By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I am thrilled, that thanks to fellow Reggio inspired educators our Twitter chats at #ReggioPLC have become a dynamic time to connect and collaborate with others from around the world. Our plan when we started the chat was to work through Reggio principles. For Loris Malaguzzi, the central notion for the philosophy of Reggio Emilia resides in the concept of images. We started with a discussion about the image of the child. Our next chat topic was the image of the teacher; the following topic was the image of parents/families. Then we focused on the environment as a third teacher, and then we leaped into a chat on pedagogical documentation and found that we needed two chats to devote to this worthy topic. What will be our next topic, we wondered and when I suggested to our Twitter friends that it be the “projected curriculum” we received queries and requests for hints. What does a “projected curriculum” mean? Why should it follow the topic of pedagogical documentation?
For the educators in Reggio Emilia, teaching and learning becomes an art that is expressed through the use of progettazione, project curriculum constructed with pedagogical documentation (Rinaldi, 1998). Projected curriculum may involve projects but this term is not interchangeable with “project curriculum”. The use of projects to engage children is part of the 80-year progressive tradition of education (Spodek & Saracho, 2003). First inspired by the ideas of John Dewey and advocated by William H. Kilpatrick, the term used to describe the approach was project method. Under the assumption that children learn best when their interest is fully engaged and centred, the project method was used in Dewey’s Laboratory School at the University of Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century (Tanner, 1997).
The Project Approach, “refers to a way of teaching and learning as well as to the content of what is taught and learned” (Katz & Chard, 1989, p. 3). It is a set of teaching strategies, which enable teachers to guide children through in-depth studies of real world topics. Children are instrumental in deciding on topics, becoming the experts, and sharing accountability of learning with adults (Katz & Chard, 2000). The investigation is undertaken by a small group of children within a class, sometimes by a whole class, and occasionally by an individual child (Katz & Chard, 2000).
A Tree Project
According to Katz and Chard (2000), the practice of project work is referred to as an approach rather than method or model; this suggests that investigative projects constitute only one element of an early childhood curriculum. As part of the curriculum for children ages of about 3 to 8 years, project work functions in relationship to other aspects of the curriculum. Since it is not a total teaching method or model, it does not require the abandonment of a wide variety of other pedagogical practices that support children’s development and learning. As suggested by Katz and Chard, projects are intended to be emergent as they develop from the ongoing interests of the children. Projects therefore are an example of emergent curriculum. In contrast, themes are usually not considered emergent and from my experience, rarely are.
In Reggio, the term used to describe curriculum is progettazione, which, means to project to the next steps. As pedagogical documentation is constructed progettazione is also constructed in the process of each experience or project. Throughout the process of creating pedagogical documentation, the curriculum is adjusted accordingly through a continuous dialogue among the teachers and with the children (Gandini & Goldhaber, 2001). It encourages the voices of children, parents and teachers. It is a curriculum that is accountable for learning in an authentic, emergent way.
When I first heard about the Reggio Emilia Approach, it was at a workshop given to college faculty in the early nineties. After we viewed the Open Window slides, there was a lot of discussion about whether this was possible in a North American setting. The workshops facilitator suggested that we could easily adapt the Project Approach and so I turned to the work of Lillian Katz and Sylvia Chard, as I was desperate to find a way for my students to experience something other than the thematic approach which, in my experience was most often neither authentic or emergent. It was difficult for my students being in their field practicum only once a week to move through the three phases of the Project Approach but some were able to do it wonderful ways I could never imagine. I knew at that time that I would always be an advocate for emergent curriculum. However, other students ended up implementing what I considered long-term themes.
Project work and emergent curriculum, it appears, do not always go hand-in-hand. In 2011, I wrote an article for Exchange magazine based on my doctoral thesis: Reaching the top of the mountain: The impact of emergent curriculum on the practice and self-image of early childhood educators. I found that:
- The teachers can predetermine projects once an interest has been established.
- While projects are labeled ‘emergent curriculum,’ once there is an expressed interest in the topic by the children, the teachers’ take over.
- Teachers respond to children’s initial interest by collecting related resources and provide connecting activities, and the project becomes teacher directed.
- The direction of the project is pre-deter- mined and teacher controlled.
“Projected curriculum” or progettazione is complex and hard to define/translate. Progettazione emerges from the reflection/interpretation of pedagogical documentation. It helps a teacher decide on next steps but the next steps do not necessarily end up being a project. If projects do emerge they “do not follow rigid timetables but rather meander slowly at the pace of the children” (http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/images/ReggioAug06_tcm4-393250.pdf).
The ordinary moments and everyday experiences in the classroom are worthy of investigation/inquiry and do not always have to lead to an all-encompassing long-term project. Carlina Rinaldi (1995) describes progettazione as “a strategy, a daily practice of observation-interpretation-documentation” (p. 206). Moss (2005) describes it as a “flexible approach” that has “no place for predetermined outcomes and linear progression, but an openness to the unexpected and new thought by children and adults alike (p. 27). When you immerse yourself into the process of progettazione you will find yourself on a journey of learning and if you “stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before” (Malaguzzi, 1998, p. 82).
Documenting everyday moments