I am busy preparing to publish a series of lesson plans and units of work on my soon to launch website: www.linchpineducation.com.au
In preparing the work I was reflecting on the process a teacher goes through when designing a unit of study and I got to thinking about my experiences of Reggio Emilia.
A city called Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy has given rise to a whole movement in early childhood education known commonly as the “reggio approach”. Some years ago I was fortunate enough to visit that city and the centre which gave rise to this educational change in many Australian pre schools.
My visit to Reggio Emilia was one which has remained with me for many years and has certainly added a new dimension to the way I teach. At the very heart of Reggio Emilia and its approach to education is the absolute and profound belief in the potential of the child. The teacher and the parents become guides on the child’s journey and the environment is regarded as the third teacher. The interrelationship between child, parent, teacher and the environment is fundamental to the success of this approach.
The rights of the child are celebrated and appreciated. The child is viewed as being competent, capable and full of potential. In Reggio Emilia I saw children socialising, learning, growing, developing and constructing knowledge with the support of the adults in their lives. These children demonstrated creativity, sensitivity and awareness of the world around them.
The presence of the parent in the child’s education is highly valued. Close collaboration between the parents and the school is believed to enable a broader and more complete picture of the child. Loris Malaguzzi of Reggio Emilia believes this is the best way to ensure a quality education.
The teacher in Reggio Emilia is a co-constructor of knowledge. Starting with the child’s own theories and questions it is the teacher’s task to challenge and provoke the child in order to facilitate new learning. The teacher at Reggio Emilia works alongside pedagogical coordinators and parent committees to ensure that educational content, standards and requirements are met. If the child shows an interest in a particular topic it is not simply the task of the teacher to assign it as a project for all students to complete. Rather, it is her/his job to discuss the topic with colleagues, explore its merits, map it against the educational outcomes and create a learning experience of value.
In Reggio Emilia schools are viewed as living organisms. Their physical layout and structure is believed to have a great influence on the learning that takes place. Students need space to gather in small groups. They need space to move and be free. They require an array of materials with which to work. Reggio Emilia is a place where a feeling of belonging is essential for all – child, teacher and parent.
Schools adopting a reggio approach often engage in a lot of project work. Whilst projects are important they are part of a much greater and more complex system. It is actually documentation that is the key in Reggio Emilia. Teachers are looking for ‘moments of value’ and it explained as watching for “the ants instead of always waiting for the elephants” (Amelia Gambetti-Reggio Children).
A school claiming to be adopting a reggio approach will provide endless samples of conversations, interactions between teacher and student, notes, recordings, work samples, photographs, drawings and illustrations. But far more important than that is the expert insight into those records offered by the teachers. Reggio teachers are skilled at observing children and use those observations to analyse understanding.
Documentation is the primary research tool for examining the child’s learning processes. In Reggio Emilia documentation takes place daily and it gives meaning to the children’s work. It also determines future projects, creates a log of work done and generates momentum to get the project done.
The walls of the classrooms that I visited in Reggio Emilia were covered with documentation of the current work. The interactions, recordings, images and objects were present and served as a daily reminder of the learning goals and processes in the school. The learning was alive and dynamic. There weren’t pristine posters and instructional texts adorning the walls. Rather there were plans for a bird house scribbled on the back of an envelope with a long transcript pasted next to it outlining the conversation between the teacher and the child about the need for a bird house and his ideas for the design. Below were a collection of photographs and pictures ripped from magazines showing birds and their homes across the world. Seated on the floor in front of the wall was a group of small boys busily trying to reconstruct a nest using drinking straws and twine. The teacher was recording them on the video camera in order to capture their conversation and plan accordingly for tomorrow.
What does it mean for me?
I was completely inspired by my visit to Reggio Emilia and excited by the decision of many schools to adopt this approach for the early learning centres. I believe that it celebrates children and empowers them without removing responsibility for their education from their teachers and parents. I still refer back to my experiences in Reggio Emilia when planning units of work to ensure I remain focused on who my work is for. The interest of the child and their wonder about the world is always a driving force. So too is my innate awareness of the individual needs of students and the opportunity all children need to show what they can do in their own way.
A little note for parents:
In exploring options for my daughter and faced with the task of choosing a school I would welcome a school that was empathetic with the reggio approach and inspired by it. After all, the heart of this approach is to encourage educators to question the very purpose of education and the way they do it. However, I don’t believe there can be a reggio school anywhere but in Northern Italy in a little city called Reggio Emilia and I would question any school claiming to be a “Reggio School”.