Title of Case Study Reading Visual Images: Stimulating discussion, reflection and analytical thinking in relation to young children as learners

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1 Title of Case Study Reading Visual Images: Stimulating discussion, reflection and analytical thinking in relation to young children as learners Name and address: Kathy Ring Institution York St John University Key Concepts: The use of visual images relating to young children s learning as a tool for: eliciting student response; analysing student understanding; supporting students exploration of the rites and rituals surrounding children s learning within educational settings; supporting students exploration of children s rights and child/ adult power relations within educational settings. Context: This session is informed by data drawn from my ongoing longitudinal research project Supporting Young Children Drawing: Developing the Role of the Practitioner (Ring, 2006a). The current project began in October 2004 and builds upon the findings of an earlier small-scale longitudinal project which considered the impact of the socio-cultural context upon young children s use of drawing (Anning and Ring, 2004, Ring 2006b). The findings from the earlier project highlight the range of understandings adults have about the role of drawing within the early years curriculum. Many of these understandings work against drawing s effectiveness as a tool by which young children can make their own meanings. As part of the current project, twenty Foundation Stage practitioners, (teachers working with children aged between 3 and 5), from a range of local authorities in the North of England, attended a training day I organised which focussed upon the power of drawing for young children. These practitioners then carried out small action research projects within their own settings, in order to investigate their own role in developing and supporting young children s use of drawing. On a further two occasions they met again as a larger group in order to discuss and analyse progress. Follow-up case studies are now in progress in three of these settings. My research takes a socio-cultural approach to children as learners where the situated nature of learning is recognised. The collection and analysis of visual data is an important part of my research methodology. This recognises both the current impact of visual culture upon everyday life and the use of visual information processing as a way of understanding the world. Through development of the use of digital cameras in early years classrooms, visual images are now, for many practitioners, a key way of collecting information about children s interests, pre-occupations and the process of their learning. Whilst collection of data would appear to be unproblematic, engagement in discussion, reflection and analysis around collected images is challenging for some practitioners. It is hoped that introducing the image to students, as a 1

2 tool for investigation and as a site of new knowledge, will stimulate them to engage more analytically with images, not only as students but when practising as qualified teachers. Background: The 20 credit module, School Experience 3, is the required final module for students undertaking the PGCE in primary education full-time and part-time programme of study at York St John University. One of the aims of the module is to give all trainees the opportunity to critically evaluate a range of educational principles and theoretical perspectives gained from all the modules on the programme and to apply the insights they gain to the problems encountered within the professional context of a primary classroom. This particular activity is, however, transferable across all levels, courses and contexts where an image can be a stimulus for creative thinking and/ or be analysed to give information not easily accessible through the spoken or written word. The students attend briefing meetings in preparation for their assessed placements in schools. These are timed to fit in with serial day preparatory visits to their SE3 schools. This session is planned for students who will be teaching within a Foundation Stage context. It comes towards the end of the PGCE year when the students are generally open and relaxed with each other, understand that there will be differences in pedagogy across settings and are developing their personal strategy in relation to teaching and learning. Issues Although all the students training to teach the 3-7 age-range will have followed phase specific professional and subject modules, for some students this will be their first experience of teaching and managing a Foundation Stage class. The need for detailed planning is a key requirement in meeting the Teacher Training Agency Standards for the award of Qualified Teacher Status (TTA, 2005). It is understandable that, in the early stages of developing the knowledge and skills needed to plan the curriculum for these young children, students can become pre-occupied with the stepping stones of progress towards the early learning goals as set out within the Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage (QCA, 2001). They may forget the bigger picture, i.e. neglect to consider the principles for early years education set out in the same document and in more recently published government requirements (DES, 2007). This session should provide an opportunity for students to re-affirm and re-connect with the important principles which underpin effective practice in the care, development and learning of young children. Aims The aims for the described activity are to: analyse values, attitudes and beliefs about young children in educational settings 2

3 understand that images of children and of educational settings are complex texts which can hold many meanings depending upon the knowledge, values and assumptions of the viewer explore children s rights and child/ adult power relations within educational settings share ideas and experiences of routines and rituals which underpin the decision making process in early years settings make links between practice within Foundation Stage settings and a range of theoretical perspectives relating to the study of young children as learners foster a collaborative approach within the student group where respect is given to other s ideas and approaches ensure that students have an opportunity to raise issues of particular concern to them in regard to their final school experience placement Strategy Power-point presentation, as a means of supporting students in gaining knowledge and understanding, has become a routine and almost expected part of student experience in higher education. Its use allows lecturers to support their communication of ideas with greater clarity and a professionalism of presentation. Images can easily be used in a supportive role alongside the written and spoken word, for example, to illustrate key points and retain student interest. Visual images as part of a power-point presentation are less often used without the support of narrative. Indeed it is recognised that when photographs are used as a tool for conveying knowledge and understanding they need to be supported by contextual information if they are to be analytically intelligible (Collier, 2001:38). Within this session a series of carefully chosen visual images deliberately stand alone and are used to allow students to explore the complexity of issues surrounding practitioner understanding. The session began with one power-point image of a child which was explored by the whole group. The students were asked to give their immediate verbal responses to the image. Discussion developed from these responses and students were asked to note any points raised that were meaningful for them in their own placement context or that merited further discussion within a smaller group. The students then formed small groups and continued to respond to further power-point images presented to them. After a further three images had been shown, and time had been given for group work, feedback from the small groups was given to the whole group and recurring themes were noted on a flipchart. The process was repeated and further images were discussed, reflected upon and analysed. In total eight images were shown before, in a final whole group overview, students moved towards identifying key issues that had arisen. They then considered possible messages gained from the session that they could take forward into their school experience regarding their role in supporting young children in Foundation Stage settings. 3

4 Key criteria for image selection were: informed consent has been gained for the image to be used the image will support fruitful discussion, reflection and analysis and challenge student thinking the overall collection of images will support the students in meeting the aims of the session In order to meet the aims of this session the following criteria as to choice of images also applied: children should be shown learning in different ways children should be shown demonstrating capability, confidence and independence (perhaps unexpected by students) children should be demonstrating thinking in process the environment should be playing a key role in supporting and extending children s development and learning adults should be shown as co-constructors of learning i.e. engaging appropriately with the child interests in order to support learning rather than dominating and over directing Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4 are examples of images shown to students within the session. They are annotated by some of the students key responses arising from discussion, reflection and analysis. Figure 1 Availability of materials Quality of materials Older children as models Need to work on a large scale Importance of giving children time to think Importance of children observing their peers Sometimes adults have to stand back if they are unsure of how to interact Importance of adults knowing children as individuals 4

5 Impact of technology upon children s ability to explore and represent through line and colour When computers are and are not supportive of learning What is needed to support young children working well in pairs Gendered choices by children as to who to work with Figure 2 Figure 3 Experience of different ways of setting out a classroom Importance of areas of provision where children can select the materials they want to use Importance of collaborative activity Importance of children s investigations, how they are supported by the environment How displays can add to or take away from children s ownership of their learning Gender preferences in relation to choice of areas of provision and particular materials Children s movement across three-dimensional and two-dimensional materials Children s need for physical activity Children s need for time to become involved Need for adults to look at daily routines, whether they work for the children, whether children s rights are valued or prioritised How adults introduce children to writing their name Whether drawing is valued in Foundation Stage settings Figure 4 5

6 Evaluation Lecturer s Perspective: Much depended upon the careful choice of images. It is recognised that in making those choices my own beliefs, values and understandings were being fore-grounded. Crucial also was my response to students responses to the initial image. By recognising the validity of all responses and leading the students in the further unpacking of responses I was modelling the kind of approach I wanted them to take as they moved into smaller group work. Students began by using all the information they could glean from the images e.g. what child was doing, what child had access to, importance of knowing whether an activity was self-chosen or was a task the child had been asked to complete, trying to tell from a child s face whether he/ she needs support from an adult, when would an adult intervene, importance of materials being accessible to the child, importance of sensitivity of the adult in recognising the child s needs. Although students had brought their Foundation Stage documentation with them (QCA, 2001), in the event it was not required as I made the decision that this could have constrained rather than supported their thinking i.e. the purpose was to move away from any one way of looking at the child as a learner and to look at the child from multiple perspectives. The Students Perspectives: The students were very involved in this activity and highly motivated by it. All students felt that the images really supported their ability to access important and often complex and interwoven issues. Initially more dominant members of the group seemed to be heavily leading discussion, however, analysing the first image together was seen by the students to be a good idea. By doing this they quickly recognised that there would be few simply right or wrong answers and they were assured of their freedom to widen their discussions using the images as an initial stimulus. Some students expressed concern, in the final whole group feedback, that their particular setting would not allow them to try out some ways of working and this opened up discussion about the nature of school experience and the degree of ownership by the student, and in turn by the child, of the learning context. Advice to Others who Might use this Approach In preparing for this session, attention needed to be paid to the ethical issues of presenting images of young children. Permission was gained from children, parents and practitioners for each image to be used for teaching purposes and to be published in documentation. Wherever possible the child s face wasn t shown. 6

7 Bibliography Anning, A. and Ring, K. (2004) Making Sense of Children s Drawings Maidenhead: OUP. Collier, M. (2001) Approaches to Analysis in Visual Anthropology in T. Van Leeuwen, and C. Jewitt (eds.) Handbook of Visual Analysis, pp London: Sage. Department for Education and Skills (2007) The Early Years Foundation Stage: Setting the Standards for Learning, Development and Care for children from birth to five. London: DES. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2000) Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage. London: QCA/ Department for Education and Employment. Ring, K. (2006a) Supporting Young Children Drawing: Developing a role International Journal of Education through Art. Vol. 2 (3) pp Ring, K. (2006b) What Mother s Do: Everyday Routines and Rituals and Their Impact upon Young Children s Use of Drawing for Meaning Making. International Journal of Early Years Education, Vol. 14 (1) pp Teacher Training Agency (2005) Qualifying to teach: Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status and Requirements for Initial Teacher Training. London: TTA. 7

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