Pedagogical Documentation in Challenging Times

I have in a much loved notebook that I took on my first ever visit to Reggio Emilia, now nearly 17 years ago, a quote by Malaguzzi scribed on a singular page saying that, “We can only change what we can take charge of.”  In these times of undignified, ugly and paradoxical world ‘leaderships’ whose ideals are seemingly to separate, to isolate, and to deny or describe as fake those very things that others hold dear, what is it, that we can take charge of in order to change, when the ordeal seems so great?

The process of pedagogical documentation we could say is to observe and listen closely to what children say and do, to use those collected traces of documentation (film, photographs, dialogue, artefacts etc) to help us and others to understand how children think and act, which thus helps us then to make better choices of what to do next, and makes visible in the final process of publication the image of the child we hold and have discovered.  It makes visible their dispositions, their meaning-making, the things they value and their ways of seeing the world.  In learning to read documentation it helps us to expand our minds to what is capable and possible when we work in ECE and to what our own image of the child is.  To read more about pedagogical documentation read here and visit Diane Kashin’s wonderful blog at Technology Rich Inquiry  specifically for pedagogical documentation here.

I wonder, therefore, if pedagogical documentation holds within it a power to make visible the values of a humane society?  If we look at the words associated with humane in a Thesaurus we are confronted with terms such as compassionate, kind, kindly, kind-hearted, considerate, understanding, sympathetic, tolerant, civilised, good, good-natured, gentle; lenient, forbearing, forgiving, merciful, mild, tender, clement, benign, humanitarian, benevolent, charitable, generous, magnanimous; approachable, accessible.  These are characteristics I have seen in documentation, where children are often engaged with thinking about nature in relational ways.  They demonstrate and live out these ways of being that offer alternative and multiple viewpoints on climate change, natural systems and relationships in nature and between themselves and ourselves.  Where children exclaim that they can hear daffodils drinking, that trees have songs, that things that grow can talk to each other, that everything belongs together.

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Woodlands Primary and Nursery School. Telford. UK

This drawing was made by a 4-5 year old and details a small stand of trees that the children, as part of a small inquiry group had been exploring.  There was one tree that was different, (can you spot it?)  It didn’t have all its leaves like the others did.  Children had suggested many ways of dressing it up in party clothes to make it feel better or to try and look for its parents.  The comment made after the drawing was complete was;

“We are all together with the tree’s. There is a sad one without any leaves… we can join it.”

For me, this drawing and the sentiment expressed of joining with it reminds me of the human spirt of collaboration, of empathy and the need to be with others.  It offers the antidote to what our news-feeds are filled with, in terms of politics, governance and leadership.  In making it visible and thus sharable we can take charge of what we value in our classrooms, and change what people see.  It worked for a small town called Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, could it do so on a global basis too?

Pedagogical documentation for me has always offered opportunity to share stories that offer a different perspective to the singular story or narrative being told  (the dominant discourses) and thus offers us a way of creating conditions for change to emerge.  The one thing we can take charge of is what we share, so instead of sharing the latest fad for what is on the light box, share instead something powerful, that just might, turn minds to a more humane way of being.

In this video, children from the Pre-Schools of Reggio Emilia share with the global community their thoughts and thinking about Peace.  It is something we can all learn from.

Drawing and Young Children: Re-Connecting With Our Own Poetic Languages

I was privileged last week to be invited to run a workshop about drawing, teaching and young children.  My work began by collecting many different types of drawing media (inks, watercolours, charcoal, soft pastels, oil pastel, pencil crayons of different varieties, aqua crayons, non permanent and permanent markers, graphite, charcoal pencils to name a few.  I also collected together many different surfaces of ‘paper’ including brown paper, textured paper, acetate, corrugated card, cartridge paper of different weights and colours, paper napkins, bubble wrap, tissue and mulberry papers, transparent, opaque and paper of differing sizes.  I aimed to create a palette of surfaces for where the marker would encounter its resting place.

imageIn the book of the exhibition, Mosaic, Marks, Words, Material by Reggio Children (2016) they challenge the viewer to engage in their own poetic thinking in order to see and savour the exhibit.  I took this challenge back to the educators with whom I was working with, to challenge our own thinking and to reconnect with our own creative and expressive languages.

In order to truly see and value children’s poetic expressions the book challenges us to engage wth our own sense of the poetic, the expressive, the imaginative, the metaphoric, so the day was taken up with two practical sessions.

dscn1293Session One involved the testing and hypothesising about the materials offered, finding out what they can do, their affordances, their ways of making marks upon the surfaces available.

 

dscn1301Session Two involved the use the materials and the knowledge gained from the first session to express an idea, to offer a poetic representation in marks and materials.  The idea was to represent a personal idea or something related to the ideas being constructed in the research within their own classrooms together with young children aged 3-4.dscn1303

Many ideas were explored, ideas about houses that belonged in the sky, the difference between noise and music, the representation of a song, of a piece of embroidered fabric, an angry sky, a happy sky,  the phases of the moon.  In doing so, the educators became makers of marks that entwined with the surfaces and narrators of their own metaphors and poetry.  At times, the talk was rich, at other times, we were silent in with our thoughts and making.  We engaged in a kind of slow movement, giving time to the activity of drawing and the expression of thinking.

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What became apparent was that it was the surface of the drawing (often created by ripping up and attaching pieces to another surface that drove and motivated us to make marks.  A finding also of the educators in Reggio Emilia – it was if the surface ‘spoke’ to us of how it could be used and encountered.  The materials therefore were not passive surfaces awaiting marks but surfaces that sought to be  dressed with markers in empathetic and reciprocal ways,  It made me think of how important it is to offer different types of surfaces of ‘paper’ to children, not just as a way of offering diversity but as offering different languages upon which to verbally speak upon.

The sessions enabled educators to become familiar with the materials and drawing instruments, understanding both their affordances and difficulties and thus be better prepared to understand from the child’s point of view how they might experiment and make-meaning with the characteristics and properties of the materials.  It also enabled educators to ‘feel’ how it is to express an idea, how vulnerable it can be, and how we discover and experiment with different strategies (just like the children do) to offer our marks as communicative and expressive acts of a visual nature.

If you work with children, give time to you to draw for yourself, and in doing so, you will notice more of what children do and perhaps, as Malaguzzi famously said, perhaps your teaching will be different from before.