Visual and Beyond: Rethinking Aesthetics, Ethics and the Senses in Education

Year: 2016

Author: Somerville, Margaret

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this presentation I explore the excess of 11 short exchanges with young children in grade 2 and 3 about the visual language maps they had produced of their everyday language practice. The project, ‘Building Linguistic Repertoires to Enhance English Learning’ was conducted in ‘complex multicultural schools’ in western Sydney, Australia with high enrolments of both Aboriginal and multilingual students. The collaborative ethnography project with children and teachers employed an innovative visual/spatial mapping method in which children drew maps of the places and nature of their everyday language use. The ‘official’ aim of the government funded project was to work out how to incorporate the diverse skills and practices children routinely undertake in everyday language into the school curriculum to enhance their learning. The maps in themselves are highly diverse and extraordinary but even more surprising were the very short recorded collaborative analysis ‘interviews’ with the children. Eleven children were recorded in the already excess of a class full of children organized into pairs to compare their language maps. Many of the children, particularly in the Grade 2 class, needed attention by myself and the teacher, to help them in the process of constructing Venn Diagrams from the activity. One at a time I invited random children to sit with me at the back of the class and tell me about their language maps. Each interview only lasted a few minutes at which point in time the children were finished, had said all they wanted to say. I assumed the interviews were a failure, as they were not part of the planned data they didn’t ‘matter’. But the matter of the interviews became immediately and starkly apparent when I played them back later, recognizing with a shock of recognition that every child had something quite extraordinary to say about their language map. A particular surprising aspect was the way that children navigated the relationships between body, matter, the digital and multimodal engagements. In this presentation I will offer an experimental reading of excess, exploring its theoretical and methodological disruptions. I do this by focusing on how the 11 short interviews as sound and word, alongside the children’s visual language maps, offer a threshold to children’s body, matter, meaning, digital and virtual worlds in their multimodal engagements.