Drawing as Meaning Making

drawing-428383_1280From Reggio, we gain a perspective that the ‘Arts’ are equal and co-existing ‘languages’ of expression and communication alongside and together with other ‘languages’… of science… of mathematics… of written word… of other ways of knowing, describing and discovering the world.  Loris Malaguzzi’s poem,  “No Way.  The Hundred is There” is testament to this.

Materials in this context are referred to as languages that are capable of expression and communication.  However, it suggests that there is an ‘if’ there somewhere…

When working with early childhood educators, one of the things we jointly ponder is the issue of skills and if children must first understand the sensorial properties of materials such as clay, paint, charcoal, markers etc. to then be able to engage in representational, expressive and communicative purposes.  It sometimes seems as if children are asking of materials in their first encounters what is this, what does it do… and then through working with it begin to ask what if or how can I use this?  It fits in a similar way to how Anna Craft (2002) described ‘Possibility Thinking’ as a slide between a realm of finding out and discovering something before using it to represent a specific thought or idea.

Sylvia Kind (2010) challenges this however, saying that: “It is not necessarily a linear progression from experimentation to communication.”  Instead, Kind invites us to think about children’s artistic languages as “explorations in interrogating spaces and investigating relationships, and as a social process of making meaning and as generative acts.”  Therefore children can and do make meaning in complex ways during and simultaneously whilst exploring properties and affordances (the skills) of using any such media.

I have wondered for a long time about the process of meaning making in the act of drawing and in how that meaning can change across contexts.  For example, I once watched a child drawing and after a while she declared to me it was a cat.  Not five minutes later the same child, with the same drawing, told another educator it was a Beanie Baby.  I was left feeling a little confused, was I wrong in my understanding or was the child wrong?  Well it’s not going to be the child, it will always be me!  It seems that meaning making is far more complex, and more generative of multiple meanings that may or may not connect in a logical manner.

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I find this particular drawing that I have shared in a TEDx talk here fascinating for many reasons.  One, because it ‘represents’ something huge and almost unimaginable neatly contained on a single piece of paper.  Two, because the narrative that accompanies it is a strong theory of how the sun and moon works, and three, because of the sheer beauty and aesthetic of it from such a young child.  But let us not (as my good friend and colleague Louise Lowings would say) get lost in the awe and wonder of it, for it might just dazzle us into doing and thinking nothing more about this,  thus remaining fixed and static in our thinking ourselves.

If we take this drawing as simply an expression or communication of what she knows and understands then we would be in danger of just saying she is wrong in her thinking.  The meaning as dictated through her words would be interpreted as singular and unchangeable.  But Sylvia Kind is suggesting that there is more going on.

Now I read this drawing as a generative act, of thinking in action; an active inquiry into the physics of the solar system.  She is not only actively trying to explain something but is also at the same time trying to understand it herself through the action of drawing and the movement of the material across a piece of paper.  It is rich in description, of texture, space, relations, and movement made in a social engagement between where the marker meets the paper, herself and the atelierista who was observing and listening closely to what she was doing and saying.  There was an interaction, it was intra-active.  An encounter between what she knew and what she was becoming to know.  She was drawing objects as she thought them, not as she saw them (to paraphrase Pablo Picasso).  And of course there is the interaction with the audience, of who views the work and their own meaning making.

When viewing a piece of art, we the audience, are drawn into the world of making sense and meaning of that work, its materials, its presence.  The meaning making therefore does not just lie with the maker but simultaneously sits with the viewer too.  Therefore, this drawing is part of a complex creative process, what Sylvia Kind calls an object of encounter rather than just being a drawing that represents or communicates a fixed thought.  Rather it is relational and interdependent.

“…art as a state of encounter considers that meanings are constituted in the relation between things and in movements of disruption of previously held ideas.”

Kind (2010)

So, and with this is mind, I can now re-describe this drawing as an encounter or event as being:

Sociable – and in a process of exchange with others (those who were present but also those who are and become the audience)

Relational – in that it is situated with an interdependent system of meaning making where ideas connect with those in the making, a sense of becoming

Generative – of negotiating meaning, knowledge and understanding with and through the materials to hand

 

It means as educators we need to:

Be open – to the complex and fluid thinking and action of children

Hold an awareness – of our our positioning as audience or partner in drawing

To recognise – that their meaning making is neither fixed or static

To act in researchful ways  – to listen and look out for the connections and interdependencies that become visible (or remain invisible) between the context – maker – audience that are not always logical in order, or sequence

To adjust our pedagogy – to see drawing and other forms of making thinking visible as an encounter or event with many possible directions and not a simple linear journey from developing skills and understanding affordances to expression and communication of a singular thought.

 

References

Malaguzzi, L.  No Way.  The Hundred is There.  Accessed at http://www.thewonderoflearning.com/history/?lang=en_GB on 5th March 2017

Craft, A. (2002). Creativity and Early Years Education. London: Routledge.

Kind, S. (2010) Art Encounters: Movements in the Visual Arts and Early Childhood Education in Flow, Rhythms, & Intensities of Early Childhood Education Curriculum.  Ed. Pacini-Ketchabaw, V.  New York: Peter Lang.

 

 

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Reflecting on Words that Describe the Processes of Children’s Learning

“The teachers art is to CONNECT in real time, with the LIVING bodies of the children with the LIVING bodies of KNOWLEDGE.”
Stephen Nachmanovitch(1993) 

Free Play: Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts

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A page from my visual notebook

 

I have been part of a wonderful learning encounter in Toronto, Canada called #Rhythm2016 with Diane Kashin of Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research.  As part of this experience I have been reflecting on words that are important to me that describe characteristics of children’s learning.  The above quote is never far from me.  It is a quote that reminds me about the relationship between children and their learning and the art of the teacher.

Vitality is a word I am drawn to as a way of describing learning that is alive, fluid, under constant construction and grows in organic and multi-directional directions. It is an energy that must also be present in our teaching.  There are deep patterns of curiosity  and connection to the natural world that go beyond interests in popular culture and schema’s of play.  Relationships to more interrelated and more complex ideas about interconnectedness and interdependencies of nature.  At the centre of their research is a characteristic or drive to find out what it means to be alive in a context of other things that are also alive and full of vitality.

Encounter is a word that for me describes the way in which children experience the world through shared experiences with other children and adults.  If learning is constructed as part of a social group, the encounter serves as either a planned invitation or spontaneous happening or indeed as an offering of an idea that holds a different point of view than your own.  I prefer this over provocation, as it is suggestive of a meeting or coming together of materials, experiences, concepts together with children, ideas and thoughts.

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Felted compositions made as part of a workshop at #Rhythm 2016

 

Playfulness is the word that I try hard to embrace in everything that I do.  It is a characteristic of my own play as an artist with coloured wools and yarns as I felt and create layers of colour representative of my ideas and thoughts in the present time.  Sometimes this playfulness is shared with others, sometimes I am alone in my playfulness.  Working with children, this playfulness is a site of exploration, testing, hypothesising and messing about (David Hawkins) Messing About – Hawkins Centers of Learning

 

 

 

Exchange is about how I consider the foster and generate situations that enable children to exchange ideas with each other so that differing and multiple perspectives can rise up and be ‘encountered’.  It is also a characteristic of teacher/educator reflection on children’s learning  – a process involved with pedagogical documentation that enable teachers/educators to come together to revisit traces of documentation collected (photographs, notes, dialogue, video etc.)  in order to reflect on the strategies of learning of the children and to re-present/re-construct it for further audiences to make further layers of interpretation.

Collaboration for me is the process of working together on a shared idea of the group to realise ideas and thoughts.   It could be a shared question or hypothesis, a shared point of view, a shared representation of thinking in a creative way.  The process of collaboration is linked to the social constructivist idea that children learn socially with and from and each other.  It is the opposite of competition.

Mutual Learning is for me the result of interaction in the process of collaboration.  Again an interdependent process of evolvement in multiple directions rather than progression in linear and hierarchal ways.  Learning that happens as a result of social interaction, in a context of playful encounter, exchange and collaboration.

These words have resonated and reverberated with me this week together with many, many more.  I leave you with this quote that I took from Ontario’s exhibition of Reggio Children’s The Wonder of Learning that for me prompted and reminded me about these words and introduces others.  It feels important to recognise the connectivity of these works that give that vitality to learning.

“Encounters between curiosity, spacial sensitivity and a places ‘invitations’ give form, energy and rhythm to moments.”

The Wonder of Learning Exhibit, Ontario , Reggio Children