Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Drawings as Imaginative Expressions of Philosophical Ideas in a Grade 2 South African Literacy Classroom

Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Drawings as Imaginative Expressions of Philosophical Ideas in a Grade 2 South African Literacy Classroom

Article excerpt

Introduction

In this article, we report on an early literacy research project that focused on how young children respond philosophically1 - not artistically, or psychologically2 - to a carefully selected picture book. Our findings show how the young children used drawings to create imaginative theories and beliefs (in this case about the concept 'death'), and discuss how some of the research findings changed how Robyn regarded the cognitive abilities of some of her learners in class and made us rethink what we mean by 'voice' in the classroom.

This practitioner research is positioned in a field known as philosophy for children (P4C), and traditionally, its 'community of enquiry' pedagogy uses mainly oral communication in a pedagogical tradition known as 'Socratic' (Fisher 2001). Named after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, the role of the teacher is that of a midwife, 'to help others bring to birth their own ideas' (Lipman 1991:202). Importantly, the enquiry mainly proceeds though oral dialogue, not through writing or drawing. In a circular seating, children think together and construct new meanings, for example, in a literacy lesson they generate and explore their own questions when reading a picture book together - aided by the teacher as guide and co-enquirer. These picture books are carefully chosen to provoke puzzlement and the deliberative semiotic 'gap' between word and image (Nikolajeva & Scott 2000), inviting young readers to engage in a range of embodied activities, such as giving reasons, expressing opinions, agreeing and disagreeing with peers and constructing their own arguments - thinking about activities that are key to comprehension (Haynes & Murris 2012). Importantly, such an opportunity for interrogating texts includes, but also moves beyond, the comprehension type questions typically asked by teachers, such as 'what happened in the story?' or 'what is the moral of the book?'. This Socratic approach to teaching and learning draws on the imaginative thinking of both teacher and child, as neither knows the answer to the philosophical questions the children develop together.

In this article, we limit ourselves to the discussion of drawings made by Robyn's Grade 2 class during a series of P4C literacy lessons. Previously, Robyn had been experimenting with drawings as part of her regular P4C sessions and she had been struck by the richness and diversity of the drawings, in particular by some children in her class, those who usually do not speak at all. Concerned about the limitations of the traditional P4C format she speculated what the material and discursive force of objects such as paper and pencils made possible for her learners - opportunities to philosophise through the visual. Part of the aim of her research was to find evidence for her initial hypothesis that making drawings can offer unique opportunities for children to create their own imaginative theories and ideas about a text, which is different from how art is generally used in schools. She combined the community of enquiry method of P4C with a visual research method (Thomson 2008) and inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education (Malaguzzi 1998; Rinaldi 2006).

We start by offering a rationale for this practitioner research project in the context of current literacy teaching and policy in South Africa and introduce Reggio Emilia's metaphor of The Hundred Languages to make a case for the importance of the visual in meaning-making, not just for some but for all children. We then continue with an overview of P4C as the conceptual framework for both Robyn's teaching and her research design. After a justification of the use of one particular picture book as the key text for the educational intervention, we focus in more detail on the research site and describe how the philosophical work in the P4C lesson generated children's own questions and drawings that surprised us. Drawing on Deleuze and Parnet, Bronwyn Davies (2014:6) describes such an encounter with data as 'an intensity. …

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