Reflections on my classroom experiences. I am an early childhood educator inspired by progressive practices. As a teacher inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, this is an online journal of my time in the classroom.
NOTE: This is a paper that I turned in for my sociological foundations in education class. I was tasked to identify a sociological theory or concept, tie it in to how it affects social equity, and then tie it in to my own work. Instead, I chose to work on a pedagogical concept, and I tied it into a Reggio Emilia concept. Enjoy!
Students as a social class experience alienation and are marginalized in society and in their own schools. Students experience alienation “as a result of large school and class sizes, segregation by age and ability that can prevent students from learning from more experienced peers, and a view of students as clients that is often perpetuated throughout school decision making and thereby increases the distance between teachers and students” (Mitra, 2004, p. 652). This alienation results in student opinion that their voices are rarely heard and that students feel anonymous and powerless. Consequently, many students disengage from school resulting in increasing numbers of students who cut classes, achieve less academically, and drop out of school. (Mitra, 2004, p. 652) Michael Fielding (2004) cites David Marquand and how Marquand attributes this alienation to the dominant voice of schools being the middle class voice and compares our school models to “market models.” He continues on to say that this dominant voice is reflected in how dispiriting education is for students who are not part of the dominant class which undermines efforts to build responsible and confident citizens in the community (p. 198). The alienation and marginalization of students in schools raises important concerns about social equity and injustice in regards to systemic problems with educational institutions that lead to negative outcomes for the student social class as a whole regardless of race, class, gender, disability, and age.
In reaction to these dilemmas, there have been profound developments in the area of student voice as a pedagogical practice. Michael Fielding (2004), a principal protagonist in the academic theorizing and advocacy for student voice, defines student voice as follows:
“Student voice covers a range of activities that encourage reflection, discussion, dialogue and action on matters that primarily concern students, but also, by implication, school staff and the communities they serve. This includes such developments as peer support arrangements (e.g., buddying systems, peer tutoring, peer teaching, circle time), systems that encourage and enable students to articulate their views and see through appropriate changes (e.g., school councils, students on governing bodies, students on appointment panels for new staff – including deputy heads and head teachers, ‘child-to-child initiatives, and students-as-researchers), and a small but growing cluster of activities that encourage various forms of overt student leadership (students as lead-learners and student-led learning walks).” (p. 199)
These types of activities support student voice, and requires teachers to take on a different role and perspective than what they may be accustomed to doing. (Mitra, 2001, p. 93) In some cases, by building on the concept of student voice, school reform happens naturally and quickly. Students feel a sense of intrinsic motivation and responsibility for their own learning (Mitra, 2001, p. 92). Learner-centered teaching is a subsequent outcome of implementing student voice (Fielding, 2004, p. 208). Progressive and radical approaches for school reform begin to take place revolving around the student-led insights of how their education should be done. These approaches become a vehicle for social change on the path to creating responsible and engaged citizens of the world (Morgan, 2001, p. 155). Furthermore, it cherishes and validates human creativity and expression (Fielding, 2004, p. 197). Michael Fielding (2007) cites Jean Rudduck, a champion of student voice and mentor to Fielding, co-authored a chapter which highlights the importance of student voice and how it can lead to social change. She argues that students opinions on teaching and learning are the most important opinions, that students have social maturity beyond what institutions give them credit for, and that true dialogic relationships are necessary for productive and real change. In Rudduck’s point of view, student voice is an initial spark on the path to providing true curricular and pedagogical choice in society which would reflect values of democracy, equity, and social justice (Fielding, 2007, p. 325)
The concept of student voice is especially applicable to my own personal practice as an early childhood educator when put in juxtaposition with the concept of the strong image of the child, which is a highlight of the Reggio Emilia approach. Carlina Rinaldi (2001), author and champion of the Reggio Emilia approach, begins a chapter on the image of the child like this, “The implementation of policies and practices in early childhood education is inexorably linked to the pedagogical question of what the society expects from the children.” (p.49) The Reggio Emilia approach takes a bigger picture of what outcomes they want for children, and they build systemic policies and practices to reinforce those beliefs. Loris Malaguzzi (1994), who provided the inspiration behind the Reggio Emilia approach, articulates this strong image of children to be much bigger than simply giving students a voice, but rather it incorporates all aspects of children’s doing and sense of self:
“Children have the right to imagine. We need to give them full rights of citizenship in life and in society. It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the image of the child that we need to hold.
Those who have the image of the child as fragile, incomplete, weak, made of glass gain something from this belief only for themselves. We don’t need that as an image of children.
Instead of always giving children protection, we need to give them the recognition of their rights and of their strengths.” (p. 5)
Student voice, then, holds the same intentions as the strong image of the child. It is differentiated qualitatively in approach and pedagogical practice, but can be utilized in combination to give children a meaningful role in schools.
The stark contrast between this concept of strong image of child and student voice is that Malaguzzi and Rinaldi are talking about young learners. I did not encounter a single study on student voice being applied to early childhood education. Adults tend to do much for the child out of care and protection. This is a dangerous perspective. As Malaguzzi (1994) says, “Overactivity on the part of the adult is a risk factor. The adult does too much because he cares about the child; but this creates a passive role for the child in her own learning” (p. 3). It will then be my own cause and mission to combine the concept of student voice and the strong image of the child in a true and respectful approach. I cannot speak or do for a child without taking away their voice. If it is my personal belief and philosophy that part of the aim of education is to build responsible and engaged citizens of the world, then I must connect student voice into the strong image of the child in my practice.
Fielding, M., (2004). ‘New wave’ student voice and the renewal of civic society. London Review of Education, 2(3), 197-217.
Fielding, M., (2007). Jean Rudduck (1937-2007) ‘Carving a new order of experience’: a preliminary appreciation of the work of Jean Rudduck in the field of student voice. Educational Action Research, 15(3), 323-326.
Malaguzzi, L., (1994). Your image of the child: where teaching begins. Retrieved from http://www.reggioalliance.org/downloads/malaguzzi:ccie:1994.pdf
Mitra, D.L., (2001). Opening the floodgates: giving students a voice in school reform. FORUM, 43(2), 91-94.
Mitra, D. L., (2003). Student voice in school reform: Reframing student-teacher relationships. McGill Journal of Education, 38(2), 289-304.
Mitra, D.L., (2004). The significance of students: can increasing “student voice” in schools lead to gains in youth development?. Teachers College Record, 106(4), 651-688.
Morgan, W., & Streb, M., (2001). Building citizenship: how student voice in service-learning develops civic values. Social Science Quarterly, 82(1), 154-169.
Rinaldi, C., (2001). Reggio Emilia: the image of the child and the child’s environment as fundamental principle. In L. Gandini & C.P. Edwards (Eds.), Bambini: The Italian Approach to Infant/Toddler Care (pp. 49-54). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
There is the impression that teaching looks a certain way. That a student is made ready to learn, and that a teacher delivers knowledge to children. Through practice and repetition, a child can know a great many things.
I want to believe that there are alternatives.
I think teaching can look like this: that a student is encountered with a question or idea, researches that endeavor with or without help, and that new ideas are created and used along the way. Through self-motivated investigation, a child can know how to have ideas and to think critically.
I want to believe that this is what we want for children and all people who receive education.
I imagine that if a child asked me five or six years ago how to write his name, I would spend enough time with him until the child wrote down every letter, in the correct sequence, legibly, and with an exactness that could be repeated. That is very useful to the child. That is what he asked for. There is value in that kind of teaching.
But that is not the kind of teacher I now aspire to be. I would not respond in that way.
If a child asked me now how to write their name, I would ask a question. Something like, “Well, what letters do you know are in your name?” or “What sounds do you hear?” And from there I would let the child experiment with his name. Playing with letters in a way that a child could manipulate, perhaps present some magnets or writing tools. Perhaps I could focus on the sounds and record different letter sounds to listen to and manipulate in some way. We would reflect on the work that was done, and decide how to move forward. I am still honoring the request to learn how to write the name, but in a very different way.
I am thinking more about a process to not only write a name, but to write anything. There is an immediate jump to thinking about a bigger picture, about pursuing a bigger idea.
I am thinking more about a process for thinking. That through questions, investigations, and a reconstruction of previously held notions, I am actually teaching how to think rather then how to do without thinking.
I am thinking more about starting from what the child knows about a subject rather than what I know. In that sense, the child is building on what they know, reconstructing whatever they find to clash with their beliefs, and then building some new idea.
I am thinking about the point where new ideas are created. I am not frightened by (Actually, I even encourage) mistakes. By finding out that our ideas are valid and useful as starting points to learning, I am hoping that an intrinsic motivation for learning is fostered.
I am thinking about creativity and imagination as a goal. Instead of promoting a preciseness or exactness to thinking, I am promoting a way to simply have ideas. Instead of one answer, I would love to see 300 answers to a question.
I am thinking about how the child can take thinking, learning, and motivation into their own hands. How can I expect that the child’s learning starts and ends with me or any other teacher they have? It is their own responsibility and the child should view it as such.
It as is if a child wanted to learn to play the guitar. I could give a guitar with one string. The child can get some use out of what that one string can do. In and of itself, that string is something that can be used. I’d rather give the child all the strings.
It as if a child asked for something to write with. I could give a pencil. That pencil is a good tool for writing. I’d rather give the child a stocked inventory of art media with which to write.
I’d rather teach children how to get answers rather than give answers to children.
When I first started working at Helen Gordon, people were interested in how I was liking it here. I would respond that it felt like a honeymoon. I felt like I had connected with a school that I had been in love with for a long time, and that while I was there, I was finding more and more things to love about the place.