary Denmark the civilising projects in children’s intuitions aim to contribute to national integration and have moved towards more democratic relationship between adults and children. The ethnographic approach centres on how practices of the everyday life in these civilising institutions reflect and reshape contemporary configurations.
The following six chapters move through a sequential range of children’s institutions and the family. Eva Gulløv analyses the civilising endeavours of nurseries and kindergartens in Chapter 3. Young children are gently introduced to social norms in an environment with the aim of ‘being social’ the leading civilising ideal in Denmark. This requires children to control bodily expressions, to use language as defence against violence and aims to develop the well-balanced, resilient child. Because instructions are often more tacit, some children cannot decode expectations and the civilising project may produce less civilised behaviour, also as protest.
In Chapter 4 Karen Fog Olwig examines how kindergarten is remembered by older children and adults. The children’s ability to negotiate the civilising process emerges strongly. Negotiating spaces open up due to the tensions between the civilising efforts to inculcate dominant social values and the approach to children as competent and able to determine their own lives. Also, the perception of children as not-yet-civilised entails that they have a larger pallet of behaviour to choose from. Meals, hygiene, expressions of emotions are arenas in which children negotiate hierarchical relationships and in which they try out and at times mock, adults’ civilised and uncivilised behaviour.
In the following three chapters Laura Gilliam reports on ethnographic studies undertaken in schools. Chapter 5 explores the civilising project in the first year of school and how teachers strive to mould the ‘good class’ serving two purposes, that of a well ordered, teachable group of children and that of raising productive and culturally acceptable citizens. Children are positioned and position themselves as civilised or less civilised and resistance and the transgression of boundaries can inform their identity. Further insights into the discourse of civilised behaviour by focussing on children from ethnic minorities are presented in Chapter 6. Assumptions about economic, social and cultural resources and stereotypical ideas of child raising practices in ethnic minority families are employed by teachers to explain behaviour contradicting the ideal of the civilised child. Children themselves are active in this discourse and this impacts on how children do gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. at school. Fascinating is the description how teachers struggle to regulate uncivilised behaviour of children without falling back on uncivilised behaviour themselves. Chapter 7 shifts the location of ethnographic research to a school with a large proportion of children from affluent families. For older pupils the social space is broader than the school class and academic content serves to consolidate the pupils’ position, by othering the uncivilised and distance oneself from the ‘amoral rich’. Young people explain their own privileged position by virtue of their mastery of the civilised code of conduct.
Despite extensive use of children’s welfare institutions parents continue to be obliged to rear the ‘good’ child, the one that is courteous, smart and social, but also cheeky. Dil Bach (Chapter 8) researched childraising in affluent families. Mothers place much importance on the calm but stimulating home that allows children to internalise boundaries and their check points. Food, sleep, play and educational are the daily activities and arenas of negotiation and demarcations, establishing the respectability of parents, able withstand the evaluating gaze of professionals, teachers and the future judgement by their children.
In the last chapter Laura Gilliam and Eva Gulløv analyse civilising ideals and practice across the children’s institutions and the family. They demonstrate how the focus on childraising contributes to the Eliasian approach, “as it shows how moralities are formed, challenged and transmitted intergenerationally” (p. 235). The focus on markers of the civilised and the definition of civilised behaviour as expressed through civilising project in public children’s institutions prove to be valuable in mapping out moral hierarchies in the Danish society.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Children of the Welfare State and will return to it. Firstly, it is based in an abundance of ethnographic data and, secondly, the authors achieve to show the usefulness of Elias’ theory on the civilising process. They also include theories of other well-known sociologists, like Bourdieu, Foucault, Goffman and Skeggs. It offers new ways to analyse childraising and the relationship between state, society and individuals in their various figurations. Childhood can be understood as a social project of transformation from the not-yet-civilised to the civilised and the research shows how the vicious circle of marginalisation potentially begins during early childhood. This book is about Denmark, but general ideas and insight are suitable to inform the analysis of other nation states. I would have liked a glossary setting out some specifics of the structure of children’s institutions. For example, do children move through nursery and kindergarten as a group and do pedagogues move with them? Is a class always taught together and does the class teacher move with them through their school career? How are meals organised in these institutions? Details like this reflect the nature of boundaries and markers and, at times, indicate changes in expectations and power relationships.
Gina Houston reviews: Kerry Maddock (2017) British Values and the Prevent Duty in the Early Years: A Practitioner’s Guide. London: Jessica Kingsley, 112pp (pbk), £11.68, ISBN-13: 978-1785920486. Early years practitioners may need support to understand the implications and put into practice requirements of the 2015 Prevent strategy and duty to promote British values. This short book attempts to do this through practical guidance and clear explanations of the legislation. Interpretations of British values throughout the book counteract common stereotypes, such as ‘Fish and Chip Fridays’ and ‘Tea with the Queen’ activities (p.10). In her introduction Maddock contextualises the change in legislation through a factual account of the ‘Trojan Horse’ disclosure in 2014, which encouraged marginalisation of staff and governors in Birmingham schools to promote an Islamist curriculum and ethos. Ensuing chapters give guidance on meeting demands of the legislation while emphasising the need to promote and value differences in multicultural British society.
British values are clearly outlined through Ofsted inspection themes of Democracy, Rule of Law, Individual Liberty and Mutual Respect and Tolerance, related by Maddock to the Early Years Foundation Stage framework and practice already in place in many early years settings. Suggestions of good practice confirm that existing effective practice is sufficient to meet the legislation. For example, the section on democracy gives ideas to include children and families in curriculum planning through meetings, questionnaires and the internet. The importance of acting on comments and ideas to promote true democracy can be shown through displays of ‘you said, we did’ such as changes to school meals (p.16).
The section on mutual respect and tolerance in relation to existing legal duties in the Equality Act 2010 (p.21) enables settings to revisit equality policies. Chapter 2 shows how policies and procedures can ensure high quality practice and tables are provided to aid policy review, incorporating promotion of British values to meet Ofsted inspection requirements. Chapters 3 and 5 focus on specific curriculum areas of Personal, Social and Emotional Development and Understanding of the World. EYFS outcomes from birth to 60 months are listed alongside suggestions of activities and ideas for best practice. Tables indicate how good practice already meets the requirement to promote British values. Ideas more directly relating to children’s ideas of difference might usefully have been included here because, as Maddock points out, they are often exposed to negative attitudes from a young age (p41). All tables in the book are usefully accessible through a website saving administration time and allowing opportunities for discussion of planning and strategy implementation.
Chapter 4 introduces the Prevent Duty, a requirement through the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The chapter outlines the duty for all registered providers, including childminders, to prevent young children being exposed to radicalisation and extremism. Definitions of extremism and radicalisation are quoted directly, followed by the responsibilities of settings regarding identification; reporting concerns; building self-confidence and self-esteem; training, coaching and mentoring and risk assessment. This chapter differs in style as it necessarily outlines legal responsibility as required in the Act. Read in isolation to other sections of the book this could give an impression of practitioners’ roles as policing radicalisation rather than supporting children and families, possibly the reason for placing it between more practical chapters that promote good early years practice. Practitioners are expected to be alert to changes such as not eating certain meats, altered friendship groups, change in dress from hijab to niqab or burka among others. Changes in character and behaviour of children and families should not necessarily be identified as signs of radicalisation but must be seen in context with other factors. Viewed in isolation there is a danger of stereotyping individuals and communities as ‘terrorists’ contrary to good inclusion practice previously discussed. The chapter clearly outlines the seriousness of reporting concerns and consequent government action under Contest, the counter-terrorism strategy and the Channel initiative (the strategy to further assess those identified under safeguarding concerns). The importance of practitioner training so as to be confident in valid identification of at risk factors is emphasised and training opportunities are listed at the end of the book alongside resources. A table is provided for action planning regarding risk assessment.
Chapter 6 provides examples of good practice and practitioners’ comments on interpretation and promotion of British values within diverse settings. The childminder group in particular was critical of the term, feeling the values were common to all communities and that the term was ‘divisive rather than inclusive’ (p.73). Chapter 7 gives ‘external viewpoints’ from an academic and local authority advisor regarding their roles in the early years sector. Ofsted requirements are clearly listed with a table for settings to check levels of compliance.
The book ends with an appendix of planning tables for a diverse range of festivals and celebrations. Out of context this could become tokenistic if not used with other good practice suggestions throughout the book. This book lacks any discussion or guidance for directly challenging racism, responding to issues that may arise from promotion of British values and the Prevent strategy or of effects on personal attitudes of practitioners, however, it provides a useful practical support for implementation of a controversial strategy. Maddock suggests that good early years practice to promote British values will ‘see a society that is as inclusive as it is diverse’ (p.85).
Rory McDowall Clark reviews: Melanie Nind, Alicia Curtin and Kathy Hall (2016) Research Methods for Pedagogy, London: Bloomsbury (2016) 274pp. (pbk), ISBN: 978-1-4742-4281-3. Pedagogy is a complex and multifaceted activity, open to diverse interpretations – so much so that Murray suggests it may be more appropriate to talk about early childhood pedagogies (2015: 1715). Melanie Nind and colleagues point out the challenges this creates for researchers seeking to capture subtleties and nuances as dynamic, indeterminate features manifest within different settings. In this book they examine research methods and approaches to capture intricacies and implicit workings of pedagogy in practice.
The book begins with three chapters interrogating pedagogy to explore how implicitly value-laden perspectives must be acknowledged before research design can be considered. Dimensions of pedagogy as specified, enacted and experienced form a framework for exploring policy and practice and Nind et al. examine the assumptions that arise from each. Chapter 2 develops these ideas in relation to different pedagogies and where these lead methodologically. The third chapter probes metaphors of pedagogy as science, art or craft to expose how such perspectives translate into practice and affect methodological decisions. The authors’ broadly sociocultural stance means emphasis is largely on qualitative approaches but the many examples, plus detailed tables of implications for research design, are equally important in helping readers evaluate the technical, ‘evidence-based’ approaches favoured in many large scale studies.
Case examples throughout the book usefully illustrate how methodological considerations operate in practice. Research from the UK, Europe, Australia and the US is examined and the authors also draw on their own experiences giving access to their thinking and decision-making. In this way examples offer both breadth and depth highlighting differing perspectives and values. Part Two focuses on how context affects selection and application of research methods through three exemplary sites: early childhood settings, pedagogy in schools and informal, out-of-school settings. These chapters enable in-situ consideration of child-centred learning, pedagogical culture and researcher identity through ethnographic or phenomenological approaches and multimodal methods to explore children’s meaning-making.
Many will argue that the key aspect of pedagogy is in the moment-by-moment decision-making by practitioners – invisible to an observer and frequently lost in the rush of ongoing demands. The final section of the book concentrates on these tacit aspects, examining ways to render ‘fluid, transactional and contingent’ features of pedagogy visible and the particular ethical considerations raised. These include methods to stimulate recall, reflection and dialogue to address ‘difficulties practitioners [experience] in surfacing and articulating pedagogical values and beliefs’ (Moyles et al. 2002:470). I particularly enjoyed Chapter 8 on the embodied nature of pedagogy where consideration of teacher’s and learners’ bodies in context made me reflect on past experiences with fresh insight. This chapter also examines sensory ethnography (Pink, 2009), of particular relevance within early years contexts as is pedagogy as spatial practice, discussed in Chapter 9. Researching spatialised pedagogical practices brings to the fore the complex relationship between learner and environment, making visible the power contained within pedagogical spaces and how this can constrain agency and learning opportunities.
This is not a research methods book, nor does it set out to be. Rather it explores and interrogates contextually situated research. Consequently there may sometimes be less detail about particular techniques than some readers may wish. For instance Chapter 7 discusses ecological momentary assessment, evaluating its value but without sufficient detail for those unfamiliar with EMA. Numerous methodological texts exist however where one may seek such information. Instead Nind et al. enable readers to select research methods with greater care and give thought to the appropriateness of their chosen lens for pedagogical investigation. It will be of particular value to postgraduate and doctoral students seeking to bridge pedagogy and research, but undergraduates, who can rush into designing a research study without sufficient attention to underlying philosophies will also benefit. In addition tutors supporting student research (at any level) will find it of great value in helping them clarify the implications of different approaches. Methods of researching pedagogy must necessarily align with what we think pedagogy is and this engaging and thought-provoking book, will help readers navigate social, historical and political contexts of pedagogy to build a strong foundation for their own research.
References: Moyles, J., Adams, S. and Musgrove, A. (2002) Using reflective dialogues as a tool for engaging with challenges of defining effective pedagogy, in Early Child Development and Care, Vol 172 (5): 463-78. Murray, J (2015) Early childhood pedagogies: spaces for young children to flourish, Early Child Development and Care, Vol. 185 (11–12): 1715–1732. Pink, S. (2009) Doing sensory ethnography, London: Sage.
Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia, Paola Cagliari, Marina Castagnetti, Claudia Giudici, Carlina Rinaldi, Vea Vecchi and Peter Moss (eds), Maidenhead, England, Routledge, 2016, 449pp., £29.69 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-138-01982-9.
Loris Malaguzzi was one of the most important figures in twentieth-century early childhood education, achieving world-wide recognition for his educational ideas and his role in the creation of municipal schools for young children in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia – a renowned example of progressive, democratic and public education. Part of the Contesting Early Childhood series (and sadly the last of the series to be edited by Peter Moss and Gunilla Dahlberg) this book presents for the first time in English many of the writings and speeches of Malaguzzi and provides rich insights into his life and work. Documents have been selected by his colleagues from an archive established in Reggio Emilia. They range from short poems, letters and newspaper articles to memoires of his early life, extended pieces about the origins of municipal schools and his ideas about children, pedagogy and schools.
The book is organised into five chronological chapters, starting with Malaguzzi’s first teaching experiences amid the chaos of World War Two and proceeding through various stages of establishing and developing a network of communal schools that share the same democratic pedagogical principles. By the 1980s a travelling exhibition, ‘The Hundred Languages of Children’, had brought the educational work of Reggio schools to a wide international audience and this growing reputation led to many requests for study visits and collaborative projects. After the American magazine Newsweek named a Reggio school as the most advanced in the world for early childhood, global interest expanded significantly and at the time of his death in January 1994 Malaguzzi was engaged in developing plans for an international study centre. The last document in the book shows his notes outlining thoughts for this organisation – to be known as Reggio Children – in which he describes the Reggio philosophy as ‘an experience that has flown and is flying in the world’ (pg 424). Reggio Children was formally inaugurated in March 1994 and in the past twenty years has done much to spread the Reggio approach. As a result it is the latter period of Malaguzzi’s life and the later development of Reggio provision that is most widely known through publications previously available in English (eg Edwards et al. 2012; Rinaldi, 2006). This book has deliberately precluded existing translations and much of its fascination lies in the discovery of other items that throw light on Malaguzzi’s early life, his influences and how his ideas evolved. As someone who shares Malaguzzi’s strong commitment to democracy as a fundamental value and practice, Peter Moss is ideally placed to guide the reader through such a large amount of material; he supplies a thorough historical and contextual introduction to each chapter with helpful editorial notes and explanatory footnotes for those of us whose knowledge of the Italian education system is limited. In addition the Reggio Emilia Working Group provide a rationale for each collection of documents; these sections have been written by Malaguzzi’s colleagues and recall the times and circumstances behind the specific pieces chosen. These different perspectives help ‘triangulate’ the primary data of Malaguzzi’s writings, bringing additional value to the book.
Though it is the scuole dell’infanzia (catering for 3-6 year olds) and nidi (centres for children under 3) for which Malaguzzi is best known, his interests spread across the whole field of education; he taught in primary and middle schools, worked in summer camps, in adult education with young men whose education had been disrupted by the war and with children suffering psychological problems. This gave him a wide-ranging understanding of the holistic nature of good educational practice that enables children to flourish. In 1951, co-founding the Centro Medico Psico-Pedagogica, he declared that ‘[t]he idea of health must be applied to the physical, affective and mental wholeness of the child’ suggesting that education should be seen in its ‘true role of preventative medicine for the individual and society’ (pg 41). This is indicative of Malaguzzi’s lifelong commitment to community and the view of children as citizens that underpinned his philosophy and integrated approach. Although literacy, numeracy, even ICT (Seymour Papert was an early visitor to Reggio), all feature in this book, these arise naturally as by-products of children’s own interests. Malaguzzi viewed children as active agents in the processes of self-construction, an orientation requiring interaction with peers and educators prepared to listen to children’s ‘hundred languages’, investigate the world alongside them and be prepared to welcome the unpredictable. He contrasts this with what he termed ‘prophetic pedagogy’ that ‘knows everything beforehand: it knows everything that will happen…to the point that it is capable of giving recipes for the parts of an action, minute by minute, hour by hour, objective by objective…’. This, Malaguzzi argued, ‘is a coarse and cowardly thing, humiliating to teachers’ ingenuity and a complete and visible humiliation of children’s ingenuity and potential’ (pg 421-22). How true this is in the current climate of predetermined outcomes, targets and learning objectives!
Throughout his life Malaguzzi demonstrated relentless energy taking on many different roles and these documents give an insight into aspects of his life as an educator, administrator, researcher and campaigner showing how democratic values, theory and practice were always aligned in his work. He had a broad range of interests crossing different disciplines and subjects so his references range from Alice in Wonderland to Kafka, from Lenin to Bertolt Brecht taking in Heidegger, Gramsci, Weber and Chagall along the way. Carefully considered critiques of Piaget, Bruner, feminism and marxism feature amongst the writings and interviews. The result is a dizzying profusion of ideas and thinking that provoke and energise. The book has stayed by my side throughout the summer as bedside reading, even accompanying me to the beach, and I continue to return to it again and again. It can be read in many different ways – dipped into at random, perhaps following particular themes or more systematically to understand the historical development of the Reggio Emilia project. Every reader will find something different in these documents, something that resonates with their own values and experience that they will take from the Reggio philosophy to interpret in their own way. This is as it should be; Malaguzzi’s work and his legacy of the Reggio Emilia schools evolved in a very particular political context, they are important, not as a model to try to reproduce, but for the example he set us of an enquiring mind and willingness to question, challenge and be challenged. At a time when early years education is too often understood in narrow instrumental terms it is more important than ever to be reminded of its message that education is first and foremost a political practice.
References: Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Forman, G. (eds) (2012) The Hundred Languages of Children (3rd ed) Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. Rinaldi, C. (2006) In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: listening, researching and learning. London: Routledge.
Rory McDowall-Clark, October 2016.
Success with your Early Years Research Project, by Rosie Walker and Carla Solvason, London: Sage Publications, 2014, 147pp., £20.99 (paperback), ISBN: 9781-446-25626-8. The remarkable growth of early childhood degrees since the 1990s has changed the nature of the sector, significantly raising the profile of practitioners as professionals. One consequence of this expansion is increased focus on research and proliferation of small-scale research studies as hopeful undergraduates complete dissertations or independent studies as part of their degrees; another is the emergence of subject-specific texts to guide students through this rite of passage. But despite all this activity, research remains a mysterious and esoteric process for many, so after two decades of supervising dissertations and reading several hundred research studies as an external examiner this book really resonated for me. One of the authors argues elsewhere (Solvason, 2012) against presenting research methods as a rarefied academic field so that undergraduates feel disempowered and intimidated. This philosophy permeates the book which values and celebrates small-scale research of individuals’ own practice. Rather than ‘having a go’ at research as part of learning about research methods, the authors stress the importance of practitioner-based research as a way of life, not just to pass a course.
Walker and Solvason are both experienced tutors so instead of focusing on methods and tools they draw effectively from a selection of student research to illustrate different approaches to engaging in practitioner research. The first chapter, ‘Considering your research question’, should be mandatory reading for any novice researcher. Eager to get started on what they see as the proper matter of research (namely gathering data), students frequently make over-hasty decisions in the beginning, creating difficulties for themselves that emerge too late to backtrack. This chapter considers the purpose of one’s research – a fundamental starting point but often overlooked in favour of extrinsic, academic goals. It discusses potential areas of enquiry to highlight the pitfalls and ethical quagmires that may trip up the inexperienced. Having determined a research focus, Chapter 2 builds on this to consider personal values, subjectivity and transparency. The commentary on extracts from student research helps bring these issues to life, illustrating students’ own predispositions, theoretical leanings and conceptual approaches – what Roberts-Holmes (2011) refers to as ‘personal research stories’. Without clear reflection on the points raised in these initial chapters it is unlikely that students’ research will be personally meaningful beyond the instrumental purpose of gaining a qualification.
The complexity of ethics when children are involved in research means it is often dealt with unsatisfactorily – either unjustly sidestepped by assuming consent from parents will suffice or avoided altogether by conducting questionnaires and interviews with adults. As the focus of early years practice is clearly on young children, the robust, value-based rather than procedural approach to ethics taken up in Chapter 3 supports practitioners’ decision-making in helping assess when and how to include children’s voices. Each subsequent chapter contributes useful perspectives on the elements that anyone starting an inquiry must take into account but the research process is always driven by practitioners’ own concerns and contexts. In particular the methodology chapter benefits from this treatment, analysing two different examples to illustrate how the writers have created their own individual approach. Too often students’ methodology section in dissertations stands separate from their study. Strong emphasis during teaching sessions on research methods, even a ‘slavish attachment’ amounting to ‘methodolatory’ (Janesick, 1994:215), intimidates many so they do not ‘own’ their methodology; as a result this section is not integrated into the whole. A large proportion of the methodologies I read as an external amount to little more than essays on everything-I-know-about-methodology, with terms such as ‘epistemology’ and ‘ontology’ thrown in for extra marks. Walker and Solvason’s focus on research design from a starting point of personal values and motivation may help counter this tendency.
Further chapters on gathering data, analysing findings and drawing conclusions follow the same practitioner studies to show how ideas crystallise. Many students struggle with analysing qualitative data, resorting to quantitative methods such as graphs and statistics – an approach akin to providing a knife and fork for eating jelly. The authors encourage ‘playing’ with the data stressing the importance of submerging oneself in findings to fully process them. This supports triangulation rather than just reporting findings from each separate research method consecutively.
Although the authors stress the need to be transparent about motivations and decisions I would have liked to see a more explicit treatment of reflexivity. Reference is made to a reflexive approach but this becomes conflated with reflection as the concept is not explored or explained; I think this was probably necessary for the intended audience who are so accustomed to exhortations to reflect that they may not recognise the subtle difference. But Walker and Solvason make it clear that their intention is not to produce a ‘how-to’ manual so they deliberately steer clear of jargon and specialised language. Instead they hope to encourage practitioners to engage in purposeful research to enhance practice and develop a research culture. Nonetheless those looking for ‘how-to’ advice will not be disappointed. This book is an important resource that helps democratise research and I would recommend it to any student undertaking undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications as well as tutors and supervisors.
References : Janesick V.J. (1994) The Dance of Qualitative Research Design, in Denzin, and Lincoln (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research, California: Sage. Roberts-Holmes, G (2011) Doing your Early Years Research Project, London: Sage. Solvason, C (2013) Research and the Early Years Practitioner-Researcher, Early Years: An International Journal, Vol 33 (1): 90-97.
Rory McDowall-Clark, September 2016.
Interacting or Interfering? Improving interactions in the early years, by Julie Fisher, Maidenhead, England, Open University Press, 2016, 208pp., £21.99 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-33-526256-4 ………. In her new book on improving interactions with young children, Julie Fisher asks us to consider the difference between interaction and interference – an important distinction when all too often talk with young children is dominated by early years educators, to the extent that Fisher suggests they get more practice in speech, language and communication than children do. Frequently practitioners talk too much and ask too many questions, leaving no room for children’s own thinking – but here, as always, Fisher starts from the child’s perspective, urging us always to ask ourselves the question ‘what does the child gain from this interaction?’ The answer to this straightforward question is not a matter of ‘something’, or else ‘nothing’. Children will always derive something from interactions with adults, but what that is may be confusing or demotivating when adults are tuned into their own agendas rather than those of the children. Fisher explores how effective practitioners can enhance children’s learning so that they always gain something positive (whether that is cognitive, social, emotional, dispositional or metacognitive) through their interactions with adults.
This is no mere ‘how-to’ book; based on four years action research with the Oxfordshire Adult-Child Interaction Project it draws on data from baby-rooms to Year Two classes. Participants were filmed every term over a couple of years and used the digital video footage to jointly reflect on aspects of their practice with a practitioner buddy. Individual logs and group analysis helped build up a broad picture of effective practice and useful strategies to support young children in thinking, expressing their thoughts and becoming skilled communicators. Extensive transcripts illustrate particular points as well as capturing how what is intended as interaction can easily become interference and get in the way of children’s learning.
The first chapter sets out the background for the rest of the book by considering the importance of interactions for young children’s learning and how we might come to some understanding of what constitutes ‘effective’ interaction. Fisher draws on influential work from the past (such as Tizard and Hughes, 1984; Wells, 1985) to show what we can learn from parents’ effective communication with their children, pointing out that in the home, children ask the questions and adults are there to supply the answers whereas in nursery and school it is usually the other way round. The chapter considers the place of language in the curriculum and how practitioners can consolidate learning, emphasising the importance of practising, repeating, revisiting and rehearsing rather than always trying to hurry children on to their ‘next steps’.
A particular strength of this book is its clear recognition of babies and toddlers as effective communicators from birth and Chapter 2 focuses specifically on the first twenty four months. The importance of adults’ sensitive responses are emphasised here and then picked up within subsequent chapters to establish the particular needs of very young children. Other chapters cover themes and topics emerging from research participants’ reflections on their own interactions with children, such as what features make the environment conducive to conversation, strategies to sustain meaningful talk, ways to engage reluctant talkers, children with speech and language difficulties and those with an alternative home language. Along the way Fisher touches on pedagogy, curriculum, policy, the balance between adult- and child-led learning, literacy and assessment, making explicit how interaction is integral to all good early years practice. Each chapter provides transcripts with analysis as well as useful prompts for analysing one’s own practice, encouraging deeper thinking and critical reflection.
I particularly enjoyed Chapter 9 on questions that work and questions that don’t. Practitioners often rely on questioning as a means to engage children in conversation but, as the participants in the Oxfordshire Project came to realise, this is often an unhelpful strategy. Adults’ questions risk taking control of learning away from children themselves and ‘breaking the threads’ of their thinking. Fisher explores many different types of questions, demonstrating why some are more effective than others and provides alternative strategies such as making statements. Practitioners who were able to ‘retrain’ themselves to avoid posing questions found that their interactions became richer as a result with longer and more intricate contributions from the children.
There is a tendency for adult talk to dominate nurseries and schools in an attempt to manage, organise and interrogate children’s learning; this closes down children’s own investigation and capacity for thought. Fisher points out how ‘the very act of “being an educator” can sometimes distort the nature of an interaction so much that it inhibits the very learning it is trying to promote’. In this timely, thought-provoking and very readable book she prompts us to think more deeply about interactions and adapt new strategies to encourage all young children to engage in meaningful and enriching talk.
Rory McDowall-Clark, March, 2016
Parker-Rees, R. and Leeson, C. (2015) Early Childhood Studies: an introduction to the study of children’s lives and children’s worlds. London: Sage– Rod Parker-Rees is co-editor with Caroline Leeson of this fourth edition of this popular book which is a comprehensive, up-to-date, challenging and accessible core text for the Early Childhood Studies courses. Throughout, key theories and research findings are highlighted and explored to help link theory and practice. It covers the important themes of child development, communication, wellbeing, observation, working with parents, inclusive practice, leadership and research. Altogether there are eight new chapters. (If you click on the title, it will take you to the publisher’s page.)
Gramling, M. (2015) The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education: What We Know vs. What We Do. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press. This book examines the disconnect between public policy and classroom practice – and what educators need to change in order to teach children well. The authors argue that early childhood educators need to be cognizant of the disconnect between public policy and classroom practice – and they say that the success of children they teach depends on it. This book analyzes how ineffective practices are driven by unexamined public policies and why educators need to challenge their thinking in order to make a difference in children’s lives. A very complex story about public policy and the importance of teaching is told while entertaining and engaging the reader throughout.
Stacey, S. (2015) Pedagogical Documentation in Early Childhood: Sharing Children’s Learning and Teachers’ Thinking. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press. This book provides a step-by-step guide to documenting children’s ideas, questions, and learning. Pedagogical Documentation in Early Childhood is an inspiring step-by-step guide to documenting children’s ideas, questions, play, and learning in a way that enhances teachers’ thinking and understanding at the same time. This book supports teachers on their journey to tell the stories behind children’s work and inquiry.
Edwards, M. and Davison, C. (2015) Global Childhoods (Critical Approaches to the Early Years). St Albans: Critical Publishing Ltd. Taking an ecological approach, this book examines how culture and society shape childhoods through considering the lived experiences of children internationally. It begins by questioning the meaning of childhood and explores the historical, cultural and social views of childhood and children, including the roles of race, class and gender. It considers families and parenting from a global perspective and progresses to examine the relationship between the state and children by evaluating international approaches to education, health and welfare and the ways inequalities between the minority and majority world impact on children. The role of research on and with children in informing these debates is fully explored. Most importantly the reader is challenged to reflect on how global perspectives can be used to support an understanding of inclusion and diversity in their practice.
Medwell, J. (2015) Training to Teach in primary schools: A practical guide to School-based training and placements. (3rd edition). London: Learning Matters. For student teachers, the experience of school-based training is exciting but also challenging – this book supports them throughout and prepares them for the journey ahead. This book begins by helping trainees to plan their own journey through training and beyond. Taking control of their own training in this way supports student teachers to approach the course with confidence, and secure their first teaching job. The book provides guidance on:
- adapting to working in school
- observing, planning and evaluating in school
- teaching on placement
- assessing, monitoring and reporting on children’s progress
- self-evaluation and how to pre-empt and resolve issues
- securing the first teaching job and succeeding in the NQT year
Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. and Taylor, A. (eds) Unsettling the Colonial Places and Spaces of Early Childhood Education (Changing Images of Early Childhood). New York: Routledge. This book uncovers and interrogates some of the inherent colonialist tensions that are rarely acknowledged and often unwittingly rehearsed within contemporary early childhood education. Through building upon the prior postcolonial interventions of prominent early childhood scholars, Unsettling the Colonial Places and Spaces of Early Childhood Education reveals how early childhood education is implicated in the colonialist project of predominantly immigrant (post)colonial settler societies. By politicizing the silences around these specifically settler colonialist tensions, it seeks to further unsettle the innocence presumptions of early childhood education and to offer some decolonizing strategies for early childhood practitioners and scholars. Grounding their inquiries in early childhood education, the authors variously engage with postcolonial theory, place theory, feminist philosophy, the ecological humanities and indigenous onto-epistemologies.
Alanen, L., Brooker, L. and Mayall, B. (eds) (2015) Childhood with Bordieu. London: Palgrave Macmillan. This book theorizes childhood within sociological concepts. Over the course of nine chapters, authors give detailed accounts of the lives of children in a range of societies, including England, sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Ireland, France, Andhra Pradesh and Finland. They describe their studies in the light of Bourdieu’s key concepts – field, habitus and capital – to consider the social status of childhood, the tensions between schooling and work in the lives of children, children’s relations with adults, and the pressures on childhood resulting from globalization and from the professional discourse of those adults who aim to help them.
Ephgrave, A. (2015) The Nursery Year in Action: Following children’s interests through the year. Abingdon: Routledge / David Fulton. Demonstrating how a child-led approach supports the development of purposeful, calm, confident and independent children, The Nursery Year in Action offers a unique month-by-month overview of the workings of an outstanding Nursery setting. The book covers all aspects of practice from the organisation of the classroom and garden and the rationale behind this to the routines and boundaries that ensure children are safe, happy and therefore able to explore and learn. It tracks the events of each month in the year paying particular attention to the environment, the role of the adult, links with parents, children’s individual needs and the key areas of learning and development. Throughout the book Anna Ephgrave gives the reason behind each decision and shows what the outcomes have been for the children, emphasising that a child-led approach, with planning in the moment can meet the requirements of the revised Early Years Foundation Stage and the individual needs of the children.
Moyles, J. (ed.) (2015) The Excellence of Play (4e). Maidenhead: Open University Press. Play as a powerful learning and teaching experience remains key to effective early childhood education. Retaining its popular approach and style, this new edition reflects the contemporary context of early childhood education and care as well emerging research on young children’s development. The emphasis remains firmly on demonstrating the excellence of play and its contribution to children’s overall learning and development in the early years, and the role of adults in promoting inspirational playful pedagogies. It offers new coverage on topics such as brain development, gender, babies’ play, cultural diversity and inclusion, children as researchers, new technologies, outdoor play and international dimensions. (A range of TACTYC members and Exec have contributed to this new edition.)
Wharton, P. and Kinney, L. (2015) Reggio Emilia Encounters: Children and adults in collaboration. London: David Fulton. This inspiring book is based upon a documentary approach successfully implemented by Stirling Council in Scotland, whose pre-school educators experienced dramatic improvements in their understandings about young children, how they learn and the potential unleashed in successfully engaging families in the learning process. This approach; which is based on careful listening to children and observation of their interests and concerns, centres around recording and commentating on children’s learning through photos, wall displays, videos and a variety of different media.
Sayre, R., Devercelli, A. Neuman, M. and Wodon, Q. (2015) Investing in Early Childhood Development: Review of the World Bank’s Recent Experience (World Bank Studies). World Bank publications. Kindle edition. This study provides an overview of Bank investments in Early Childhood Development (ECD) from 2000-2013 within the Education, Health, Nutrition and Population, and Social Protection and Labour practices. The study summarizes trends in operational and analytical investments in early childhood, including lending and trust funded operations at the country, regional, and global levels. Findings are presented on the overall level of finance during this thirteen-year period, the number of ECD investments, and regional and sectoral trends. A series of case studies are presented to highlight lessons learned to inform future Bank support to ECD and to promote better planning across sectors and regions. Trends in analytical and advisory activities are also discussed, including economic sector work, technical assistance, partnership activities, impact evaluations, programmatic approaches, and knowledge products. Finally, the study discusses recent new approaches to support ECD within the World Bank and in client countries.
Smidt, S. (2014) An ABC of Early Childhood Education: A guide to some of the key issues. London: Routledge. This unique and engaging resource describes, critiques and analyses the significance of a wide range of contemporary and classic ideas about how young children learn. Organised in a handy A-Z format, Sandra Smidt: traces back each idea to the roots of how it was first conceived; explores its implications for the early years classroom in accessible terms; makes connections where relevant to other strands in the field of early childhood education; provides examples from her extensive classroom experience and international literature; draws on a range of ideas from both developing and developed countries giving the material a truly global focus; and uses a sociocultural view of learning to underpin the choice or analysis of each idea.
David, J. and Elliott, S. (eds) (2014) Research in Early Childhood Education for Sustainability: International perspectives and provocations. London: Routledge. Sustainability is a global issue that urgently needs addressing and for which the most serious consequences are for children and future generations. This insightful research text tackles one of the most significant contemporary issues of our times – the nexus between society and environment – and how early childhood education can contribute to sustainable living. This research text is designed to be provocative and challenging.
Davies, B. (2014) Listening to Children: Being and becoming. London: Routledge. Through a series of exquisite encounters with children the author opens up new ways of thinking about, and intra-acting with, children. The book carefully guides the reader through a wave of thought that turns the known into the unknown, and then slowly, carefully, makes new forms of thought comprehensible, opening, through all the senses, a deep understanding of our embeddedness in encounters with each other and with the material world.
Brodie, K. (2014) Sustained Shared Thinking in the Early Years: Linking theory to practice. London: Routledge. Used as a measure of quality in the ground-breaking Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project, Sustained Shared Thinking is fundamental to good early years practice. The book explores the attitudes, knowledge and understanding that a practitioner must adopt in order to start or develop successful Sustained Shared Thinking.
Charles, M. and Boyle, B. (2014) Using Multiliteracies and Multimodalities to Support Young Children’s Learning. London: Sage. Grounded in classroom practice, this practical book shows trainees and current teachers how to scaffold children’s literacy using a creative and supportive approach. It offers teaching strategies for Multiliteracies (fiction, expository/instructions, poetry, recount) and Multimodalities (reading, writing, speaking, listening, performing, illustrating) and helps to develop a relationship between teacher and learner.
Follarie, L. (2014) Foundations and Best Practices in Early Childhood Education: History, Theories, and Approaches to Learning with Enhanced Pearson (e-text). London: Rowman and Littlefield. Reading to your children has been recommended to parents of young children for decades by literacy experts and recently the Chief OfSTED inspector. The act of shared book reading can promote academic, language, and literacy development; this is grounded in research. Not all shared book reading, however, is equally effective. While this book was written as an invitation to parents, teachers will also find it to be informative in guiding them to establish a supportive climate for sound, developmentally appropriate literacy teaching practices.
Professor Margaret Clark – whom many of you will know from our Conferences – has produced a new and exciting book entitled ‘Learning to be Literate – she documents and critically analyses literacy education over a period of fifty years, drawing attention to the complexity of the orthographic, syntactic and semantic processes a young reader must master in order to make sense of written text. You can find information here.
Brock, A., Dodds, S., Jarvis, P. and Olusoga, Y. (eds) (2014) Perspectives on Play: Learning for Life. London: Routledge. This book examines current research and theoretical knowledge with regards to play as a medium of learning. It presents a review and critical analysis of research in the field whilst exploring development in the early childhood years from a broad range of multi-disciplinary perspectives. The approach offers a dynamic perspective on the practice of play. See: here.
Harrison, L. and Sumsion, J. (eds) (2014) Lived Spaces of Infant-Toddler Education and Care: Exploring Diverse Perspectives on Theory, Research and Practice. Springer. This is a really good compilation of work on infants and toddlers, the result of a week spent working together in Australia and years of reading, revising and discussing each other’s’ work. See Liz Brooker’s Chapter 3, particularly. Download information about the book here.
Brooker, E., Blaise, M. and Edwards, S. (2014) Sage Handbook of Play and Learning. London: Sage. Included in this wide-ranging book is an excellent chapter by Rod Parker-Rees. Download information here.