Monday 13 February 2017

Challenging ideas (My Reggio)

During the last few weeks I have been reflecting quite a lot on what the Reggio Emilia Approach means to me... since I have been interviewed for online conferences, podcasts and written some articles about the Reggio Emilia Approach (check this link to find out more about the free online conferences) ...

I have also had time to read blogposts, articles and books that have got me thinking and making pedagogical somersaults...
In the last few days Diane Kashin wrote a post Playfulness and Playlessness: The Politics and Pedagogy of Play on her forever inspiring blog Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research... her reflections were inspired by a post by Debi Keyte-Hartland Pedagogical Documentation in Challenging Times .
Not surprising really that educators who appreciate the Reggio approach should read each other's posts and be inspired to write... taking the thinking further, adding their own reflections... allowing an idea to expand, to be diverted, altered or challenged.
I think the "challenging" part is the hardest... not only to do the challenging but also to be on the receiving end of having your ideas challenged.
But I do believe that this challenging part is incredibly important... especially in the political climate we have today that both Debi and Diane talk about in their posts... the need to be humane... to be a positive part of the social fabric... not just following, but making informed choices... this can be done through making the humane visible as Debi writes and by giving freedom as Diane writes.

There is a phrase in Swedish which I feel is often thrown around but seldom truly exists - "högt i tak" which means high in the ceiling. This refers to that we are open to all ideas, that we accept the opinions of others, that we can talk frankly with each other, and that ALL are valued. Nearly every workplace I have worked at has used this phrase... seldom has it been active.
So why is it so hard to have a high ceiling? And why is it so important in "my" Reggio?

I feel it is important because if we are to evolve as educators we need to be open... to our own limits, to our failures, to the ideas of others, to the concept of having our ideas challenged... not to be proven wrong but as part of the process of expanding the idea, to be open to the idea that it is ok to challenge others and that they will not get offended... to learn how to do this respectfully... but at the same time I hear about the heated dialogues of Reggio Emilia and feel are we being too polite all the time with each other... is our politeness getting in the way of us evolving as educators, of being able to see pedagogy from a new perspective?

Time and time again there are dialogues in the facebook group Reggio Emilia Approach where people get uncomfortable with the challenging bit... which I think is a shame... there needs to challenging... of course with it being a group with well over 23,000 members from around the world there is a need for respect... not just being polite but a  respect that we view pedagogy from different perspectives... the Reggio Emilia Approach is not about lifting the pedagogical approach carried out in the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy and recreating it elsewhere... it is about redeveloping the approach to suit the needs of your own context... where we meet as educators is our view of the child as competent, ourselves as co-researchers/co-learners with the children, a pedagogy of equality and a pedagogy of listening. To have equality means valuing all of those 100 languages, valuing the potential of all... no matter gender, religion, ability, age etc etc; listening means understanding the children, understanding your own context... including your political context - understanding how stereotypes influence your teaching/interactions with the children in your care.
So how can we be respectful and not just polite... so that we are open to the challenges and can challenge in a meaningful way...

I think part of the problem is school... we have all been trained in a school system that has its focus on reading and writing... communication though is much more than reading and writing... it is MOSTLY listening...

communication - listening 40%, talking 35%, reading 16% and writing 9%

As you see in the above image (free Swedish lesson here) despite writing being only 9% of communication an awful lot of school time is spent on this area, and often from a far too young age, when there could still be more focus on the other skills - especially the listening and talking. There are next to no learning opportunities for children in listening... real genuine listening... not the kind of listening that lets you hear words, but the kind that allows you to understand the point of view of another... because if you know how real listening feels then you can also recognise it in others... then you feel more free to share your opinions and ideas with others...
The last four years I have worked philosophically with children... I also saw that I needed to support the children in their listening skills to make those philosophical dialogues more meaningful... so through play and art we explored listening and became better listeners... this blog shares that listening journey. But it was not only the children that got better at listening... so did I... I was learning with the children... I am still learning and one day I hope to be a great listener. I was told that i was a good listener when i was in Palestine... that I listened with an openness and with respect; and really I have my preschoolers to thank for helping me get to that place where other adults comment on it...

So I think it is hard for people/educators to have that high ceiling because we never get enough time to hone our listening skills, to practice being open... to let go of our own agendas so that we can understand the perspective of another. TIME. We need so much of it... time to practice, time to make mistakes, time to reflect, time to communicate with each other. So much time is filled with "must-haves" that often we are not give the chance to let go of our agenda, that we feel is important... that is important.
So how can we give each other more time, give ourselves more time so that we can build that ceiling high and use its full potential?

Free thinking... free speech... it also comes with the risk that we have our ideas criticised... but we need to be open enough, free enough, to explore these criticism as a way to expand your own thinking or solidify your own thinking... even, possibly, make a pedagogical somersault and change your thinking...
pedagogical somersault... was first used in connection with viewing the child as rich and full of potential to learn with the educator rather than being empty and  being needed to be filled by the teacher...

some quotes to reflect on about free speech, a high ceiling, the need to stand up for the right to express our opinions... and the hundred languages...

“Do not make the mistake of thinking that you have to agree with people and their beliefs to defend them from injustice.” 
― Bryant McGillVoice of Reason

“No idea is above scrutiny and no people are beneath dignity.” 
― Maajid NawazIslam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue

“The idea that you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is what I absolutely do not subscribe to.” 
― John Cleese

“Discourse and critical thinking are essential tools when it comes to securing progress in a democratic society. But in the end, unity and engaged participation are what make it happen.” 
― AberjhaniSplendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays

“[T]he imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity.” 
― George Orwell

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” 
― George Orwell

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” 
― Oscar Wilde

“Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.” 
― Neil Gaiman

“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.

― Winston S. Churchill

The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.
The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

 (The FB group mentioned above "Reggio Emilia Approach" is a closed group for educators and parents interested in learning about REA and also sharing inspiration, a place to ask questions)

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Invitations to Play....

Today I saw a invitation to a twitterchat, which given time I will more than likely join in, where the chat is about "Invitations to play".

It got me thinking... what exactly does this mean?

Why are we inviting children to play? Isn't this something that they do? Isn't this how they explore the world and connect with each other?
Shouldn't our focus be on how do we create the TIME and SPACE for children to play?

OR, maybe (more than likely) the title is referring to how we educators can influence their play... how we can extend their play, how we can put a pedagogical lilt on their play. Really, it's not about making play available to children, but how we can manipulate play... that might not be a bad thing... but it is something we need to be aware of... that power we have over the children and their play.

OR, the title could be referring to how we as educators can learn from play... what invitations do we put out for the children so that we can learn more about what the children already know, how they interact with each other and the materials, about the children's problem solving skills, to learn about the children's various learning styles... there is much we can learn by observing children at play... that will enable us to know what materials we can put out that will invite the children to extend their play, to deepen their understanding of the world around them.

So I am looking forward to this evening... 20:00 GMT, 21:00 CET (me) which would make it
15:00 EST - for those of you across the pond that might be able to make it, despite being the middle of the afternoon. If not, why not check out the chat afterwards to see what was discussed and what ideas were presented as play invitations

#EYshare is the hashtag to use... you can find me on twitter @SuzanneAxelsson. My twitter account is only used for sharing learning, play and Early Years ideas.