As educators it is our responsibility to constantly engage in professional development and dialogue. This involves challenging ourselves to learn, develop, question and apply the knowledge we obtain in order to best support and provide for the children we work with. Today Carreen and I were privileged to be involved in a conference hosted by the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange https://www.reggioaustralia.org.au
Tiziana Filippini from Reggio Emilia facilitated this wonderful event. Tiziana is a pedagogista, a collaborator with Reggio Children and was formerly responsible for the Documentation and Research Centre at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre in Reggio Emilia. http://www.reggiochildren.it/centro-internazionale-loris-malaguzzi/?lang=en
Our workshop with Tiziana explored the design and process of project work as a key pedagogical strategy for learning in educational contexts that value interdependence, exchange and collaboration.
Here are a few key ideas and notes from our day…
History of Reggio Emilia:
“The beginning of our history coincides with the aftermath of the War. A great desire to rebuild what had been destroyed and above all a sense of power one has when coming through some terrible catastrophe: you feel strong, you are inevitably tempered. There was in the air a feeling that all things were possible, that they could all be faced” (One City, Many Children. Reggio Children, 2010).
This approach to early childhood eduction became international renowned when described by Newsweek in 1991 as being “the best in the world” at providing education for children up to seven years of age (An Inspiring Vision for Education, REAIE).
Key principles of the Reggio approach include:
- children are active protagonists in their growth and development processes
- an image of the child as capable and competent
- the ‘Hundred Languages’ of children
- learning as a process of individual and group construction
- educational research
- educational documentation
- significance of the environment, space and relationship between children / teachers / environment
- professional development
What is the role of a teacher?
The job of a teacher and the formation we go through at university is just one piece of our professional training. We learn through our experiences with the children. You keep learning through all your professional life. Think of education as a relationship, an interaction among adults and children, continually changing and developing to provide what is best for the children. All children are different, we respond to them in a way that reaches out to meet them. A focus on continual learning and research is important. Developing the aesthetic and quality of relationships is crucial. It is not only the children that change and learn, but we are constantly engaged in this process too.
Who is the child? How do they learn?
The child is not an empty vessel. If we think children are empty vessels it is a linear relationship defined as one who knows and one who doesn’t know. What is your image of the child? This will totally change the way you perceive yourself and your role.
The image of the child we have in our mind is important in shaping the way in which we do our job. All children are capable and competent.
It is important to constantly reflect and challenge what we know about:
- our mindset
- our expectations about learning
- our abilities in terms of designing contexts, in particular our responsibility to create, conduct and communicate learning contexts
The difference each of us brings is a richness that opens our minds.
What is important in our approach?
- Being present and being able to listen
- The importance of TIME
- Planning for the possible
- Documentation – geniune documentation of the voices of the children and the learning processes
- Constantly evolving mindset! Of educators and children
- Leadership that are supportive of change
- Weaving and making connections throughout the learning processes
- The process behind the end product
Reflection on discussion:
- How are we aware of our mindset? Is it flexible?
- What is the role of the school? Does it fit within the context of society today? Does it acknowledge who the children are and what is happening in our society now and into the future? What learning do our children need to achieve? We are working for children that live now (and into the future), not children or communities from decades ago. The world is changing rapidly! The school is a living organism that should be able to keep moving forward, to be innovative, to anticipate and not be behind what is happening in our society
- School is not preparing for life – children are living now! We shouldn’t seperate. There needs to be continuity, not separation. School needs to be relevant in the life of the child. Their minds keep processing what they are experiencing. They will find links, comparing, reorganising, searching.
Children are living – not “attending” a school. Being a student doesn’t mean separating. Continuity is important. We know the architecture of our brain is like a circuit that connects our different pieces of memory and experiences. We need connection instead of fragmentation.
Do not see students in an isolated way. The student is a PERSON, a CITIZEN. What we gain through this vision is an investment for the future. We know that learning is not just accumulation of data or information. There are so many new ideas, opinions and discoveries made every day that it is impossible to retain all this information. Most jobs of today are not carried out in isolation but are carried out in a team. We need more than one person to put together knowledge of the world around us. Knowledge is not just accumulating data / information. It is how we organise the world and data around us and how we make use of this.
Learning as a process of building a structure of how we continue to learn through our whole life. How we learn to learn, how we get a strategy. How to make sense of knowledge and data. Through all our life we are making meaning. Metacognition. How do we improve this, how to give quality to this? You may read and study, in a year these things are obsolete, there are new discoveries. But the way I reason, collaborate and make sense of things will stay with me. I will improve, evolve and change if I have a flexible mind.
Learning is not a product (numbers, code, letters etc). These are important, but more important is HOW I am learning. The time I need to consolidate my learning strategies is an important undertaking. To perform something sometime doesn’t mean I have ‘learned’ it. I can repeat it, but in a different context can I apply it? Can I reorganise my mind to make new learning and connections?
What are our expectations about learning? Learning encompasses a huge range of processes, dispositions and skills. Do we just narrow it down to academic skill or are we supporting the child to learn and grow with many possibilities and channels they can use to make sense of the world around them (their hundred languages)? We need to always keep in our minds that our brain works in an interconnected way. Our minds will improve when we seek to make connections. It is how our brain learns. This should be a big effort, no matter our age. This attitude must be present. Metacognition is so important.
The Reggio Approach
The biggest misunderstanding about the Reggio approach is that there are no goals. That the children do as they please when they please. This is wrong. We know where we want out children to go and what we want them to achieve. We are with them. The way in which we reach these goals can take many avenues and it involves finding strategies that best fit with the children we are working with. Its not forgetting about goals. There is not one way to reach these learning goals.
What is a good student?
How does the school engage him / her?
Are we asking the children to think?!?!
Asking questions forces us to connect. If we see things in a connected way we will get the meaning. This will stay with us because our brain has made a connection. It will be retained later on.
How do we want the children to reach their goals and design their context?
How are we structuring our knowledge and learning to produce new learning?
The Reggio experience is a continual search for ways, opportunities and tools to enhance and support our ability to learn how to work with children. We have an attitude of a researcher, a mindset of being a researcher. We want to understand how we can do things better. We keep working to improve our practice and develop our theories. As adults, we organise the atmosphere and the culture within our classroom. Our knowledge, convictions, theories and stereotypes as individuals and as a team form the context of our classroom. What we believe and think has an impact on the children we teach. When we look at the children we see a piece of us.