• Suzanne Axelsson

The Wonder of Learning

I am sorting through my computer and getting rid of old things, and rediscovering notes, and essays and all sorts as I do this... And I came across my notes that I made while sat in various places in the Wonder of Learning Exhibition when I visited it in Toronto in 2016.

I thought I would share them with you...in all their honesty!!!! (although I have checked some of the grammar and spelling). The text below is my thought processes during the visit... I did talk with people, as is mentioned... and opinions change as I slowly interpret and understand the cultural differences of Italian documentation from my own Swedish context. It is also interesting to see how I did go on to explore all of the questions that popped into my head during the visit... anyway... here it is

The wonder of learning exhibition...

For me the biggest initial reaction is the fact that there is little interaction... it is a series of boards to read... in a room without windows... in a room that is not inspiring wonder...

I guess the wonder is on the boards, but my other languages are screaming, what about me...

I walk around the exhibit... where shall I begin... and look and read briefly here and there... Finding the “no photography” limiting... as I not so much want the documentation... but the STYLE/WAY of how it is presented, to be able to take back to Sweden to show them... not to copy but to take inspiration.

Another thing I reacted immediately to, and the reason for choosing this bench and not another to sit on... is the machine for light... there is a model... which does not look like it is built by a child...

this is a reminder that in Reggio it is not the children on their own that are learning, but together with the adults around them... in this case parents and grandparents have helped too.... to create five machine that will reflect the light from the outside into the inside. A pathway of light.

Each documentation panel has between three to six photographs a short description of the research the children are doing

“Building the new machines, with help from the parents and grandparents, and discovering they are able to purposefully direct reflections gives the children a sense of excitement and power. Testing if the machines work in the school gardens leads the group to understanding they need to consider distance as an important variable factor for producing rebound."


"Now we can go really long way with the light, inside and outside the school." Cristian

"Because the light goes where we decide it goes – it's us directing the light. Directing is like driving, I'm going to send it down to there to the end now. The problem is that the sun though, because it as soon as we manage to get the light and send it where we want, if e don't do it in a hurry the light goes away, because the sun controls it, the sun makes it move." Simone

"Now I'm following the reflection of light." Laura

"In my opinion if we get a piece of string we can see how long a path of light can make, because in the string we have the light path without light, the path of reflection." Matteo.

"The light goes out of the last machine. The reflection gives its light to things and so they loses its light and the light gets dim." Claudio


This panel has three photos of the children setting up the machines in the garden and connecting them with string. There is also a drawing that one of the children have made of the five machines and the sun connected together by a path of light.


Before this process they had been in the light atelier to understand how light works and reflections and the use of mirrors... how to use angles to direct the light. So the children were prepared before going out to experiment with the sunlight and light machines.


After making some sketches of the first panel I chose to look at, I moved onto the next one – I spent about 20 minutes at the first... for some reason I have chosen to sit alone and absorb at first by myself... and I think I need this to be able to dig deeper into myself and to get over the initial disappointment.. which really I knew I was going to have... as I am not keen on this method of communication... my PhD studies in museum studies with focus on how children interact with the museums and how people learn, I feel this is a very exclusive way to share information... unless the people/children are raised in this was of interacting with information.

I appreciate that one should attend this exhibition with the view to interpret it in your own way... but at the same time I am working with my children at preschool in a way that we will interpret together... it is apparent from the documentation on the walls that the children are interpreting the world around them not only with each other but also with their teachers and other adults... so why are we expected to interpret this (exhibition) ourselves?

The third teacher... not only so that it communicates with the children, but so that it has a dialogue with the children... this exhibition does not, right now, enter a dialogue with me... it speaks a foreign language... I need someone to translate, at least at first so that I can then go on to discover on my own... just as I have worked with children who do not have Swedish as their mother tongue I do not expect them to interpret the Swedish world around them on their own... I help translate... not only the words, the language, but also the culture... and we are not even getting to the point that we learn and assimilate information in totally different ways... this is a visual and reading language... there are some films (I have not got to those yet) but where are my hands-on experiences... I desperately want to touch... and yet the model had a big don't touch sign... my poor heart sank as I hurried over to it with the hope of pushing it around.

Having talked this morning about eyes... and the fact that really eyes were not designed for reading (and we people end up needing glasses) this need to read feels quite tiring on my jet-lagged eyes.

I am also intrigued that they have chosen a black background with white text, in the same way as the Hawkins exhibition... although not sure which one came first, or if they have even been influenced by each other. Or is it a preferred aesthetic style of the people who are Hawkins and Reggio inspired?


The biggest difference I think that I notice is the fact that it is obvious that the teachers of these children get more time to plan and reflect and prepare than we do in Sweden.


I do like how the five year olds will donate their research to the next group of five year olds... but this is not relevant in my setting as all my children share the same setting... they are ALREADY learning from each other... they are not divided up into their little groups of factory/industrial revolution groups of ages... in the mornings maybe for a few hours the children are divided not only by age, but by interest too... there IS the possibility of groups working together, and also for a children to swap groups for a morning or something.


Just to remember on the bus on the way here I kept thinking that I am Malaguzzi inspired and not Reggio inspired... I feel I need to differentiate myself from how some people are defining Reggio as a product rather than a process...


I think in our new approach to our third teacher I need more reflective materials... I need to find a source for them, and also work out how i can find them cheaply...



Enchanted garden of reflections,

tower of light

tricks of light

meetings between parallel worlds


an awareness that when things are translated from Italian into English it will give the children's words a different tone or ring... I know this from translating children's words from Swedish into English... it has often made the children sound much more profound, just because the everyday way we use the Swedish language is so different from the way English is used.


Now an hour later I have moved bench again... the last one I had visitors... Diane, Debi and Cindy at different times...

we talked about the relationship we have with the panels... that they are an monologue... that there is the risk for misinterpretation – especially as I admin the Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach fb group I see so often many different interpretations of what is Reggio.. where the focus is on the look or on the activities rather than on the relationship with the children and the environment...

there are just too many words in a small space for me... which is overwhelming... the teacher's role is not shared enough... and really I feel most educators already know how amazing children are... but there needs to be a better communication of the interaction between the children and the teachers...

for me there is no wonder... I might have written that already... but my inner child wanted more wonder... especially as with my museum study education this is not how I would communicate learning... it is definitely not how I would communicate wonder... of course I have not seen the light atelier yet... BUT that is not part of the exhibition but an added extra....

“In theories experimental data and interpretations co-exist. When children can observe and engage with a mix of phenomena their interpretive contribution can be original and constitutes opportunity for fertile exchange with adults. Although it does not make them rigorously based, the balance of organisation in these theories lends them an element of truth, if only for the quality of their beauty and harmony. The approach taken in the Ray of Light atelier is based on these considerations. It does not propose pre-fixed knowledge pathways but keeps open every possible way of interacting and of learning.”


The video of using the reflective cloud shape to shine the OH light up onto the ceiling...

also older children, school children using light as part of maths, measuring the angles.

Torches on ropes hanging down the wall... the wall was one of those materials that keeps the light for a short while... making patterns with the light from torches.


Echoes of light. The multitude of light fairies.... curtains of mirrors... so that the light reflects into the room and looks like fairies dancing on the floor and walls... do we have a window with enough direct sunlight for this? Probably not...


The white panels with listening

“Sound effects produced by rhythmic footsteps, repeated jumping, running and voices on a metal stairway were among a group of children's most vivid memories after visiting the Malaguzzi Centre. Later they give their friends vivid accounts of the sensations, emotions and sound effects experienced at the Centre.

The children's initial intuition about the relationship existing between sound and the space is matured through re-listening, sound “narratives”, discussions and working with drawings. They perceive differences in the sounds made by heavy or light footfalls, and work on the particular sound qualities of different ways of walking. Gradually they develop a capacity for distinguishing sounds from one another and creating variations and reach the point of inventing short compositions

children aged 3-5 (does not say how long the project was)


Intentional research... again this does not put emphasis on that it is the teacher that challenges the children's thinking to find out more... what comes from the teacher? What comes from the child? is it the child's wonder, or is the teacher exposing the cild to wonder? How much of each is the perfect balance?


there is the need for teachers not to “follow” children but to see them as equals... this means that the teachers are equally invested in the project... that the teacher has an equal right to suggest ideas... with the knowledge that they do have more experience of the world, so needs to think carefully about how these ideas are expressed... especially in settings where this equality between children and adults is new (to both the teacher and the children)... children might be used to pleasing the adult... so the child also needs to learn about their rights to be an equal... and how that works... so it is a balance all the time of being an equal and also being the scaffolding/support... as being such does have the feel that there is inequality... but really there is inequality... we have more learning, more understanding of the world, more experience, have had more time to come to terms with emotions and how relationships work... to see further... than a child... who is still gathering all of this... the equality is about having equally valued ideas, equally valued as a human... respect.

I like how the children have put their listening into drawings... the sound of the shoes walking etc drawn as a sound experience rather than a visual experience of shoes moving (see sketch on page 5) (I have not located that sketch book yet)

Here in the exhibition there is a small photo of the object, the drawing and button to listen to the sound. Although after pressing the buttons it was quite hard to make the connections between the object and the sound from the description the child has made and from the images of the rest of the panels.. some sound like things being thrown down the stairs rather than a child walking... the dotted lines of the slippers sounded more like clogs... but it could be they had harder soles than you think and the slapping of the back of the slipper with no heel would slam down harder on the stair..

but I have to admit... by listening it has got me thinking... and got me connecting images... so I can imagine it must have been great fun for the children to listen out for “their sound” that they had created and then trying to capture that on paper... and then explain why it was drawn that way...

I love how children can draw something quite random and then look at it and then make sense of it... has this happen here?... how many times did each child draw their sound before they felt it was the right image... how many times did they listen... did they all draw the sounds, all sounds, or only their own sound...


again as a teacher... the input of the teacher seems to be missing... it is about the children, and I can see how so many Reggio Inspired teachers will think it is about following the children, following their interests... when in fact we are taking the journey together and learning together... each adding ideas and suggestions... and the teacher with the extra all (as mentioned above) has the opportunity to challenge and create situations that will expand the child's view of the world, or perception of themselves and that around them... BUT the teacher needs to listen to the wonder of the child... to see their perspective... and THIS is the important part. I guess this is making the children's learning visible... that learning is the wonder... so the whole process does not get shown, and maybe why the teacher's role is missing?? Of course the teachers have used their voice to interpret that learning...


The children/teachers put a drawing of the stairs on the computer and then aded the sounds... each child could compose a tune... see sketch on 5. Images of the children's drawing of sound could be placed on the steps... the children choosing their own combination... this could be easily done with using apps together with the children... they then learn with me how to use technology as well as expressing themselves musically... of course many of my teachers do not know how to use this technology... so there needs to be time to learn and mess about with these techniques... how do we as teachers know what to mess about with to meet the needs of the children... do we need to be messing about continuously so that we can be prepared for anything... or do we learn to observe the children... learn how to see which possible paths they might take and then mess about with those possibilities so we have a plan A and B... but if it does go somewhere else... we do have the time to prepare for that... I mean we don't have to be able to do everything immediately... by sharing with the children the joy of learning ourselves the children will also develop that joy... or not lose it... they will also see that we value what they do as we are prepared to invest out time in it too...

Having stared at the images more... I now see the connections between the sounds and the images better... it took a while...

but this could be part of the overwhelming amount of images and text in a small space, that is making it sometimes hard to decipher.

What is it that draws me to Reggio?

Another room... having played in the light studio... the interactions of materials... what combinations do we put out and why...

“An approach to codes is not a new area in educational work. Over the years there have been several research projects and intentionally prepared contexts dedicated to learning of a symbolic nature. Choices of a cultural and pedagogical nature accompany our approach to the code of the written alphabet and start from a socia-constructivist idea of knowledge which has always inspired our teaching-learning practice.

This locates writing in communication contexts where language is used socially. Adopting an epistemology of this kind not only inevitably changes the questions adults ask, it also changes the teaching-learning context they offer.”

these panels are about emergent writing... children with their squiggles of “joined up writing” - sometimes the word is written like the shape of the thing... ie a curly shape for snail.

“A learning-teaching “context” is not only a place visibly organised for a purpose, it is also a place of individual and co-operative learning. Context is an interaction that is capable of restructuring our knowledge. Context itself is knowledge. Children should be able to encounter favourable contexts where it is possible, in times which are necessary, to produce meanings, information and rules about the written code through communication that is at once desired by them and effective.”

“A probe is an opportunity, a tool for making observation of an observation and above all for making knowledge of knowledge. It remains one of the most sought after and fertile elements in the field of individual knowledge processes and relations between individuals. Probes always start from a problem that the children make their own (and adults make their own).” Malaguzzi 1982

I have talked about my relationship with James Joyce "Ullyses"... this love hate relationship... this feeling of understanding and then losing the feeling of understanding. This is like Reggio... I am in crises right now... I am understanding and not understanding... I have my version of it... from my being British in a Swedish setting... my interpretations... there are things I read from Italy that I do not agree with, that I feel does not work for me... their relationship with the outdoors and with gender has not come as far as I have in my context... and yet we stick this pedagogical approach on a pedestal... as if they are leaders and we are the followers.. and yet really we should all be co-researchers... we should be sharing with each other our learning, our experiences and working out how we can adopt this into our context... on the small detailed aspect of the individual setting, to the complex diversity of a country... with their culture and language... but also within this culture we have others... people who have moved in, people who feel they are outside, due to sexuality, gender, race, religion, age etc... each place has its own relationship with all of these things... we have journeyed with them in different ways... so it makes “being Reggio” even more complex... its not just about adapting it to your own context... but to the diverse number of contexts within your context... to scratch away at the initial look of what is Reggio Emilia Approach in Italy... and what is it for me in Sweden (or for others in their own countries)... but also being aware of the rich diversity within my own country or my own setting.

There is also that complexity of talking “Reggio” with others internationally... and how we are using the same words but that we have interpreted them in different ways... some “do” Reggio and have a focus on the activities and the aesthetics/materials, others are much more in to the process over product... and yet what I have seen here is that Reggio is product also... but that process is a part of that... and maybe we should also embrace product with more pride and not be ashamed of it.??

There is also this need to understand together what is a competent child, what is play, what is the relationship of the teacher... why do some say follow the child... what does co-researcher actually mean? What is democracy... and how do we have a democratic setting... having been in Palestine it became painfully clear that we should not be exploring what democracy is... but that we should be offering a democratic approach... ie in the same way that I do philosophy with children... I am not teaching them about philosophy I am using philosophy as a tool for children to interact with each other.

How do we get across this need to understand this complex relationship the teachers have with the children and the material... and how we need to work with them to create a place of learning, researching and constructing of theories to test, knowledge to be acquired etc... I feel, as I have probably already written that the teacher is missing... how do we create an exhibition that will allow teachers to interact with this knowledge that teachers and children have made together... how do we get across that the teachers are learning too... what are the teachers learning goal... what do they want to find out, what is it they are researching in their observations of the children... because, yes, we do learn abut the children's interests but we want to understand children more, our setting more and how these work together.... for instance this year my preschool is learning more about the third teacher and how this affects the children... we will be plotting how the children use the setting, and analysing this information after age and gender etc... but also we are looking at this from a norm-aware standpoint... how do we make the setting inclusive... not just the environment but also the interactions between the children... this is OUR research behind the scenes that will have an impact on the children as it will enable us to be better children... in the context that we work in... so this means we need to be doing this kind of thing all the time... as the dynamics will change... we also need to see the children and their learning, to create a meaningful environment... not following them, but allowing their interest to be a meeting point... as Hawkins wrote in "I, thou, it"... it is important that the teacher is also engaged... it has to be meaningful for everyone. So this means there has to be equal status between teacher and child... not just following the child.

There also needs to be the time to research as a teacher to learn more to be able to challenge... like when the children wanted to make films, I had to spend time messing about with technology to work out how to do that... I had to be fearless and accept that it was OK if it did not turn out ok, and in the end we made quite a few different kinds of films so that I could learn, reflect and improve... but also the children too... we reflected together... that was so obvious with "M"s improved image for the second train film... he had seen that he needed to put more time into the drawing part to make it visible during the film part... and this meant he sat down and drew for longer than he had ever done before... this then allowed him to enjoy this process that he had never invested in before, and all subsequent art was much more thought through and not just the bare minimum so that he could go on to play... of course he was always allowed to draw for the time he wanted to invest in... and it was making HIS learning visible to him that he made a change... it was meaningful for him to spend more time drawing now because there was a greater appreciation later... this was something he had not discovered before... and would not have done if we had not made many films over and over again.

TIME is not fully explained in the panels... the length of time spent on exploring these projects...

it took a while for me to understand that 3-5 did not mean that the children doing the project were aged 3-5 (ie a mixed age group like I work with) but that they started the project when they were 3 and finished it when they were 5. Makes a BIG difference in how those panels are interpreted.

Time is so essential in doing a project... not only for the children to return to ideas... like mine love listening to how they answered philosophical questions from previous years as I had intentionally asked a few question that were the same at the same time of the year so they could do exactly that... but also it gives the teachers time to see and understand the children...

of course in my context right now I have just spent 3.5 years with the same children... we had such a level of trust with each other that we could take greater risks... risks in the sense of what ideas we explored, of sharing them without feeling silly, of not being afraid of making mistakes... but also trusting the children to take care of themselves and each other... I knew the dynamics of the group... and it worked so well that we had more time for other things...

and also by working with them in the same language of communication... philosophy as tool we have also learned about how the children have developed linguistically and how to solve problems etc... it became so much easier to challenge them as I knew how much to challenge them... not too much that they became overwhelmed but also not too little that they became bored... or it was too easy, too comfortable so that challenges became frightening...

REimagine

REvisit

RE-examine.

RE-evaluate

RE-discover

RE-search



below is an image from the Light atelier at the Wonder of Learning exhibition... where I was playing with the relationship of materials...


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