Shouting the news about expression

18th August 2000 at 01:00
Brian Hayward reports on an exhibition from Italy that celebrates the 100 languages children use to learn

"IN Reggio they go round shouting about it. We just get on and do it." That is what teachers in nearby Pistoia told Aline-Wendy Dunlop, of Strathcldye University's early learning department, a few years ago. Unabashed, Reggio Emilia in north Italy is shouting about it again in "The Hundred Languages of Children", an arts and education exhibition at Glasgow's Kelvingrove museum.

Three years after their first UK tour, the Italians' message is still the same, that "children have 100 languages" to help them learn, and it is a teacher's business to help them to use these languages.

This transforming Italian philosophy is gaining ground in many parts of the world, and it finds support from the Scottish Executive, which was prompt with financial help to bring the exhibition to Scotland.

The prime mover was Professor Colwyn Trevarthen of Edinburgh University, who gathered a committee of interested teachers, carers and lay people whose first task was to raise the necessary pound;40,000 - quickly achieved with the help of Glasgow City Council, which also offered a venue, and most (though not all) of the 32 education authorities.

That done, the committee set about raising a similar amount to fund the workshops being held this month and next at the Kelvingrove, the Lighthouse, the Hunterian and the Burrell, for teachers, parents and children.

If we think the Italians spoil their children, they think we neglect ours. While not necessarily endorsing that judgment, Aline-Wendy Dunlop is convinced that the Italians are better at listening. This cultural difference is crucial, because listening to children is at the heart of the Reggio Emilia philosophy.

The Italian phrase translates as "verbal outpouring", for which the nearest English word is "brainstorming". In practice, it means that the group of children communally say what they think about an object or a problem or an idea.

What each says as they visit and revisit the topic is valued, because of the perceived link between what they say and what they think.

They talk and they listen. They are allowed to make jokes, to be bored and go away from the group for a while (Recognition and valuing of the child's individuality links this educational movement.) They evaluate others' suggestions, and when conclusions are reached, individually or in groups, set about expressing their solutions or reactions.

These expressions are often made through what we label the expressive arts, though that phrase gives a misleading formality to the cherished individuality of the responses. The Kelvingrove exhibition displays a profusion of artwork, charming and startling by turns, but the viewer is cautioned against seeing it as merely that. As Loris Malaguzzi, founder of Reggio's pre-schools, writes in the exhibition catalogue, we should be imagining "the richness of the processes, the multiplicity of interventions that worked together (eyes, ears, observation, intention, memory, collaboration, reasoning, tactility, conceptualisation, symbolisation, imagination, sociality, as well as tenacity, expectations, desires and so on)".

Ms Dunlop says of the exhibits on show: "Although there are products from children's work, it is the route to those products that has to be documented". She partly measures her success in in-service work by the degree to which teachers abandon the yardage of impressive artwork in favour of accurate recording of the creative process.

In this "anti-art" aspect, she particularly values the "fantastic support" given to early education teachers and the exhibition itself by the Arts is Magic team. Lawrence Riccio, leader of the Glasgow-based Scottish branch, is ideally placed to help since he teaches in a Washington school that has adopted the Reggio Emilia method.

Mr Riccio will be one of the speakers at a conference at Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University on September 8-9. Guests from Reggio Emilia include Marianne Valentine, a former Edinburgh teacher now living there, who will join Scottish educators in discussing the relationship between the Reggio Emilia experience and early years expressive arts here.

The Kelvingrove exhibition runs until September 15. Information about the Jordanhill conference is available from Jan Bissett, Professional Development Unit, Strathclyde University, 76 Southbrae Drive, Glasgow G13 1PP (0141 950 3208). Email:

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