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Exploring Lived Experiences Through Multimodal Texts and Methodologies: Narratives and Complex Representations of Learning

Flewitt, Rosie and Cowan, Kate (2019) Exploring Lived Experiences Through Multimodal Texts and Methodologies: Narratives and Complex Representations of Learning. In: AERA 2019 Annual Meeting, 05 April 2019 - 09 April 2019, Toronto, Canada.

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Abstract

In early childhood education, observations of play have typically been documented in paper-based formats (e.g. scrapbooks, written notes, printed photographs) as part of assessment practices. However, there is a growing trend towards the use of commercial software to record learning in digital formats, where video, audio, photographs and writing can be combined. These multi-media forms of ‘digital documentation’ are significantly different to traditional paper-based practices. They offer the potential to create multimodal narratives that represent children’s multiple signs of learning in new ways, and the possibility to share these narratives with parents and children themselves. Yet the current lack of research-based guidance regarding digital documentation risks practices being shaped by commercial drivers rather than by child-centred learning theories. Framework Drawing upon a multimodal social semiotic perspective on learning (Bezemer & Kress, 2016; Kress 2010;), this presentation will report the findings of a one-year project funded by the Froebel Trust. The research worked with educators to develop an early childhood pedagogy of observation, documentation and assessment that brings Froebelian principles of the ‘uniqueness of every child’s capacity and potential’ and ‘holistic nature of development’ to documentation practices in contemporary kindergartens (Lilley, 1967). Fieldwork included case studies of children aged 3-5 years living with disadvantage and/or in the early stages of learning English in three diverse multicultural kindergartens in London. The study was reviewed and approved by the university ethics committee at the outset. A multimodal methodology (Jewitt 2014), underpinned by elements of ethnography (Kress 2011), was used to offer multiple perspectives on the day-to-day lived experiences of observation and documentation. Video recordings, examples of documentation, interviews with educators, parent questionnaires and video-prompted discussions with children provided diverse insights into observation and digital documentation in practice. Thematic analysis across the dataset and fine-grained multimodal analysis of video extracts have resulted in rich findings regarding the opportunities and constraints of different approaches to the observation and documentation of young children’s learning. Recognising that children’s learning through play is often expressed in subtle ways, through silent actions and interactions as well as through language, this research highlights the potentials and constraints of practitioners’ diverse approaches to observing and documenting play in contemporary kindergartens. The findings draw attention to which signs of learning are typically privileged in early childhood education, and which aspects of children’s learning often/may pass unnoticed and undocumented. Significance The study highlights the insights multimodal narratives can offer into children’s lived experiences, whilst recognising a number of challenges presented by digital documentation. The study argues for respectful use of observation and digital documentation which values all children’s subtle signs of learning, at a time when early years assessment worldwide is under particular debate.

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