The Reggio Emilia approach resonates with me for many reasons as a teacher, as a mother, as a researcher, and simply, as a human being in this ever-changing world. It allows the image of the child to emerge in a safe, supportive environment while encouraging them to follow their curiosity and to take risks...all while developing a sense of agency. Children in a Reggio-inspired environment will learn to become out-of-the-box thinkers; place emphasis on relationships; develop higher level thinking skills; gain perseverance when obstacles are in their paths; use failure as a teaching tool as oppose to an ending point; and most importantly, find joy while becoming lifelong learners.
Below are the beginning stages of this page as I attempt to tackle and reflect on the question...What is the Reggio philosophy in the bounds of our classroom walls?
Relationships and Connections between Children
Relationships are the basis for all that we do in the world. We all want to belong. We all want to be valued. We all want to be heard. In order for long lasting relationships to develop, we must create an environment where all are welcome to not only have a voice but a voice that is understood and respected by all. We must start to listen to one another, especially when divergent thinking is present. When different views are voiced, this allows individuals to self-reflect and grow from other's viewpoints.
Below is a clip from a previous class of mine with a child who wanted to join a plan that was in motion. We have an expectation within the classroom community, Find a way for all to play (this idea and expression came from Pam Oken-Wright). Inclusiveness benefits everyone! First of all, it allows the child who wants to join a plan in progress to feel safe when advocating for him or herself knowing that he or she will be accepted into the play. Secondly, the children who are currently in the play have to articulate what the plan is.... which supports executive function and ensures that all who are currently playing have the same shared image. All the children then need to negotiate and collaborate the role of the new addition into the play until each member of the plan is satisfied. By having this protocol in place, all members of the classroom community win!
Small Group Project Work
The ideas for small group project work originate from the children. Teachers observe patterns they may see in the children's play; bring questions to the forefront that emerge in the children's curiosity during exploration and investigations; or invite the children to dive deeper in those happenings that spark wonder and imagination. This work tends to be serendipitous and the teacher becomes a facilitator to help the children's vision become visible for all to see.
This type of work is important. It fosters a culture where collaboration and negotiation is a norm. This dialogue is crucial for critical thinking to develop because children self-reflect and revise their ideas. This is when growth occurs in their executive function.
Work like this allows children to take risks in a safe, small learning environment. They can fail and use it as a teaching tool rather than an obstacle they cannot move past. They gain resilience in this process that they can then take to other endeavors. There are others in the group that can give insight and encouragement when needed, resulting in stronger relationships and a heightened sense of community within the classroom.
The images and clip below are from a small group project that began with an idea from Kenyiah. This process involved collaboration with writing a script; sketching outfit designs and creating them with fabric; set design; and finally...the finished product of a short "movie." This work took several days and there was joy present in each moment. Think about all that was gained in this work.
The Environment is a Second Teacher
The environments at the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, are known to be the "third teacher." It is here that they have a teacher and an atelierista (a teacher with a background in the arts) in each classroom setting. The environment then becomes the third teacher inviting children's curiosity to wander with the provocations that are arranged throughout the room. Unfortunately, we do not have that second adult in the classroom in our situation and therefore making the environment the second teacher. In my opinion, having only one teacher in the environment makes it even more crucial for the design of the classroom setting to more stimulating and provoking for the children to engage in deeper learning. The environment needs to be designed in a way to inspire and cause wonder.
The pictures below capture the joy of learning.
Documentation and Reflection
Documentation can include photographs; children's work artifacts; Blog posts; documentation panels; transcribed conversations...to name just a few. Documentation not only assists teachers as they learn alongside the children, but allows the children's learning to become visible for them and others in the class. It helps us gain insight into the child and his or her possible intent. Collaboration about the documentation with colleagues is a crucial necessity in this philosophy as it creates a dialogue for reflection for teachers to dive deeper into the child's learning. Through examining documentation, we gain information to help support the children's learning and gain a better sense of who they are as an individual.
Below is part of the forward, written by Pam Oken-Wright, in the book From Teaching to Thinking, by Ann Pelo and Margie Carter. This is an example of how Pam helped me wear a reflective lens to dive deeper into my observations and documentation.
100 Languages for Children to Represent their Ideas
Is it not a universal intention for our thoughts to be known and understood by others who matter to us?
Children, and even adults, can have ideas that are bigger than their words can sometimes convey. What happens when we give children different avenues or "languages" through an array of media to help them represent their ideas... magic! Well not really, magic, but it sure can feel like it for them and the teacher learning alongside them. "Languages" refer to the different ways children can express their understanding of an idea or thought in a symbolic way. "Languages" can include, but definitely not limited to, paints, dance, Legos, clay, drawings, music, to name just a few. Children need open ended materials that allow them to construct their own idea of what they want to portray. Our ideas are as unique as the way we should be permitted to create and share them.
There is joy that is experienced through this process of play and learning that awakens the mind for deeper understanding. The joy comes from the excitement of sharing the struggles, and therefore the triumphs, of imagining, planning, revising plans until satisfaction is met on behalf of the child. These "languages" are indeed extensions of their identity and who they are... and therefore, part of the whole child.
Below is an example of how Rodolfo's idea of making a house become a reality through the language of "making materials." His excitement was contagious! And with each new classmate that asked to join the plan, the vision became even grander.
The Art of Listening and the Role of Teacher
Discussion.... How do you view YOUR role as a teacher?