So when we first set out on the Talk4Writing journey I was not impressed, to say the least. My dislike came from studying Talk4Writing at Uni and not really appreciating its benefits to younger children who I wanted to teach. As a advocator of good communication I didn't think that it made sense to develop literacy strategies when the children didn't have sufficient CLL skills. However when the program was broken down into its various steps it was clear that our children would be able to do many of the different things - just not the writing the story. Our journey: Our management team returned from a cluster meeting where they all learned about the first stage of Talk4Writing. We had a staff meeting where we had to make up actions for a ridiculous story and draw a story map of it. I was chewing wasps in the corner (still not converted at this point). We then had to teach the children this story and see if they could learn it. We didn't. It was too hard and it fell by the way side, job done - no more T4W. THEN we met up with a couple of other schools for the first of our T4W training days. The local team walked us through the first 2 stages of the strategy and everyone seemed on board. Yikes! At this point I'm still not a convert, "but my children need to learn to speak and to play together before they learn stories." -me! The teacher who I share the class with this year is new to our Nursery but not new to working with younger children. She is one of those happy no-matter-what teachers, so she took this strategy as a challenge and went with it full force. Starting off: She (actually they as we also had a very 'on-the-ball' EYP) started with the 3 little pigs because we were really struggling to bring together our provision under any theme or topic having expelled topics the year before. Three little pigs seemed the right move as the children were quite obsessed with building. They started by introducing different elements of the story - (straw, bricks, sticks, pigs, wolf.) These are introduced to the children in the provision area and are available independently. They also learn that pictures represent parts of the story and these are hung on the washing line. A simplified version of the story was used and the children learned it line by line whilst incorporating the actions (not necessarily Makaton - just actions that helped the children remember the words.) As the children learn the lines it is put together into 'blocks' to retell. The children then work with the teacher to make a 'story map.' Initially this is done together on one large sheet of paper and repeated over a number of days. Children are then given the opportunity to make their own through the provision and in focus groups. These maps develop over time and become more and more detailed. It is important for the children to be able to use these story maps to tell their story, so a few squiggles that helps to remind the children of the story are far more important than a perfect drawing of a pig with no understanding behind it.
Innovation: Now that the children have got a good grasp of the story its time for them to come up with their own. This part is called 'innovation.' Initially the children innovate as a group (between 10-15 children) before they innovate independently. We have tried this a few different ways but the most effective way is to change a few elements of the story rather than write a whole new story. Older children might be able to write a whole new story using the same pattern of the original however at this stage changing the turnip to a strawberry and a man to an alien would be enough. This stage in particular has been very helpful for encouraging the quieter less confident children to start speaking more. Other types of texts: We have tried fiction, non-fiction and poetry. All of them have been very successful. For non-fiction we tried learning instructions for planting a seed and enriched this by having a growing and planting provision area in the setting. The children learned some language structures through this such as 'first, next, then.' We are currently learning a poem for our graduation;) What about those who aren't ready? First, ask yourself what makes them 'not ready?' If the children aren't able to sit or concentrate for longer than 5 minutes, then you're probably right. So the basic skills aren't in place for Talk4Writing.
'Basic skills: Listening and attending to the person speaking, understanding the meaning of words, sitting and concentrating, speaking/repeating.'
We have a good bank of about 20 children out of 90 who's basic skills for T4W aren't quite where they should be yet. So we stripped back the stories which we are using with those children.
I bought 'oh dear' from the local supermarket because the story is so incredibly repetitive. Buster sets off from his Grandma's house in search for the eggs. Each page he encounters an animal but 'oh dear' no eggs. Each page is very simple. For our children we have cut out much of the 'fussiness' and stuck with the very basic refrains. But then there are those who would find this story a bit tricky. Also some of our younger children in the 2's would find 'Oh Dear!' too difficult.
We bought a small collection of 'That's not my..' books. Our plan is to use these books with the children down there. Following the same structure of introducing the story gradually but focussing on the key adjectives within the stories (this set of books has an incredible amount of them.) Further engagement: its important for parents to understand what we are doing and why. One of our ways of doing this has been to display the various stages of T4W in the try at home area of the Nursery.