The Hundred Languages of Children – The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation

Edwards, C., Gandini, L. & Forman, G. (2012) The Hundred Languages of Children – The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation. California: Praeger ABC-CLIO,LLC

Chapter 13 – The Pedagogy of Listening: The Listening Perspective from Reggio Emilia, Carlina Rinaldi

This chapter by Carlina Rinaldi immediately captured my attention as the act of listening, an engaging active activity inherent within all humans, is something that I am fascinated with in my own learning and teaching practice. Rinaldi introduces listening as an integral part of the Reggio Emilia experience and approach. Inextricably connected to ‘the search for meaning’ (p.233), Rinaldi begins by offering a collection of answers to the essential question what is listening?

What is Listening?

Rinaldi’s thoughts on this question resonate well with my personal understanding and experience of listening.

“Listening should be open and sensitive to the need to listen and be listened to and the need to listen with all our senses, not just with our ears.” (p.234)

“Listening should recognize the many languages, symbols, and codes that people use to express themselves and communicate.” (p.234)

“Listening takes time. When you really listen, you get into the time of dialogue and interior reflection, an interior time that is made up of the present but also past and future and is therefore outside chronological time. It is a time full of silences.” (p.234)

“Listening is generated by curiosity, desire, doubt and uncertainty. This is not insecurity but the reassurance that every “truth” is so only if we are aware of its limits and its possible falsification.” (p.235)

“Listening produces questions, not answers.” (p.235)

“Listening is emotion. It is generated by emotions; it is influenced by the emotions of others; and it stimulates emotion.” (p.235)

“Listening should welcome and be open to differences, recognizing the value of others’ interpretations and points of view.” (p.235)

“Listening is an active verb, which involves giving an interpretation, giving meaning to the message, and valuing those who are listened to by others.” (p.235)

“Listening is the basis for any learning relationship. Through action and reflection, learning takes shape in the mind of the subject and, through representation and exchange, becomes knowledge and skill.” (p.235)

“Listening takes place within a ‘listening context’, where one learns to listen and narrate, and each individual feels legitimized to represent and offer interpretations of her or his theories through action, emotion, expression, and representation, using symbols and images (the “hundred languages”). Understanding and awareness are generated through sharing and dialogue.” (p.235)

Rinaldi’s thoughts on listening are interesting and thought provoking. The belief that we listen with all of our senses and that effective listening needs to embrace the truth that human beings communicate and express themselves in a multitude of different ways is particularly confirming. This year, my understanding of how listening can be experienced through different senses has developed through my work as a music specialist in Hazelwood School, Glasgow. Hazelwood School offers a nurturing learning environment for students with visual impairment, and, in some instances also hearing impairment, and additional support needs. The young children I work with often experience sound through touch and movement, listening with their hands, faces and bodies. This term, I had the privilege of observing one student listen to the cabassa (a small, hand held, percussion instrument with metal beads) by rolling the metal beads slowly over her closed lips. The mouth area, I am learning, is a very sensitive area for listening. On another occasion, I observed a different student place her hands over her teacher’s throat as her teacher sang. I believe that this student was listening through touch and sensation in the fingers and hand.

Rinaldi’s belief that listening takes time and is full of silences is also poignant. This familiar idea is one that I often forget when teaching. To allow time and space for silence in teaching is essential and is something that needs to be constantly reviewed and considered. Nurturing an inviting ‘listening context’ that provides a foundation for successful and empowering ‘learning relationships’ is naturally core to the role and work of the teacher. Furthermore, appreciating that uncertainty is a part of the listening process, a process that is both questioning and emotive in nature, is reassuring and reminds me that in order to be truly open to listening, I am required to embrace various dynamics.

As I think about how I listen to all of the students I work with, I realise that my listening takes many forms. Listening to and interpreting different forms of communication (musical, kinaesthetic, tactile, visual, aural – verbal & non verbal…..) I notice how I listen through my ears and eyes, my body, heart and ‘gut’ feeling as I search for signs of meaning and connection. An interesting observation is that in order to listen carefully to others, I need to listen carefully to myself. I need to listen to my intuition and judgements, taking care to find balance between certainty and uncertainty. I am learning that I need to listen in a variety of ways in order to gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of what is being expressed.

Teachers as Listeners: The Process of Documentation

“Documentation can be seen as visible listening: it ensures listening and being listened to by others. This means producing traces – such as notes, slides, and videos – to make visible the ways the individuals and the group are learning. This ensures that the group and each child can observe themselves from an external viewpoint while they are learning (both during and after the process).” (p. 238)

The value placed on documentation is something that has drawn me to the Reggio Emilia approach. I am curious to learn more about the relationships between documentation, listening and learning in Reggio Emilia. I agree that documentation can be a form of visible listening and is an invaluable part of the learning process. However, how to document effectively and unobtrusively in relation to the learning process is one of my recurring concerns. However, stepping back and observing the many forms that documentation can take is reassuring. Furthermore, it is also important to recognise the interrelated connections between documentation, observation and interpretation.

“Observation, documentation, and interpretation are woven together into what I would define as a spiral movement in which none of these actions can be separated out from the others.” (p. 238)

It is important to note that this is something that happens at all stages of the learning process.

“Documentation, as we have developed in Reggio, does not mean to collect documents after the conclusion of experiences with children but during the course of these experiences. Traditionally, the recording and reading of memories take place at the end of an experience and may become part of a collection of archives. For us, documentation is part of the daily life in the schools. It is one of the ways in which we create and maintain the relationships and the experiences among our colleagues and the children. We think of documentation as an act of caring, an act of love and interaction. We believe that both the teachers ad the children are learners. For us, within the Reggio experience, documentation is an integral part of the learning and teaching process of the children and teachers.” (p. 238)