Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development > Vol. 8, No. 2 (2011)

Making meaning with narrative shapes: what arts-based research methods offer educational practitioners and researchers

Alison (Ali) Black, School of Education, CQUniversity Australia


Arts-based inquiry which emphasises the language, practices and forms commonly employed in the arts is offering rich opportunities for exploring knowledge, meaning, and learning beyond creative arts education. Educational researchers and practitioners across a range of educational settings and sectors are recognising the potential of arts-based inquiry for explicating the complex realities, changing issues, emotions and dilemmas that constitute educational worlds. And for revealing the complexity underpinning critical educational questions such as ‘what does it mean to teach?’ This paper illustrates the remarkable meaning-making and pedagogical capabilities of arts-based research methods. It does this by offering a sonata-formatted narrative that tracks the journey of an early childhood educator as she engages in a personal and collaborative inquiry into what it means to teach. It follows her experimentation with arts-based shapes – story, drawing, and metaphor – artistic and literary shapes that worked to access her knowledge. Shapes that became visible products of reflection, and acted as catalysts for awareness, knowledge construction and transformation. Shapes that like torches, shed light on the particular educational dilemmas and situations that mattered to her, and helped her see, think and respond differently to her work. For researchers and others interested in educational matters, this paper demonstrates how arts-based methods support the investigation of educational questions in personal, social, engaging and connected ways. Ways that invite meaning, story, and empathy, and that reach and are accessible to diverse audiences.

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