Kerri Embrey, Ontario Reggio Association Member, The Bishop Strachan School


Included below is documentation and written excerpts taken from my thesis entitled: When the World is Alive: Aesthetic Experience and Radical Listening, defended in 2013 at York University. The documentation below was collaboratively produced by teachers in the Grade 1 and Kindergarten classrooms at The Bishop Strachan School. I feel this work represents narratives of listening that help us to re-imagine our role as educators of young children. At the time the work was created, I worked as a Lead Teacher with grades JK – 1, supporting inquiry and documentation in our school.

Kerri Embrey, 2015

What Does it Mean to Listen?

What values are revealed when we examine how, and if, we choose to listen to each other and our environment? Is the listening of teachers and students a stretch towards the other, open to uncertainty? Does a focus on how children meet certain norms and standards weaken the attentiveness of adults to other aspects of a child’s being? Do we listen only to the most articulate children and the ones with the right answer or do we also pause to consider those less verbal, those who offer challenges and puzzles, or those with new or far-fetched ideas that might move thinking in a different direction? How well do we listen to the varied and multisensory forms of communication that young children embrace, such as gesture, musicality and imagery? Do we listen for emotion and desire? How do we interpret and give meaning to what we hear? There are many questions that surround the nature of listening in school. In considering the possibilities of listening, what interests me most is how the quality and depth of listening in a classroom can be honed to become more inclusive and multidimensional. How can listening become radical so that adults and children are highly attentive to each other, tuned in to the unexpected, precipitous, affective and beautiful elements of experience?

The Hands of Children Making

Senior Kindergarten, The Bishop Strachan School

Kathleen Grzybowski, Heather Evelyn, & Mary Murray, 2012

 clay hands

Rather than measuring a child solely against certain standards and outcomes, documentation offers a way to be attentive to other important aspects such as a child’s relationships, imagination, desire, humour, and empathy. I argue one of the reasons documentation holds this possibility for meaning is because it is itself an aesthetic process. Attending to children through photography, looking carefully at their drawings, or listening to all their words (not just their answers to our questions) is an aesthetic process and a way of attending to and valuing aesthetic experience. To listen in this way is, I argue, radical listening.

The Living Quality of Material

Junior Kindergarten, The Bishop Strachan School

Kathleen Grzybowski & Kerri Embrey, 2010

I have found that teaching children to use graphic materials, such as sketching pencils, fine-tipped pens, ink, charcoal, watercolour and clay, light and sculptural elements with care and intentionality allows them varied opportunities for expression and representation of ideas. There is also a strong aesthetic sensory component to these materials, both because of the marks and forms they make as well as the physical experience of using them. Watercolour applied to wet paper blazes across the page, seeping into to the fibres in billowing shapes, colliding with other colours to create new hues. The colour running across the water trails seems to have a will of its own, a personality. Children’s desire to interact with moving paint heightens their attention to the experience and to the qualities of the material.

The Structure of Snowfakes

Grade 1, The Bishop Strachan School

Susan Hislop and Kerri Embrey, 2010

Below is a project investigating the nature of structure in Grade One at the Bishop Strachan School. Many avenues for understanding structure were researched by the children including, roller coasters, pyramids, musical compositions, and crowds. One group of children was particularly captivated by the beauty and mystery of snowflakes. They wondered how snowflakes are born? How does their structure change from delicate and ornate to icy and compact (such as in a snowball)? As part of their research they “caught” snowflakes to observe in a microscope. Delighted by an individual snowflake’s “rules” of symmetry and pattern but also its uniqueness, the children created wire-and-glass-bead models to represent them. They were given an opportunity to hypothesize through graphic models and with verbal explanations about the process of snowflake formation. I believe the detailed and complex drawings they produced reveal the children’s ability to build sophisticated theories through aesthetic experience.

Kerri Embrey, Ontario Reggio Association Member, The Bishop Strachan School