#YearofDeepListening (1)

The Year of Deep Listening | February 2022

Listening to Yousef
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Yesterday at dismissal, one of my Kindergarten students, Yousef, came running up to me and show me his treasure, a seed pod. Yousef handed it to me and said, “Ms Atima… this is a seed pod. It has seeds inside so a new tree can grow.” I asked him where he found it and he pointed a tree to me. I asked him how he knew. He looked at me with a patient smile and explained. “It is from that tree because that’s where it was. It fell down.” I found the seed pod intriguing as it almost looked like a wooden flower. I was trying to scan the space for one as I wanted to explore one myself! Yousef looked at me thoughtfully, and then gave me his seed pod. “Here. You can have it. It has three parts. I will give you two parts, so you never forget me. And I will take one part, so I never forget you. And oh! I will see you on Monday!”

Ah… what a precious moment it was! That I was loved and valued by this child so much that he gave me his treasure, sparked joy at the end of a typical school week.

The seed pod sat on my office table and brought a smile on my face each time I saw it. It made me think of Yousef, exactly as he had intended! As I was leaving school, I wondered why this had brought me so much joy. Something about this seed pod went beyond the happiness of having received an affirmation of a relationship between an educator and a student. I decided to dig deeper. I was intent on listening, but I had no time. So, I took a photo of the seed pod and brought it home.

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The long weekend helped me to slow down and take time to reflect on the photo. Unintentionally, it had become a piece of documentation which I was going to use to ‘listen’. The photo helped me revisit the experience somewhat like a video in my mind. I wondered what it told me about Yousef.

Here is what I heard…

  1. Yousef picks up the seed pod on his way to the dismissal area. He is curious, observant and wonders about his environment.
  2. He knows that the seed pod comes from a tree. He even tries to identify the tree for me, associating the position where he found the pod, with the trees that grow around it. He is starting to develop the concepts of cause-effect, sequence, relationships within the environment.
  3. He is using scientific methods to explore and engage – he wants to know what is inside the pod, by pulling the pieces apart.
  4. He knows that it is a seed pod and that little seeds come out of it to “grow more trees”. He is starting to understand the beginning of a life cycle.
  5. As he splits opens the seed pod, he identifies that there are equal parts of which he is giving me some. He is beginning to build his understanding of fractions.
  6. He can count the number of parts in the pod, how many he gives me and how many he takes back. He is building the concept of subtraction.
  7. He can articulate how many pieces he is giving me and the purpose of giving them to me. He is a communicator and his oral language skills are strong.
  8. He uses conjunctions and compound sentences! His developing grammar skills are evident.
  9. He knows the days of the week and is building his sense of time. “I will see you on Monday.” He has an idea of life patterns.
  10. He is learning from nature and from the outdoors. He uses his senses to explore, engage with and make sense of the world around him.
  11. Yousef values relationships. It is important for him to walk up to me, share his understandings, give it to me and tell me his purpose of giving it to me. He also wants to let me know why he is taking one piece away. He has a sense of purpose. There is intentionality behind his actions.
  12. He can engage in reciprocal interactions with confidence. I am not his teacher, but he is able to connect with me socially and emotionally with ease.
  13. He gives me two pieces and takes one piece for himself – even though it is his artifact, his treasure. He is generous and shares of his own accord.
  14. He is emotionally secure and does not need an adult to plan his engagements or to keep him busy or happy. He doesn’t need a toy to stimulate his learning. His social, emotional well-being is evident.

I am blown away… not only because I can see Yousef in a brighter light as a competent, capable individual but also by how powerful this one piece of documentation has been for me to understand Yousef as a learner.

Carla Rinaldi talks of listening as ‘an active verb that involves interpretation, giving meaning to the message and value to those who offer it.’

I wonder how many Yousefs have I missed in my busyness.

I wonder how I can declutter my time to listen to more learners and listen deeper... “Listening to the hundred, the thousand languages, symbols, and codes we use to express ourselves and communicate, and with which life expresses itself and communicates to those who know how to listen.”

I wonder how I can take this forward.

For now, my action is to document my reflection and share it with my community of learners. This beautiful experience has helped me explore deeper, the pedagogy of listening. I hope reading this piece, helps another educator somewhere, find and listen to another Yousef, and in the process find and listen to one’s own self.

Atima

Reference: Carla Rinaldi’s chapter entitled “Documentation and Assessment: What is the Relationship?” in Project Zero and Reggio Children (2001): Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children.

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