Our pedagogical approach in the junior school at Westbourne Grammar makes reference to the values and principles of the educational project of Reggio Emilia. The Municipal infant toddler centres and preschools, renowned throughout the world for their standpoint on children’s rights and democratic values evidence high quality research-based pedagogy, informed by a system of interdependent principles amongst which are included:
Image of child as an active protagonist in their own learning … a competent thinker and communicator.
Collaboration and co-participative research whereby teachers and children together construct or innovate curriculum in line with curriculum outcomes and assessment standards. These collaborative research projects highlight the process of learning i.e., how children build understandings about their world.
Learning as a process of individual and group construction (learning with and from others).
The hundred languages – a metaphor for the unlimited potential of each human being as a theory builder, with immense capacity for representing their thinking in many ways, other than the spoken word.
Loris Malaguzzi, philosopher and founder of the Municipal schools in Reggio Emilia wrote that: ‘The child is made of one hundred. The child has a hundred languages. A hundred hands. A hundred thoughts. A hundred ways of thinking.’ Malaguzzi’s proposal aligns strongly within Westbourne’s curriculum and the outstanding work of our visual arts teachers. In this article ‘language’ refers to materials such as drawing, painting and clay work within the visual arts program. As co-authors, Heather, who supports the teaching staff, early learning to Year 2 in their understandings of the Reggio approach and Jenni, visual arts specialist teacher at Winjeel (Prep – Year 2), have chosen to make visible the collaboration they share with classroom teachers in coming to understand the significance of the visual arts in promoting inquiry, deep thinking and learning. Ongoing collaboration with classroom teachers supports an interweaving, or integration of subject content with the visual arts, thereby ensuring avenues of theory building and expression for all students.
As students engage with materials, as they draw, sculpt with clay or wire, dance, compose music or transform movement into dance, they both deepen their understandings of the subject under investigation, as well as create tangible ‘evidence’ of their thinking processes. Each language, each medium, has its own grammar, syntax and symbol system. For example, working with the language of clay involves very different cognitive processes and techniques, from that of painting, or photography. Learning which involves engagement with diverse languages invites a complex interaction between cognitive, visual, and kinaesthetic processes, supporting students to create meaning through their physical interpretations of the world around them.
Unlike transmission models, active engagement with different languages, or visual arts materials, creates opportunities for children to fully participate in experiences that facilitate the expression of complex ideas, such as representing the texture of the ocean during a storm, or visual expression of the force and movement of the wind, in far more sophisticated ways than spoken language or the written word may allow, given the developing vocabulary of young children.
As proposed by Filippini, it is, however, within the space ‘between’ languages where children show evidence of the deepest creativity and connection between known and new concepts. The inter-twining of languages that children encounter as they ‘cross borders’ between various languages. For example, moving from two to three dimensions (from drawing, to wire or clay) invites divergent thinking and problem solving and challenges children to ‘see’ from multiple perspectives.
Every child has the right to deeply experience the visual arts, to explore and, as Malaguzzi proposed, understand their world through a plurality of languages.
Jenni Munn Bradley
Early Learning to Year 2
Visual Arts Specialist
Winjeel Prep to Year 2
Dinham, J and Chalk, B, It’s Arts Play: Belonging, Being and Becoming through the Arts, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2002
Filippini, T, Making learning visible, Reggio Children online webinar, 2002
Malaguzzi, Loris, No Way. The Hundred is There
Sinclair, C, Jeanneret, N and O’Toole, J, Education in the Arts (2nd ed.), South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2012
Wright, S, Children, Meaning-Making and the Arts, Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education, 2003