Alison M-C Li - PhD in Education

Having been a special-education teacher, an advocate for play in early childhood education, and now a research assistant at the Marie Clay Research Centre, Alison’s doctoral research focuses on children’s storying experiences in inclusive early childhood education settings in Aotearoa New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Alison with her supervisors Dr Adrienne Sansom (left) and Professor Janet Gaffney (right).

“With the University of Auckland’s generosity in granting me a full scholarship, a life-changing journey started at a place where I had never been, crafting and entangling multifarious stories about children and myself. Not only a sailing nation, Aotearoa is also a country of storying. I learned what relational connectedness, respectful kindness, and spiritual wisdom really mean, through stories. People’s genuine stories resonate and connect with us, renewing the sense of our lives and identities.

“As an international student, I experienced the inclusive ethos in the University, from people’s natural interactions and respectful relations. The diversity of culture is mindfully embraced everywhere on the campus. There is a culture of respect for each of us being who we are. From day one, I have had a strong sense of belonging to the University community.

“Thanks to my magnificent supervisors, I am grateful to be treated as a taonga, having my inner potential and hidden strengths discovered and valued with continued encouragement and guidance. Intriguingly, our supervisor meetings are a storying space for us to craft and reflect our collective stories of boundless knowledge exchange-and-creation that are woven with trust and bonds.

“My PhD research is about children’s everyday stories—the stories children do, say, act, experience, imagine, and create in their daily lives. My research privileges the voices of all children, including those with disabilities by making their lived experiences and imagination visible. The aim is to understand the phenomenon of storying—the presence and meaning of children’s storying in inclusive early childhood education settings in Aotearoa New Zealand and Hong Kong and how context shapes the being-listening-telling.

As an international student, I experienced the inclusive ethos in the University, from people’s natural interactions and respectful relations. From day one, I have had a strong sense of belonging to the University community.

Alison M-C Li

“One interesting finding from my research was that silence in play manifested throughout different stories. In these stories, children with labels of non-native English-speaking newcomers, autism and intellectual disability, and communication delays were imaged from an ableist perspective as timid, language incompetent, or unengaged. With the opportunity to deeply analyse the transcriptions of observed- and video-recorded stories, I noted how these same children were meaningfully communicating with others and connecting with their environment in their ‘silent’ play.

“Being in the moment with children led me to tell the stories of silent dialogues in another way. Their silences share equal weight with voice. Through a strengths-based lens, I reinterpreted the meanings of silence, situated in storying-play, as their acts of invitation, connection, exploration, and authorship.

“Through stories, educators could gain insights to better understand who their children are (identities) and who they will become (possibilities), thus contributing to children’s wellbeing and learning. Storying is dynamic and invitational, never fixed or concluded. Stories are connected to readers’ own cache of knowledge, thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Everyone is welcome to embark on the storying journey to make sense of our children’s worlds anew, many more stories will come.

“Everyday stories are small, yet meaningful. When teachers ‘listen’ to their children’s lived-experience stories, their engagement can be transformative for both the teller and listener. As educators, we are the readers of our children’s stories. Understanding our children is to notice, listen, and value their stories. The best ‘reading’ of our children stories is all from the heart (從心出發 in Chinese), a motto to live by.”

Alison M-C Li, an international student from Hong Kong, is pursuing her PhD under the supervision of Professor Janet Gaffney and Dr Adrienne Sansom. As the Marie Clay Literacy Trust Research Award recipient, Alison’s research highlights equity in early literacy. Under the leadership of the faculty’s Marie Clay Research Centre, Alison had the opportunity to work with other four presenters and the Centre Director to jointly share the storying methodologies from varied theoretical perspectives in an international virtual conference organised by Literacy Research Association in the USA.