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ArtmakingArtmaking, Storymaking and Free Play Sessions in Classroom-based Research

Early Childhood Applied Projects benefit the ECCE industry by having teachers investigate and critically reflect on their classroom actions and intentions. Here we have four Year 3 full-time students share about their teacher research projects: integrating Artmaking and Storymaking experiences into the curriculum and the implementation of Sustained Shared Thinking (SST) strategies.

Students: Debbie Kung Sze Hui, Ginn Ong, Ong Pei Rong Cheryl & Sheryl Goh Yi Fen.

Early Childhood Education Applied Project (ECE499) is a course that requires students to examine an area of their teaching practice, find ways to improve it so as to better engage children, and carry it out during Teaching Practice (ECE490) when they are attached to a childcare or kindergarten for 12 weeks. All student projects under ECE499 are supervised by Associate Professor Sirene Lim.

Could you briefly share about the project that you were working on?

Debbie Kung: I decided on the teacher inquiry questions for my research by identifying an issue that I want to address in the classroom. I observed that the children in my class were unmotivated to write and often learned through drill and decontextualized activities, hence I decided to implement Storymaking- a multimodal and integrated art-based approach to literacy. I constantly reviewed and revised the strategies I used based on my observations and reflection.

Ginn Ong: My project looked into supporting children's understanding of their world through artmaking. Basically, I engaged them in artmaking experiences, to see how they make sense of things around them. I feel that it is important for children to learn about their world. I planned a few implementations to gather data on their thinking processes, on how they show their ideas and view their world when engaging in artmaking. It is a good platform for the 4 year olds, to create something concrete instead of just talking and discussing things.

Cheryl Ong: My project was also about artmaking for the 6 year olds. I have an interest in children's language development. Being in the same classroom that I was, in year 2, I realised that during class discussion, children would usually show enthusiasm and put up their hands to answer teacher's questions. However, when it was their turn to speak, they tended to give a one-word response or keep quiet. Which led to my decision to use Artmaking to support their self-expression.

Sheryl Goh: My project was based on the concept of improving the quality of teacher-child interactions through what is known as 'sustained shared thinking' (SST). During my 12-week attachment, I realised children were usually "brushed off" with superficial comments when they approached the teachers to share their ideas and play creation. These were missed opportunities for teachers to find out what the children were thinking about. It made me wonder how we can support and make sure that children's thinking can be further stretched.

Throughout the course of your research, did you face any challenges or encounter anything unexpected? Can you share with us?

Sheryl Goh: Initially, I found it hard to improvise what to say to extend the children's thinking. For instance, during a free play session where the children were thinking about transforming their play creations, I had only managed to spontaneously ask, "What else can it transform to?", which resulted in the children reassembling their creation in a repetitive way – from a bird, to a robot, back to a bird. Through practising improvising my responses, I was able to improve on how I could further the children's thinking as the sessions progressed. Forming shared goals with the children through showing genuine interest (by observing, and actively listening to the children) had also helped to create more meaningful conversations.

Ginn Ong: The biggest challenge that I faced was during data collection. It was challenging for me to prompt responses that can provide me with data aligned with my research questions. Eventually, we will have to follow their interests and make the necessary changes to our research project.

Cheryl Ong: A research, that I read previously, shared about the use of scaffolding strategies to promote language developments, such as asking open-ended questions. Hence, I tried this approach for my research project by asking the children, "What did you draw?" and "Why did you draw this?" during the artmaking session. However, I realised that it became more like a Question and Answer session. It was very superficial. It was also a challenge for me as I expected these questions to lead to a conversation about their own artwork. Instead, I felt like my conversations with the children were not as meaningful. I then started to be more curious about what's important to them and asked different questions like "Is there something important about your artwork that you want to share with me?". Since then, I noted a significant difference in their replies.

Debbie Kung: Initially, I was unprepared for the way children reacted to some of the art materials that I presented. I hadn't considered their lack of experience in using them and had to make amendments in the way I presented them to the children and had to factor in time for them to explore the materials. As the project progressed, I was surprised at how well the children took to Storymaking and were self-regulated and motivated in working on their stories. They took the initiative to set up and clean-up by themselves and I could even step back and allow them to work independently.

What is your takeaway as a teacher-researcher?

Sheryl Goh: As a teacher conducting the research, I was able to take ownership (of the project). Through thelens of a teaching profession, I would include my subjective thoughts and feelings which affected how I examined my data. With this, I also reflected on why I reacted in a certain way, this has helped me to acquire a deeper understanding of my teaching practices and how I can improve on it.

Ginn Ong: I agree with Sheryl. The most important part of the project is to be informed by my own practices during the process of reflecting. Likewise, the research project further aligned my beliefs that children can learn from these artmaking experiences.

Cheryl Ong: During artmaking sessions for my research, I realised the choice of materials presented to children can greatly affect their self-expression. Hence, this experience has allowed me to learn to be more intentional when selecting the materials and preparing for the session.

How can your research benefit the ECCE industry as a whole?

Debbie Kung: My research showed that when writing activities were presented in ways that were meaningful and relevant, it positively impacted children's dispositions towards writing. Setting up an encouraging environment by providing time and autonomy also allowed them to make connections across the different learning domains. Hence, my teacher-research project advocates for a more integrated approach towards early literacy within Singapore's Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) framework, and suggests additional disposition goals within each domain, going beyond a narrow focus on specific skills and knowledge In Sweden, researchers have attempted to incorporate digital literacies by allowing children to use digital technology or software to create story narratives [1]. It would be interesting to see if this mode could be used in classrooms in Singapore, given the growing prevalence of digital technologies in our world.

Ginn Ong: Through artmaking, young children gain opportunities to engage in sensorial and interactive experiences where they actively construct their own knowledge and understanding. Findings in my study may be beneficial to the Early Childhood Education sector as it shows how artmaking can be integrated into the curriculum to create many more opportunities for young children to develop under various learning domains such as language, social studies, science, or even social-emotional skills.

Cheryl Ong: Integrated learning is based on the notion that young children perceive the world as a whole rather than being compartmentalised into the different learning domains. My study revealed artmaking as a powerful multimodal tool that may be used to support young children's learning across various learning domains such as language and literacy, social-emotional, and social studies skills, not just their aesthetic and creative expression. Incorporating artmaking into the curriculum to support integrated learning may be beneficial to the ECCE sector in creating a better-quality early childhood education for young children; it creates developmentally appropriate and meaningful learning opportunities for young children.

Sheryl Goh: My study's findings show how the quality of teacher-child interactions may be improved through SST and promote cognitive outcomes of young children; this could raise the overall quality of preschool education in Singapore if it is implemented across Singapore preschools. Perhaps childcare and kindergarten operators may encourage early childhood professionals to learn about SST and use it as a guide to improve their teacher language. In addition, early childhood professionals may participate in sharing sessions to reflect on their experience and discuss the use of SST during daily teacher-child interactions.

[1] Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy (2015): Children's digital storymaking. The negotiated nature of instructional literacy events

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