Wednesday, 4 February 2015

a hundred languages...

This year I have decided to focus upon listening... to explore what it means and to get better at it...

I have also been reflecting upon the phrase "a hundred languages" and I am begining to feel that something is missing... that maybe we should not be focussing on the children's hundred languages... but on our adult ability to have a hundred ways to listen.
There is absolutely no point in the children having a hundred languages if there is no-one to hear them and understand them, to connect them to other languages, to see the learning and to interact with them...

So if the children are born with a hundred languages the problem is not the fact the children are expressing them but the fact there is no-one there to listen to them... children slowly stop communicating in the languages that are not heard...

How, then, do we train ourselves, as adults, to re-hear all these languages? Is it even possible to rediscover all of them? This is what I am going to try and discover this year... I want to open myself up to the possibility of hearing a hundred languages - actually not just hearing, but listening, understanding them... and to be able to communicate in all 100 hundred.

They [children] are autonomously capable of making meaning from their daily life experiences through mental acts involving planning, coordination of ideas, and abstraction.... The central act of adults, therefore, is to activate, especially indirectly, the meaning-making competencies of children as a basis of all learning. They must try to capture the right moments, and then find the right approaches, for bringing together, into a fruitful dialogue, their meanings and interpretations with those children.

I assume that I need to start with observation... to listen with my eyes. To see languages and traces of languages that I can explore and learn. And to allow the children know I am listening I need to make visible MY learning as well as theirs. I am a facilitator... which I feel my work as a facilitator in philosophical dialogues with the children has allowed me to hear the children on a deeper level... and also allowed me to practice bringing together the children's thoughts, allowing them to see the connections.

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults.
Another way to learn to listen in a hundred languages is to "mess about" as suggested by David Hawkins (you can read more about messing about here, written by Diane Kashin, who co-moderates the international #ReggioPLC twitterchat with me)... by messing about as a teacher we learn how to play with the materials... we relearn how to play, how to explore,  and in this way can discover new possibilities, resources, materials and interactions that we can offer the children.

Messing about also opens up the teacher to making mistakes, and the great power of learning that comes from making mistakes...

If nature has commanded that of all the animals, infancy shall last longest in human beings - it is because nature knows how many rivers there are to cross and paths to retrace. Nature provides time for mistakes to be corrected (by both children and adults), for prejudices to overcome, and for children to catch their breath and restore their image of themselves, peers, parents, teachers, and the world.

Alison Gopnik also talks about how humans have the longest childhood and the power of learning through play... you can read "this post" where I wrote about the competent child after being inspired by Gopniks Ted talk.

So my focus this year is going to be rediscovering the hundred languages... MY ability to listen to them.

This photo is symbolic for me... a child that did not fill the form with sand to make a shape, but placed the form down and placed sand on top. The child was surprised every time when the form was lifted and there was only an outline. The process was right - form sand, patting the form with the spade and lifting it up - but the order was wrong. I waited to see... I listened - and so did other children... they came and explained that the sand needed to go inside the form BEFORE turning over and patting. The "mistake" taught the children that a new kind of shape could be made in the sand - something they had not explored before... and then the sand was filled with 2D and 3D shapes... a communication in sand.


  1. Thanks Suzanne for the wonderful inspirational post. As someone that find itself in a place of many different languages (another culture, tradition, political situation), I found my secret ingredient for my listening super-powers: curiosity!!! In good listening there is the curiosity of understanding how the other perceives the world. Hug, Micaela

  2. For me good listening means that we are not thinking about what we want to say. We need to give the child time.