Telling and Showing: The Un-Constraining of Children’s Bodies to Enable Communication of Meaning

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Sue NICHOLS, University of South Australia, Australia
The early years of schooling have seen the intensification of standardised testing accompanied by a return to, or reaffirmation of, teacher-directed transmission pedagogy. While the constraining of children’s bodies and voices is not new in early education, current pressures are reinforcing the importance of what many teachers call the “five Ls”: legs crossed, hands in laps, lips locked and listening. The project reported here investigated children’s word knowledge prompted by a concern about limited vocabulary being taught in early schooling. The focus in this paper will be on the impact of permitting children to use their bodies when asked to provide definitions of moderately challenging words. A total of 65 children from schools characterised by moderate to high levels of social disadvantage and cultural diversity, participated in individual interviews which elicited their word knowledge. Children were explicitly invited to “tell or show” what words mean, with researchers explaining that “you can use your hands or act out the word”. This approach is underpinned by a semiotic concept of literacy which views communication as encompassing the full range of semiotic resources including spoken and written language, visual images, sounds, gestures and the use of objects, often deployed in combination rather than separately. In this presentation, I will report the extent, and the ways in which, children responded to the invitation to deploy their bodies semiotically. I will consider how bringing children into spaces other than the classroom contributed to a shift in norms of engagement. I will highlight how children whose literacy and language abilities were considered below average were enabled, through this un-constraining of their bodies, to communicate meanings of words that they were not yet able to read or write. Affectively, children’s enthusiasm to communicate word knowledge using embodiment in combination with oral language, was strongly evident.