Per Bernmyr – notes

Posted on August 22, 2009

Notes from a presentation by Per Bernmyr - by Chris Bayes

25 March 2009

We proposed:

“How can we support our teachers to unveil the hidden questions, interests and ideas – what are the tools that we encourage them to use to get to this next layer of thinking?”

Per’s response:

I think that is a very important topic. But I also think that the main problem for teachers is to understand the difference between the common way of thinking of epistemology and the post-modern social-constructive way. The “hidden questions” are not so hidden if you are aware of the discourses that we are part of. The tools I think are to make possible to deconstruct our way of thinking of the child, childhood, learning, teaching, knowledge …….

The following are notes taken during the evening.

What do we need here tonight to ensure a climate of reflection can occur?

  • Time
  • Open mindedness
  • Climate of trust
  • To feel safe with others

Rules for engagement tonight

  • You don’t have to have an opinion
  • You can talk first and think later
  • You can change your mind
  • You can speak against yourself

Do the children have these kinds of rules? To keep quiet, to change their minds?

Reflection requires you to think upon others as intelligent. What would the preschool be like if you thought of parents as intelligent?

A story about giving directions to someone who is lost.

If they are lost, and I don’t know where they are, how can I give them directions?

Vision – that’s difficult to explain ‘a vision’. The vision is ‘the way’ – Do you have to know the way? But I knew the way, but still I couldn’t guide them because I didn’t know where they were.

Where are we? We need to deconstruct where we are. But that is the main problem – we don’t know where we are because we don’t think about it. We need to deconstruct the discourse of how we do things.

The important thing is to deconstruct the NZ way; epistemology, knowledge, etc.

When you live in the culture, you don’t know it.

Conceptualise the vision. Make it clear.

Per told a story about a teacher giving two children a swing and another child wants to go inside. The child solved the problem on their own without the help of the teacher.

What is the problem?

The problem is that the teacher didn’t reflect afterwards with the child. She didn’t take the teachable moment further. What was the ‘end’ of the story was actually the beginning of the story.

Getting children to work together is critical. Getting children to solve problems with the aid of their friends.

Per told another story about a teacher sitting between two children at a table doing puzzles.

What’s the problem?

The teacher needs to position herself so that the children are working together and they are interacting and helping each other to work together to complete the puzzle.

Teachers in infant toddler centres think of themselves as mother substitutes in Sweden giving children 1-1 time. But it is important that teachers support children to be in co-operative situations with other children. This needs to be deconstructed as the ‘way it is done’ in Sweden.

Reggio Emilia pedagogy in Sweden is like a narrow windy road in the country. It is hard to stay on the road. The road is sloping and there are drains on either side. One drain is the ‘old school’ the other drain is the ‘day care’ way. In the ‘old way’ the teacher is afraid of teaching and in the ‘day care’ way, teachers think of children as strong and competent.

BUT there is a third way, it is the NEW WAY and it is influenced by Reggio.

It is important to conceptualise what children are doing not what they should be doing. We need to conceptualise this, not before but after.

The way to find the vision is to conceptualise what you have done before – what you have seen.

Vea Vecchi says you need to know many theories to conceptualise what you see. We need theories to help teachers to conceptualise what they/we see. We can only receive and process when we have theories to understand what we are seeing.

Projectazzione; look at what the child wants to know.

A child was sitting on Joanne’s (teachers) knee, when Per visited. Joanne said the child was shy but ‘a bit curious too’. Joanne enabled the child to be curious by giving her the camera. The camera was the artefact, the tool. Joanne didn’t force the child into the situation but used the child’s curiosity.

This showed a view of a teacher who believes that the child is competent.

What is the work of the teacher when the child is competent?

Children have enormous potentiality. The teacher must see the potential of the child – not the shyness. Joanne encouraged the child to use the curious as the potential. She gave the child tools to manage the situation.

Part of THE WAY is to turn a little bit from the competent child to see the possibilities. It is how to use the possibilities – what materials and tools to use to unveil the possibilities.

Per was talking with some teachers about a project they had done and he asked them what changes they had made as a result of the project. They said nothing – the outcome of a project should always be change, it is necessary to change the environment to help children see the possibilities.

There is a difference between teaching and making a learning situation happen.

Take an ordinary teacher, it is the preschool with a reflecting climate that makes the teacher into the best teacher. There must be a climate of reflection – a reflecting climate.

Per gives an example; the teacher asks “what are you going to do with the hose?” It isn’t what is asked that gives meaning to the question, it is the context the question is asked in.

What happened before?

What is the child’s expectation?

How was the question asked?

What is the relationship between the teacher and the child/ren?

The question is based in history and is not isolated.

Story: teacher walks past a child admiring flowers on a table. She invites the child to draw them. The child says that would be too difficult. The teacher says ‘I will help you’.

She starts by asking ‘what do you think it looks like’, beginning with the child’s own subjectivity. She breaks the task into small parts; the stem, the leaves, the petals etc.

The child then thinks ‘I can draw a flower’. That was not in spite of the teacher – but because of the teacher. She made the problem smaller – doable.

Some teachers believe that children shouldn’t be taught to paint. Teachers say things like ‘what a wonderful drawing’ and it is scribbling. They don’t want to damage the child’s self confidence, they are frightened to teach.

Example; the teacher gave the children a difficult task – to draw themselves dancing.

She then asks difficult questions ‘but how can we see that they are running?’

The problem is given to the group, not the child doing the drawing.

The other children come to assist and solve the problem.

To teach like this you need time and several children to work together. You need a climate for this to occur.

We then looked at a project from Tots; Ground Work

Per described this as a project and talked about the importance of us working towards working with ‘progettazione’. The project had many points that would lend themselves to working in progettazione.

Teachers must make choices at different points in a project.

Per asked;

What is the relationship between the children and the water?

What is the purpose of this project?

What were the teachers’ pre-thoughts in this situation?

At the beginning, teachers are listening and watching what they are doing.

How do we support teachers to find the questions under children’s interests? Not only what they are saying but their intentions. We must be cautious, as children tell us stories to please us.

Take photos of the situation and then meet up with the children to look at what they say they were doing/thinking at the time. Revisit the experience in other ways. (read back children’s conversations)

There were three adult questions that were asked. Per asked Amy what the questions she would have asked as an artist – instead of the 3 questions that were asked.

The children were shown drawing their thoughts. Per asked why did they draw instead of using another language? Did the teachers think about other languages?

Per says teachers need to use several languages not only drawing as not all children will find the language of drawing is what they are comfortable with. Some children will be left out.

Per suggests that at the beginning we need to use more time, describe the situation in more ways, get the children to use their bodies.

Have a pre-discussion. Is it about drawing? sharing theories? Do we want them to collaborate together? To create theories? Do we want the children to make connections between themselves?

The teacher must make these things possible by asking the children… ‘can you show the other children about this?’ ‘can you tell the other children what you mean, what you think?’

The teacher needs to start the discussion between the children. Asking questions ‘what do you mean about this theory?, ‘could it be this way?’ ‘what do you think if…’

There is a point early in the project that the teachers need to mind map all the theories and get children to be offering their thoughts.

Can we test the theories we have here? We are too quick to give answers; we need to give children time to explore the theories.

Per pointed out that he says a problem in the word ‘research’, it suggests that we are looking for the right answers. People research on the internet with children looking for information to give children the answers.

Children want to ‘explore’ cause its fun and more open ended. Research has a goal and is closed. We need to use the computer to develop our thoughts, not to find answers.

We must not fall into the scientific way of thinking but know that this is only one way of thinking.

We must know what the purpose is

We must know what the value is

And these must come from the values and purposes of the centre.