The One Hundred Languages of Children

The One Hundred Languages of Children

© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK
© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK

“The One Hundred Languages is a metaphor for the extraordinary potentials of children, their knowledge-building and creative processes, the myriad forms with which life is manifested and knowledge is constructed. The hundred languages are understood as having the potential to be transformed and multiplied in the cooperation and interaction between the languages, among the children, and between children and adults.”  

Carlina Rinaldi (2013) Re-Imagining Childhood

I have been thinking about and re-visiting my thoughts about The One Hundred Languages poem and what Loris Malaguzzi meant by it, and how it is interpreted in both the Reggio context and in contexts outside of Reggio Emilia.  For Carlina Rinaldi (2013) in Re-Imagining Childhood she says the one hundred languages are transformable and that they are multiplied in the interaction between the languages, children, and between children and adults.

I am interested in what is meant by the interaction between the languages, and between the protagonists of adults and children and what it produces.   So often this metaphor is only used as the individual ways, or preferences in which children express and construct knowledge as a dancer, or through clay, or by writing, or as a scientist.  I think it is one of many interpretations, on a continuum of meaning-making.  This interpretation supposes that children have access to one hundred, but that they choose only one of the hundred as a way of communicating and learning about the world. The poem suggests that it is school who steals the ninety-nine.

I am wondering about the spaces that exist in-between the languages, as children go from one language to another to another – transforming the thinking.  A group of children from Madeley Nursery School in the UK have this year been wondering about the sounds of things that grow.  The idea was born as they listened to seeds jiggling about in a packet and comparing those to other seed sounds.  The work itself transformed for one group, to become about the relationship between two trees and of their relationship to the children.  They listened closely with intent to the seeds and the trees themselves, as the educators listened too with intent to the ideas and theories of the children.  What may have at first appeared as a whimsical and playful idea about trees in communication linked closely to ideas of fungi and tree roots collaborating as they pass nutrients and more to each other, under the floor of the forest.  This represents one language moving to another, from one of listening physically to the tree, with pipes and tubes, to expressing with voice and gesture.  It is the space in-between that transforms the learning into expression.

© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK
© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK

Later in the year, as ideas evolved the small group of children came together to gift the tree with a song.  The song was collaborative, negotiated and composed interweaving many cultural and symbolic meanings together with known nursery rhymes.   The song existed as a song to be sung and as a written document, it was transformed into a set of symbolic drawings representing the many elements of the song and was transformed again from 2D to 3D clay compositional signs that were transformed again with colour.  The clay signs were then given to the tree, together with parents as part of a celebratory coming together.

© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK
© 2016 Madeley Nursery School, UK

I wonder how these transformations from one language to another helped in the transformation of thinking.  Applying the metaphor of a rhizome Deleuze and Guattari (1987) in A thousand plateaus suggest that thinking is multidirectional, holds no beginning or end, and has many possibilities of pathways (tubers).  Olsson (2009) in Movement and experimentation in young children’s learning suggests that thought is provoked when encountered by something unfamiliar.  In moving between languages we can create contexts of the unexpected, so that thought is in a state of continual movement and evolvement.  The song that was sung became an unexpected set of signs in which new stories emerged about its constituent parts.  The transformation from written sign into clay brought another unexpected encounter as 2D signs were made 3D with new possibilities for change and evolvement into more complex signs and symbols that were gifted and left to remain on the tree itself.  Now, the tree was gifted, it formed a new meaning that contained ideas about reciprocity and symbolism for both children, educators and parents.  Its meaning was neither closed or complete as ideas about its existence and transformation continued to provoke new thoughts in the audience it ‘spoke’ to.

According to Deleuze and Guttari (1987) assemblages are structures, metaphoric in content and form that are created through connections and relationships between interactions, materials and artefacts including the cultural and community context, time and place.  We could call the gifted tree an assemblage of an encounter between tree, children, place, and materials capable of expression and meaning-making (languages).

Finally, Rinalidi (2013) reminds us that, “It is the responsibility of the infant-toddler centre and the preschool to give value and equal dignity to all the verbal and non-verbal languages.”  In this way we must create multiple opportunities for all languages capable of both meaning-making and expression in our work with children.  It leaves us  the challenge not just to recognise the One Hundred Languages but to provoke them too, and thus enable the unexpected encounter that gives rise to the birth of new thinking in the continuum and evolvement of learning.

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Pedagogical Documentation as a Tool for Thinking Differently

Refections on Gunilla Dahlberg’s presentation at the Sightlines Initiative conference London, 14th May 2016

IMG_3512I have just attended the Sightlines Initiative/Institute of Education conference about Loris Malaguzzi where Gunilla Dahlberg spoke about the courage to think differently.  The conference began with a rather subdued question and comments session where University lecturers shared their concerns about students who have grown up in the current national curriculum who are now ‘waiting to be told’ what to do… who find it ‘difficult to think’ beyond the statutory requirements of the official guidance and curriculum.  What would Malaguzzi of thought of this discussion I wondered?

510xR6NA+7LThrough reading his writings in the new book Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia edited by Vea Vecchi and Peter Moss and others it seems he would question our image of the student as much as he would ask us to think of our image of the child.  With a rich image of the child, the child who grows up into a student requires a rich educator, and a rich context in which the fruition of their thinking can emerge, grow and evolve.

Gunilla Dahlberg reminded us that:

“There is often a focus on what children can’t do.  So you have to prioritise documentation as a tool for changing your thinking.”  

There is a vitality and a reciprocity in documenting learning processes that enables a rethinking, a multiplicity of perspectives.  She suggests that we must stop focusing on what children (and therefore students) can’t do and to focus on documenting learning as a tool for changing thinking.  Blaming the student won’t do it.  But engaging in a process of pedagogical documentation might do it.

Pedagogical documentation is the capturing through photographs, dialogue, video, notes the experiences of children as a means of reconstructing the learning so that it can be shared with others to gain their point of view.  What we observe is always ever, only partial, and the process of documentation enables us to gain those other perspectives that can provide different meanings and interpretations of what is going on.  Gunilla Dalhberg described this as a strategy that can help others to rethink their own experiences and practice.

The Stockholm Project, that Dahlberg was involved in began as a small network , where people shared small snippets of documentation with each other to find and interpret meaning.  It was empowering and helped to prevent the fall back into the default position of what was safe and known.

Dahlberg reminded us of Malaguzzi’s words to, “Take care of intensity, affect and aesthetic vibration through “listening”.  What a wonderful description of an active pedagogy of listening that is vibrant and alive with potential.

Louise Lowings, a head teacher with whom I work at Madelely Nursery in Telford described the process of teaching in a pedagogy of listening as a constant dilemma:

“The teaching dilemma happens in the moment, there is a change, we look for change, our time is flexible, we are responsive and looking for relationships, of where the energy is, to look for the vitality in learning…we are not interested in the already known, but looking always for the unexpected and trusting in the process of finding and seeing this.  We see knowledge as contestable, or what we see and hear, interpret and re-present in documentation as contestable.”

IMG_3513This contesting is an important aspect of pedagogical documentation – our documentation as already mentioned is only ever partial, but documenting does not mean we are recreating the truth, but that we are offering an image of what we think was going on so that it can be debated, confronted, and challenged.  Therefore pedagogical documentation is a process of struggling to understand (the unexpected), to search for meaning with and through others.  Thus, pedagogical documentation leads to a transformation of thinking, it is a methodology for re-organising both thought and action.  Importantly in Reggio they do not document fixed outcomes, but generative processes of learning in action.

It is the act of pedagogical documentation that helps us to answer these three important questions of Dahlbergs:

  • How have we constructed the learning child (and therefore the teacher) in early childhood education?
  • How have we constructed knowledge?
  • How have we constructed environments for children’s explorations, symbolic activities and play?

1a4f9c4a3434a4e4fec4ce05b7a94296Gunilla Dahlberg shared a beginning of a pedagogical project with children from Stockholm.  It began with a group of children finding a dead Roe Deer in the woods.  This excited the children and the teachers.  The deer was in a state of decomposition with its skeleton partially exposed.  In listening to the children they talked about the exposed skeleton, the reasons why it might have died and how it got there.  The teachers were ecstatic because now they had a project about ‘skeletons’.  They got children to collect skeletons, and the whole pre-school became decorated with different types of skeletons.  Interestingly, when the children were asked to draw their experiences of the roe deer, the children did not speak of the skeletons, but instead talked about the rotting and the bacteria, the knights, the worms and the foxes and eagles.  The educators were disappointed – where were the skeletons? What the children were actually interested in was not the skeleton at all but the process of decay and the bacteria and insects involved.  Thus, work proceeded on the process of decay and a group theory was visualised on the walls of the nursery.  As the children and their theories were drawn and discussed together, capacities of the children to listen to each others theories was increased, so the teachers instead looked at how could the children find out more about bacteria… and of course that lead to many, many more theories about mould:

“The mould comes from a star and falls down to the ground.”

“When you get old you get mouldy.”

“The mould-bacteria spits out the mould onto the  bread.  The mould grows and then the bread is covered by the mould.  The mould-bacteria then flies back to the forest.”

In this way, as Dahlberg continued children were bringing out something totally new – something we have never seen or heard before.  It is not a transmission pedagogy but the surprising discovery of another reality that is often closely related to nature, ecology and life sciences.

So, back to those seemingly problematic students in ECE… if we wish for them to learn then we must provide for them rich contexts and situations of learning so that they can document the vitality and intensity of learning in life.  We cannot continue in a cycle of blame but be open to the possibility that everyone (including ourselves) can learn to see with eyes that can *jump over the wall IF we generate the contexts and conditions for that to happen.

To conclude, let me share this of Loris Malaguzzi as another lens for thinking about documentation as an act of courage in a context of being alongside others:

One has to have the courage to think that if a flower is born this influences upon the sun and the moon… every human being is a context of hundred’s of expressions, experiences and memories.  This context is continuously changing through experience and knowledge.  It is an illusion that one is alone.  We consist of many, one speaks with ones own voice but also with many other human being voices.  (1993)”

Happy Documenting and Sharing of it with others.

*The eye that jumps over the wall, was the title of Reggio Emilia’s first touring exhibition that later became the One Hundred Languages of Children.