Young children in the art gallery : excursions as induction to a community of practice

  • Lyn Fasoli

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Learning in 'communities of practice' is a new way of describing and investigating how people learn and has not been applied extensively in research in early childhood or in art galleries. This thesis is a critical case study undertaken with preschool children as they prepared for, participated in and followed up a series of excursions to the National Gallery of Australia. The study explores and analyses children's induction into the practices of the art gallery and their negotiation of the meanings around these practices in the gallery and in their preschool. Children's engagement in practices is analysed using a sociocultural framework for learning called 'communities of practice' (Wenger,1998) in combination with a multilevel analysis of the artefacts of practice derived from the philosophical writings of Wartofsky (1979). Multiple data sources included photographs of children, their drawings, tape recordings of their incidental talk and group discussions, and results of play activities as children participated in the practices of the art gallery and the preschool. Data was also collected through semi-structured interviews with gallery and preschool staff. In a study involving such young children,the use and juxtaposition of these multiple sources of data was important because it allowed for the inclusion and privileging of the material and non-verbal resources as well as verbal resources that children used as they engaged in practices. Outcomes of this research have been used to illuminate and problematise early childhood as a site for the intersection of multiple communities of practice. Learning to make sense of experience is portrayed as more than language-based 'scaffolding' and the representation of experience through child-centred play activity. The study provides a detailed descriptive account of children's learning and sees it as a fundamentally unpredictable and emergent process. It shows that relations of power are always a part of learning and can be seen through an analysis of the resources available to children, those they took up and were constrained by in the local situation and those they brought from other communities of practice. In this process, the children, as well as their teachers, were active negotiators. They participated in complying with community-constituted views of knowledge as well as shaping, resisting and contesting what counted as knowledge. This study makes a contribution to understanding children's learning in early childhood as fundamentally social, unpredictable, productive and transformative rather than individually constructed, stable, predetermined and representational of experience.
    Date of Award2002
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMarie Brennan (Supervisor)

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