New Books for Autumn 2021

This autumn we are publishing several new books, including Making Waldorf Crafts by Nina Taylor, World Tales for Family Storytelling by Chris Smith and Creative Form Drawing with children aged 9-12 years by Angela Lord.

Continue reading New Books for Autumn 2021

Review: Science Through Stories by Chris Smith and Jules Pottle

science through stories

This review was forwarded to us by our friends at Footprint Books, who handle our distribution in Australia and New Zealand. Many thanks to them. This review was written by Peter Hope for Let’s Find Out.

I am sure that, like the majority of classroom teachers, the use of a story to introduce a topic is quite common. Books such as Who Sank The Boat? by Pamela Allen led into many exciting discoveries by my classes around the concept of forces and floating and sinking. The book’s text was complemented by the excellent graphics and allowed the students to see the boat’s position on the water surface as each animal entered the boat. The discussion about the poor mouse being blamed went on for a long time (by the way I have used this book from Preps through to Year 6 with similar levels of interest). The resulting “lesson” went on for weeks as my class kept bringing things into the room to see if they would float or sink – such is the power of linking literature with science.

The challenge has always been to find suitable texts and the book I am reviewing answers that challenge quite well. It is based on the English Storytelling School approach to teaching, which is outlined in the first twenty pages. The author’s favourite way of telling and improvising stories –Hear, Map, Step and Speak (HMSS) –is explained clearly. The book contains a collection of engaging stories chosen to introduce and explore the world of science. A mixture of traditional tales, historical stories and stories that have been specially written for this book are presented in the different science categories. The stories have been classroom tested and after each story their are suggestions as to how each one can be used to broaden the children’s learning experience. The interesting thing is that the authors have listed the stories in order of difficulty rather than attributing a grade level. This recognises that children’s learning levels can be over a range of levels within the same class and that teachers will be able to easily access and adapt a story to suit the interest level and skills of their group.

There are 29 stories in the book, arranged into biology, chemistry and physics chapters. Each story begins with a short introduction which includes a synopsis of the plot as well as some relevant science links. The story then follows and after that are suggestions on ways to work the story, ideas for extending the science concepts in the story as well as curriculum links to other areas. A good example of this is the chemistry chapter about the Uses of Materials with the story The Fairy Godmother’s Day Off (this is a comic alternative to the Cinderella Story). The apprentice Godmother handles the dress and clothes transformations well but has no experience to make the coach so an exploration of available materials is undertaken until a suitable solution is found. I can see that this would turn the children’s imagination on and that they would begin to suggest suitable materials to make a strong, waterproof coach. The suggestions from the authors have the students identifying materials  around them, sorting them, testing them to see if they are waterproof, cutting paper, testing for strength and folding and bending materials. Other curriculum areas identified with links to the story are reading (both fiction and non-fiction), music, design/technology, life skills and history.

What a fantastic resource for integrating storytelling into science teaching. I would highly recommend it to all primary teachers as it brings together in one volume such a diverse range of stories suited to teaching science.

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Review: History Through Stories by Chris Smith, Adam Guillain and Nanette Noonan

History Through Stories - Teaching Primary History Through Stories; Chris Smith, Adam Guillain & Nanette Noonan; 9781907359774

This warm and heartfelt review was written by Sue Briggs for Montessori International, issue 120 Winter 16/17. Many thanks for their wholehearted enthusiasm!

Teachers in the 100 storytelling primary schools in England who have already wholeheartedly embraced the Storytelling Schools cross-curricular topic-based approach will rejoice at this latest volume, which this time focuses on teaching primary history. Using the tried and tested HMSS method – hear, map, step and speak – the authors have compiled 37 hand-picked stories designed to engage young learners in the exciting world of  history. Their enthusiasm for encouraging children to work together and find ways to tell and retell a story, helping them use their imagination to put themselves ‘into the shoes’ of people living at a particular time in history, shines through this whole volume. Each story forms a launchpad for creative ideas throughout the curriculum, linking subject areas in surprisingly effective ways. The grace, courage and unselfishness of significant individuals whose actions changed the course of world history – Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Sir Tim Berners Lee being examples – together with the stories of the likes of Boudicca, Henry VIII and Blackbeard, whose motives may have been less honourable but still reflective of their personal beliefs.

Stories of life in Stone, Bronze and Iron ages showing how humans have impacted on the natural environment would be useful to Montessori teachers working with the Timeline of Man as the cross-curricular resources listed demonstrate perfectly how each subject area can be integrated and explored using the story as a creative springboard.

Ancient civilisations are also well represented with stories and legends showing how legal systems, the concept of democracy and mathematical fundamentals originated, together with the Islamic legend about the invention of chess, all designed to pique the curiosity of primary students.

This is history as it needs to be taught – inspiring children with stories of individuals and events to get them thinking and imagining. The only dates in this book are contained in the clear and comprehensive chart of  the stories and topics in chronological order at the beginning of the book.

More please.

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Review: History Through Stories

This review originally appeared in Facts & Fiction Magazine, issue 99, and has been reproduced with permission. For more information about Facts & Fiction, visit the website here. 

History Through Stories: Teaching Primary History with Storytelling by Chris Smith, Adam Guillain and Nanette Noonan – Reviewed by Alastair K Daniels, storyteller, lecturer and author

History Through Stories - Teaching Primary History Through Stories; Chris Smith, Adam Guillain & Nanette Noonan; 9781907359774

History Through Stories: Teaching Primary History with Storytelling is the latest in the Storytelling Schools’ Series. These books are based on Pie Corbett’s approach to storytelling, which will be familiar to many teachers through the ‘Talk for Writing’ materials promoted by the Primary National Strategies (archived by the government in 2010, but available online).

As a storyteller, lecturer in teacher education (and former teacher), and an author myself on the role of storytelling in teaching, I was very much looking forward to reviewing this volume. I hope that I can give a reasonable account of the range of the content, and offer some critique of the potential usefulness of this book for teaching history.

The book is A4 format and spiral bound for ease of navigation, and it is illustrated throughout with simple line drawings. There is an introductory section that explains the Storytelling Schools Approach, and how the authors see the book being used in the classroom. The stories themselves are arranged in a series of (generally) chronologically ordered topics which are related to the history of England as laid out in the requirements of the English National Curriculum.

The topics range from ‘Britain since the Ice Age’ through (amongst others) ‘Romans c. 50-100 AD’, ‘Islamic Empire, Non-European Civilisations c. 900 AD’, ‘Women’s Right to Vote c. 1900’ and ‘World War two 1939-45’ to ‘Global Events: The Moon Landing 1969’. Each topic has between one and four related stories told in what the authors refer to as ‘the storytelling voice’. This means that details such as specific dates and statistics that one would normally find in a history textbook are not included in the tales, but each one concentrates, rather, on the narratives of characters through whose eyes events can be understood. Most of the time this means kings and queens, politicians and inventors, but there are also accounts of a girl working in a cotton mill, and a boy who is a victim of slave trading in the eighteenth century.

These last examples lead naturally to a critique of the book as a useful history text. There are thirty-seven stories in this book, but it is a surprise that there is not a single source cited, which perhaps explains the occasionally loose understanding of chronology (such as implying that the slave trade was a Hanoverian phenomenon). The authors make the point that they are working within the genre of historical fiction, but there is an essential difference between a fiction based on a specific historical character (such as the father of Anne Frank) and one built around a character created to illustrate a particular period (such as ‘a British boy who joins the Roman army’). The use of storytelling in teaching history is not without its critics: any retelling of history is necessarily partial, both in its pointof view and the range of historical information that it can include. I think it is a pity, therefore, that the authors didn’t make space for a short discussion, either at the beginning or the end of the book, about the difference between conventional historical accounts and historical fictions/stories told in the ‘storyteller’s voice’, and the ways in which such stories should be used alongside more formal sources.

Of broader concern is a question about the Storytelling Schools Approach in relation to teaching history. I am an enthusiastic teacher of storytelling, and advocate of storytelling being used across the curriculum, but I have to question the limited rationale for the application of ‘imitation, innovation and invention’ as a specific approach applied to history (it has recently been critiqued as an approach to developing children’s writing in Dockrell, J., Marshall, C. and Wyse, D. [2015] Talk for Writing: Evaluation report and executive summary [available online]). Whilst encouragement for children to ‘create innovated stories with new settings, characters or activities based around the original story’ is standard classroom practice (e.g. ‘imagine you are a child in a textile factory, and write a letter home to your parents’), it does need to be understood within a broader approach to history, and an understanding (on the teacher’s part) of those elements of historical accounts that are open to interpretation and fictionalising, and facts that are not negotiable.

In summary, I think that this book would provide a useful resource for teachers who are familiar with storytelling as a teaching technique, providing a range of stories that could be used to support curriculum history across Key Stages 1 and 2. I would hope, however, that teachers who are not used to embedding storytelling in their practice would seek advice about how to make the most of stories in their teaching.

Buy the book here…

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Review: Science through Stories

cover of Science Through Stories

This review of Science Through Stories appeared in issue 10, Winter 2015/2016 of Journal of Emergent Science, and was written by Amy Strange. Many thanks to this fantastic journal!

Talk for writing’ has widely accepted benefits for literacy teaching, so it is not so surprising, though gratefully received, that the idea has caught on throughout the curriculum, and Science Through Stories is the answer for science! It is the result of collaboration between Chris Smith, one of the pioneers of Storytelling Schools, and Jules Pottle, a primary science specialist teacher. The book aims to use stories as a foothold to engage children in science, by combining the scientific explanation with storytelling.

The book follows the Storytelling Schools model, which is outlined in some depth in the first twenty pages, so that even those who have never encountered the approach are tooled with the relevant strategies for making the stories work in the classroom. The main idea is that the stories are told rather than read by the teacher, and the children learn the stories verbally and take ownership of them. In this way, they become acquainted with the scientific concepts and vocabulary in a context-driven manner.

Those who are familiar with a storytelling approach will recognise the format of the book, which is consistent across the Storytelling Schools Series; however, this volume gives much more structure and ideas for using the stories than its predecessor. Each story is prefaced with a short introduction including a plot synopsis and the most obvious relevant science links. This makes it quick to choose a story, as you don’t have to read each in detail first. The introduction also outlines any relevant cross-curricular links; for example, the story ‘Little Rabbit Goes Home’ can be used to teach about sound, animal habitats, or as a fable for self-esteem! Following each story there are ‘Top Tips for telling’, which are ideal for less experienced storytellers, but also give a good emphasis on the drawing out of the science most effectively. The authors then provide ways to work with the story using the Storytelling Schools method and the directly and indirectly linked science. Pottle’s teaching expertise is clear in the numerous suggested practical science activities that can be used with the story, and a detailed page on how other curriculum areas can be associated.

There are over 25 stories in the book, arranged into biology, chemistry and physics chapters, and then into a topic within each of these disciplines. The stories cover the main areas taught in primary school science, but there is no formal mention of curriculum objectives; the book should stand the test of time. There is also no ordering by Key Stage or year group, as the stories are meant to be adapted and are versatile enough to be used across the school; however, for speed of use, within each chapter the stories are in ‘general order of difficulty’.

The stories are a range taken from history, biography and world cultures as well as a huge proportion that have been made up by the two authors. Teachers are also encouraged to adapt stories from the book, or even make up their own story, to either access a particular teaching point or engage a particular group of children. For example, when teaching electricity, it was not too difficult to modify ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Son’, which is the inspiration for the cover of the book, to give it a Christmas twist while using the same scientific concepts to make it relevant to the term of teaching and the mood of the class.

Some of the stories end in a problem, which the children are tasked to solve, others open up questions for discussion, but in all the stories the science is not fully explained, so there is plenty left for discussion, exploring and, ultimately, learning. It may be argued that the time taken to tell and learn a story takes away time from activities and, while it undeniably does take time to use this approach, that time is not wasted as scientific concepts and understanding are being developed through the verbalisation of the story. Indeed, a particular strength of the book is the repetition of scientific vocabulary, which the authors weave into the telling. These keywords become part of the children’s retelling and, in the same way as talk for writing, the words become familiar and understood. One example is ‘The Children of the Water God’, which primarily covers the water cycle and includes the terms ‘evaporate’ and ‘water vapour’.

It is certainly true that science taught skilfully does not ‘need’ stories but, if they help children to be engaged and have a context for understanding, they are more likely to access deeper learning, which jumping ahead to practical activities may not achieve for all students.

It is refreshing to see a book that puts science at the heart of learning, and links other subjects to the science, rather than the other way around. Schools that are already embracing the Storytelling Schools approach will find this book an integral part of science teaching, but even schools who have never ventured into the approach will find there is plenty to be gained by accessing this book, and teachers should feel hugely supported using the stories thanks to all the extra material.

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