Tuesday 5 March 2013

The Art of Listening...

Not an easy art to learn - for anyone.
how do we get others to listen?

Today I have been thinking extra hard about listening, especially when it feels some of the children have not been listening.

"You need to listen..."
"Are you listening...?"

Sometimes I think we are using the wrong phrase - yes we want the children to listen to us, but what we really want them to do is to do what we have asked/told them to do. If they do not do what we have asked, it seems rather silly to say

"You need to listen properly"

They probably have listened, but they have probably chosen not to act on your words.

So what should we be saying? Obey seems such a hard word to use, but essentially it is what we are wanting (be honest). We want them to obey us - but that is not how we want to express it - somehow we want a kind of free will to be a part of that process too.
Maybe we should be saying "You need to listen and do what I ask/say" -
there should always be room for discussion, to explain why - and also to listen to the children, maybe they have a valid reason why they do not want to do as you say.

Listening is an art form.

Alison Clark and Peter Moss describe a framework for listening in the Mosaic Approach (Listening to Young Children. The Mosaic Approach.) as multi-method, participatory, reflexive, adaptable, focused on the children's experiences and embedded into practice.

"It is important to understand listening to be a process which is not limited to the spoken word. The phrase "voice of the child" may suggest the transmission of ideas only through words, but listening to young children, including pre.verbal children, needs to be a process which is open to the many creative ways young children use to express their views and experiences."

The use of photographs, art work etc all become a part of the voice of the child, things we need to "listen to".

"We want to emphasise that listening is an active process, involving not just hearing but also interpreting, constructing meaning and responding. Children and adults are a part of this process"

We need to reflect not only upon what we think the children mean, but also what we think the children think we mean as well as what parents think their children mean. Its pulling all the pieces together, the fragments of documentation of words and images that creates the mosaic, the image, the deeper understanding of the child and their learning.

"Listening to young children is a key element in approaches to learning that view children as active participants".

Carlina Rinaldi writes
"...listening is an attitude that requires the courage to abandon yourself to the conviction that our being is just a small part of a broader knowledge; listening is a metaphor for openness to others, sensitivity to listen and be listened to, with all your senses. It is a word that should not be aimed only at children but also towards others. In particular, listening means giving yourself and others the time for listening. behind each act of listening there is desire, emotion, openness to differences, to different values and points of view. We therefore have to listen and give value to differences, the points of view of others, whether man, woman or child, and especially to remember that behind each act of listening there is creativity and interpretation on both parts. Listening therefore means giving value to the other; it does not matter whether you agree. Learning how to listen is a difficult undertaking: you have to open yourself to others, and we all need this."
(In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia. Listening, researching and learning.)

"Listening is a premise of every learning relationship"

So what happens when it feels like the children are not listening? Sometimes we have days, or periods when this happens. How do we get them to listen?

I am listening to them. I am SHOWING them that I am listening to them. I am explaining that I expect them to listen to me and to each other.

Sometimes listening is about safety. Its a necessity and is non-negotiable. Listening to how we cross roads, listening to "now its time to go back for lunch", listening to friends saying "stop"...
Sometimes it feels like there is an awful lot of this kind of listening, which makes it so much more important that we take the time to LISTEN to the children. To listen not just to what they are saying, but also to listen through observation - what are they interested in, how are they using the premises - and then by reflecting on the observations, photos, notes we can create a learning environment and activities and give the time, in response to the children's needs and interests.

The Swedish word for tease is "reta" which is the same word for irritate. Today some of the children decided not to listen, this was a choice they made directly after I asked them to listen. I told them it felt like they were teasing me. THIS they could relate to. None of them liked to be teased, so they all understood how I felt. It felt like a good dialogue about the importance of listening, how we all like to be listened to... with young children this will be an ongoing discussion. Its natural for them to test boundaries, and maybe I should take it as a complement, maybe they feel so secure that they feel they can push to see what happens?

TIME is important, as Carlina Rinaldi wrote, we need to give listening time. Time is not always something 3 year olds seem to have the patience for... so maybe it is ME that has to give it time, to remain calm, to keep on listening, and to keep on expecting that we all listen to each other. By giving the children time to explore new materials  (not always hurrying them by saying "now we have to tidy up because...") will hopefully allow the children to slow down and take time. To slow down and reflect upon what they are doing. To slow down and enter a dialogue - listening and participating.

The pedagogy of listening is central to the Mosaic Approach, to the Reggio Emilia Approach and is most definitely central to a philosophical approach.

On Page 65 of Rinaldi's "In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia" listening is defined as...
  • listening with all our senses (sight, touch, smell, orientation)
  • listening to the hundred, the thousand languages, codes and symbols... listening as time, the time of listening... listening to pauses... listening to your inner voice
  • listening is emotion, curiosity, interest, doubt ... you are influenced by other's emotions
  • listening is active ... it generates questions, a search for the truth
  • listening is not easy
  • listening gives visibility, enriches
This is of course just a brief outline of the pedagogy of listening, it is worth reading the section on listening (well, its worth reading the whole book - or the bits of the book that are relevant to you right now - sometimes I like to read books like that - pick out the support I need - and return to the book many times in different ways, gaining insight and the opportunity to reflect).

The more I read about listening the more it surprises me that anyone can. 
Right now though, I feel I am going to work with TIME and LISTENING. That I make sure that the children have the time to listen, to me and to their peers. To help them be aware of their budding listening skills and to help them develop. To continue to EXPECT them to listen - to respect my words and the words of their peers, and to help them become aware of their listening skills and the benefits that go with this - sharing ideas etc etc...

Will get back to you later in spring about how it goes...

Reflection, December 2013
Looking back at this I remember how frustrated I felt that there was a lack of listening skills... but then it was maybe not so surprising when I discovered more about the preschools they had been to prior to Filosofiska where there had not been an expectation to LISTEN - to each other - and probably not listened to by the adults there either...
Listening is STILL a skill we are practising daily - the talking rings in our philosophy sessions are a concrete way for the children to see that when you are NOT talking then you are listening - and that listening is VERY different from being quiet. The children are usually tired after a philosophy session - and we take them outside to play freely as demands to concentrate further can be overwhelming... this means that our focus on developing listening skills does reduce the amount of time available to other activities we would like to do with children... BUT this thing about time... we NEED to allow the children to develop this skill of listening... as children who are able to listen are able to learn, children who are able to listen will feel safe - because if they REALLY do listen they will also notice how they are listened to and also learn how to respond to others in an appropriate way... children who are able to listen are able to ask relevant questions, to deeper their own understanding...

Yes, sometimes I do feel frustrated that we do not move forward as fast as I would like - that we still have so much half done... BUT that is MY frustration - I keep it under wraps (most of the time) as I want the children to master this skill and not just be aware of this skill...

REFLECTION 2 January 2017
The most wonderful thing  is that time is essential and that with time children develop the most amazing listening skills - to their own thoughts, to each other, to the adults and the world around them... the listening allowed them to exchange ideas, to know that they would be listened to because they knew and valued listening. It enabled their play... it became richer and there were less conflicts... because they were able to share ideas and dialogue with each other before it reached conflict status... and IF it did become a conflict they could easily negotiate together how to resolve it...
I worked with the same children for 3.5 years... the very same children that I talk about in the above post... 3 of them left before the third year (as they started school).

All the philosophy sessions reflect their ability to listen to each other... not listening to answer, but listening to understand each other... documentation of their play, through film, written documentation and photos also show this same ability to listen... with ears, eyes, heart and mind.

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