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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

EMERGENT LISTENING

Two years ago, I wrote a couple of pieces on listening.  One was called: Thanks for Being a Good Listener.  I had just read "The Pedagogy of Listening" by Carlina Rinaldi in the third edition of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation.  The gist of the post was that listening in the classroom is not unidirectional with the children doing all the listening.  Rather it is multidirectional with the adults and children in the classroom engaged in multiple reciprocal listening exchanges.

I followed that up with a post called: Being a Good Listener Part II.  In that post, I echoed three points by Rinaldi:  1) Children have ideas that they want to express; 2) By listening to them, we give value to their ideas; and 3) By listening to them, we show we care and, as a consequence, we help forge strong emotional bonds with the children.

Last year, I wrote a piece called: Listening Again.  There I found an example from an older video in which you could hear me talking throughout the video.  I gave directions, gave encouragement and narrated what was going on.  It was meant to be a example of what listening is not.

This year I did not think I would write about listening, but I read a book this summer entitled: Listening to Children: Being and becoming by Bronwyn Davies, a professional fellow at Melbourne University in Australia.  The book has got me thinking about listening yet again.

This is not a how-to book.  It is more of a philosophical book that challenges us to rethink our idea of school which is usually "…seen as a place of discipline and control…dedicated to reproduction of knowledge and the production of predetermined outcomes…"  (p. xii)  She wants us to think of school as a community "…not so much a place, or a finite group of people, but a way of mattering, a way of engaging with the world, and of reconfiguring that world as a place where self and other matter, and make a difference, to each other and with each other." (p. 12)

I understand the idea of school as a place of discipline and control because for many years in my career as a teacher it was my agenda in the classroom.  I am not sure I have wrapped my head completely around the idea of making a place where we matter individually and collectively.  Why? Because I am not sure how to figure out what matters.

For the author, an important part of that answer is emergent listening.  Emergent listening is listening in the moment of the encounter.  The encounter is not simply a meeting or a dialogue.  It is a space created by the interaction and the context in which "Listening is not just to oneself and the other, but to the intensities of forces working on us and through us." (p. 35)

If you are still with me, let me see if I can show you---from my understanding of the concept---a few examples of emergent listening. The first example shows two boys playing together at the sand table.  To understand the context, this was one of our first classes of the year. As you watch, you will see an amazing amount of cooperation by these two boys, especially considering this was the first time these two played together.  (The video quality is not so good because it was taken several years ago.)

Dumping the bucket from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

They started with a common task: pouring sand in a bucket next to the table.  As one child began to pick up the pail, the other one recognized what the other was doing and coordinated his moves so eventually they were both doing the same thing again: pouring one big bucket into another big bucket.  It was essentially a dance in which the children were improvising and coordinating their moves.  They were creating a space of encounter in which they were listening to each other on a level that had very few words.  The space was created moment by moment and could not be predicted.

The next example is a bit different because the child was listening to her own actions and the effect of those actions.  To understand what was happening in the video, there are a few aspects of the context that need some explanation.  The water she was pouring contained dish soap so bubbles formed through a lot of agitation.  The funnel the child was pouring water into emptied into a PVC pipe.  Someone had plugged the PVC pipe so it was filling up with water.  These, in essence, are some of the "intensity of forces" the child was working with.

Look what I did! from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She was quite pleased with herself to see what she could author with her actions.  As she poured water into the funnel, the PVC was so full that the bubbles rose out of another funnel.  For her, it became more than a pouring activity.  It became her creation because she was listening with her whole being in the moment to something she could not have imagined before.

Another example is video of a child who traced her hand to make a handprint.  That activity is done all the time in preschools, but not the way she did it. The child got down on the floor and traced her hand in the sand that had spilled on the floor from the sand table.

Handprint from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What were the "intensity of forces" flowing through this child to combine the spilled sand on the floor with the operation of tracing her hand?  I venture to say that the author would call this a fleeting moment that leaves a trace of an idea not previously thinkable. (p. 5)

Up to this point, the examples of emergent listening have been videos.  Can a single picture capture emergent listening?  I like to think this one can.
I took this picture from across the room not knowing what the children were doing.  I did know that in the absence of an adult, they were creating their own space of encounter in which each child was doing his or her own thing in relationship with the others.  I know they were acutely aware of each other and what each other was doing and that knowledge affected their moment-to-moment actions and interactions.  I know their encounter was building a portion of our community, a place that was always emergent in which a multiplicity of possibilities for thinking and doing coexisted. (p. 6)

4 comments:

  1. When I read this piece, it brought to mind "Whole Body Listening" a concept that is part of Social Thinking by Michelle Garcia Winner, a Speech/language Pathologist. The whole body listening concept brings a mindfulness and awareness of how we use our eyes, ears, hearts, etc. to give attention to each other. Social Thinking is designed for children with special needs but I've found its ideas are so relevant for children of all levels of development.
    Eileen

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    1. Thanks Eileen. Do you have a particular reference to Michelle Garcia Winner's work that you would recommend?

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    2. If you go to Youtube, you can find some of her videos from conferences, etc. She's a perceptive, dynamic speaker with a real sense of humor. She's written a number of books. One which I find quite helpful is, "Thinking About You Thinking About Me". Hope that helps.
      Eileen

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