Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Quality Conversations: Listening to the Ideas of Young Children

I have been extremely lucky in my teaching life to be surrounded by passionate, caring and motivated professionals. One such person is Lisa Burman. Lisa is our A.U.S.S.I.E literacy coach but that title conveys only a small part of her contribution. She facilitates learning for the teachers at our school through modeling lessons, conferences, professional development workshops and conversations. She has been instrumental in helping to foster an understanding of the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching and how this philosophy can meet the challenges of students in an urban setting. Her encouragement and support allow each of us to proceed with confidence, and when we are unclear in our planning she is on hand to guide us back to lucid thought. In addition to her work with us and in giving presentations at conferences such as the International Reading Association, she has found time to pen a book. The working title is Quality Conversations: Listening to the Ideas of Young Learners. It will be published by Redleaf Press (A division of Resources for Child Caring) later this year. As I write this she is hard at work weaving her magic but I could not suppress my excitement for her and feel the need to mention it here. Below is a brief description of this important work.

At the core of Quality Conversations, is the belief that each child is filled with potential for learning and thinking, is capable and competent. Their ideas show intelligence and logic as they make new connections and build emerging theories about how the world works. Conversations offer a window into this thinking, but one which, traditionally, schools and early childhood settings often fail to capture and value. In these days of "back to basics" activism and growing high stakes testing (which most often leads to narrow teaching to the test), it is essential to advocate for the kind of early childhood environments where children's ideas are valued, where they are listened to, not only heard, and where teachers are skilled and empowered to facilitate and guide learning, not just teach a predetermined curriculum of facts.

Relationships are at the heart of quality learning and teaching and the role of the teacher is critical in facilitating learning. Teachers first and foremost must have skills in careful listening. Quality Conversations will explore the role of teacher as listener, facilitator, documenter and interpreter of children's ideas and conversations. Examples of systems and strategies for documenting conversations, interpreting them in collaborative settings in order to learn from differing perspectives and to guide planning will be detailed. The documentation process offers powerful ways to make learning visible to families and wider community members, and Quality Conversations will include ways to use documentation to communicate with families.

As our government insists on more legislation in support of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) teachers and administrators are feeling tremendous pressure to produce. However, what is being cherished is rote memorization and surface understanding of concepts. Many schools are preparing students to pass the test, but once that obligation is completed where does that leave the students? Lisa's book supports the notion that children are more than a test score. Of course, this level of inquiry demands ongoing, qualitative research. It is exactly this kind of thoughtful pedagogy that falls by the side of the road when educators are only thought qualified in light of quantitative results. In the work that Lisa is doing she is striking a balance that allows the children to remain at the heart of education - where they should be!

Good luck Lisa and congratulations!


Anonymous said...

Gary, my heart jumps reading such kind and articulate words! Of course all I can think of is how my thinking is enriched when I have the opportunity to work with teachers as committed to their students and to their own learning as you are. Plus we have a lot of fun at our meetings! "Nothing without joy!" (my favorite Loris Malaguzzi - Reggio founding father - quote). THANK YOU! Lisa

Sue Young (Australia) said...

The beauty of your message for me is the passion that emerges from shared learning. The children who are so fortunate to have you with them, benefit from your active listening and valuing of their current and growing knowledge and understanding. It is a listening that is free from personal judgement and filled with possibilities and uncharted pathways to new understandings. This is happening not only for them, but also for you! How wonderful! This is the true representation of dynamic learning, a process of shared discovery that enhances potential through relationship and respect. You need no test to see what is already present and alive in you and the children!

d. chedwick bryant said...

I actually related some of this post to a parent of a young child.

ps re: terre/Ched interviewd Bob back on Jan 13, and Bob called it "stunning"

I like wearing it too sometimes.

Sue Kennedy-Branford said...

We need heaps of teachers like you Gary - I can just feel the passion you have for teaching and learning, and that you know you are always a learner too. It is fortunate to have someone like Lisa to support you in your work, and I bet she learns much from you too.
Sue KB (Adelaide)


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