By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. It was in the early nineties that I first heard about the infant-toddler and preschool centres of Reggio Emilia. I was at a professional conference and attended a workshop about this unique approach to early learning. I remember being overwhelmed and feeling uneasy. I was experiencing cognitive dissonance as I reflected on my own context and what was possible. I was uncomfortable because of the discrepancy between what I had already known and this new information, or new interpretation of what I knew as best practice in early childhood education. When cognitive dissonance occurs there is a need to accommodate new ideas to find resolution. It is a situation I find myself in often but I use it as a provocation for further thought, consideration and dialogue with others. Since I do not work directly with children, I often consider the question of how does one begin to incorporate Reggio principles within their day-to-day practice? Recently I was asked to support four kindergarten classes on their quest to become more Reggio inspired. These teachers are at the first stages of their journeys. In my time with them, I tried to listen intently to their concerns, ideas and thoughts as well as provide an active professional learning experience. We played with ideas related to the principles of Reggio inspired practice and considered our own contexts. We played with materials and reflected on big ideas. The idea of balance has continued to resonnate as I reflect on the experience and prepare for next steps. We contemplated this big idea when one of the teachers created this structure and spoke of her challenge to “find balance”.
Many educators tend to envision curriculum approaches and practice along a continuum between child-centred, child-directed, or child-based to the more traditional teacher-directed practices (Machado & Botnarescue, 2011). I often hear the word versus used to describe practice in early childhood education – child-directed vs. teacher-directed, open-ended vs. closed ended, product vs. process. When we discuss these either/or positions in the classes that I teach, I ask students to remove the versus from the picture. In searching for meaning, rather than considering one right way and one wrong way, I suggest reframing your ideas in relation to finding your place along the continuums of practice. The Reggio Emilia approach supports an emergent curriculum that is child-initiated and teacher-framed. It is a negotiated curriculum (Forman & Fyre, 1998). The frame you use to explore your practice in relation to the infant-toddler and preschool centres is your own context.
Considering context is about your community of learners which include teachers, children and families. It needs to reflect current values and beliefs and consideration of the broader community. What are our shared understandings about our vision and mission? How do we reconcile current practices within this process of change? The teachers were very interested in the journeys of others and will be engaging in reflection and research over the course of the next few months and beyond. They may find this link helpful as it documents the process of exploring elements of the Reggio Emilia Approach within three different Chicago area contexts. The teachers I will be working with will need to be able to try to strike a balance in everyday practice – like searching for utopia, balance seems like an elusive state. To intentionally seek balance is a way to begin the process. Whether this process began as a top-down adminstratively driven initiative or whether it started from the teachers, the journey ahead should be intentional rather than accidental. As the protagonist of their journeys these teachers should set out on this path with intention to grow, learn and transform. When I met with these teachers we began our time together with the KWHLAQ chart, starting with K – what do we know? W – what do we want to know? H- How do we find out? Our topic was Reggio inspired practice.
Then we went through the principles playing a game of prioritizing them that yielded different thoughts and ideas about how these related to context. Without question, it was agreed that the principle that should be considered first was the image of the child. As Malaguzzi so eloquently suggests it is where teaching begins. Especially helpful throughout this process was the book, Indications: Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centres of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia (2013). The twelve principles from the book are listed below in the order that they appear. The descriptions have been abbreviated.
Children are active protagonists of their growth and development processes
Children possess extraordinary potentials for learning and change, as well as extensive affective, relational, sensory, and intellectual resources that manifest in an ongoing exchange with the cultural and social context. Each child is the subject of rights. Each child, individually and in relation with the group, possesses an ecological sensibility towards others and towards the environment, and constructs experiences to which he or she is capable of giving sense and meaning.
The hundred languages
As human beings, children possess a hundred languages, a hundred ways of thinking, of expressing themselves, of understanding, and of encountering others, with a way of thinking that creates connections between the various dimensions of experience rather than separating them. The hundred languages are a metaphor for the extraordinary potentials of children, their knowledge-building and creative processes.
Participation is the value and the strategy that defines the way in which the children, the educators, and the parents are stakeholders. It is the educational strategy that is constructed and lived day by day in the encounter with others and in the interpersonal relationships. Participation gives value to and makes use of the hundred languages of children and of human beings, viewed as a plurality of points of view and of cultures; it requests and fosters forms of cultural mediation and develops in a multiplicity of occasions and initiatives for constructing dialogue and the sense of belonging to a community.
In participated education, an active attitude of listening between adults, children, and the environment is the premise and context of every educational relationship. Listening is an ongoing process that nurtures reflection, welcoming, and openness towards oneself and others; it is an indispensable condition for dialogue and change.
Research represents one of the essential dimensions of life of children and adults alike, a knowledge building tension that must be recognized and valued. Shared research between adults and children is a priority practice of everyday life. The research made visible by means of documentation builds learning, reformulates knowledge, underlies professional quality, and is proposed at the national and international levels as an element of pedagogical innovation.
Documentation is an integral and structuring part of the educational theories and teaching practices, as it gives value to and makes explicit, visible, and assessable the nature of the individual and group learning processes of both the children and the adults, processes which are identified by means of observation and which become the common wealth. The educational experience that unfolds assumes its fullest meaning when the documentation produced in progress is revisited, reconstructed, re-signified, and assessed; that is, interpreted, in the exchange and with the contribution of different points of view. Viewed as a “public place”, documentation substantiates the idea of a forum in which a culture of childhood and education is elaborated by means of a democratic process.
The educational action takes shape by means of progettazione, which is the process of planning and designing the teaching and learning activities, the environment, the opportunities for participation, and the professional development of the personnel, and not by means of applying predefined curricula, Progettazione is a strategy of thought and action that is respectful and supportive of the learning processes of the children and the adults; it accepts doubt, uncertainty, and error as resources, and is capable of being modified in relation to the evolution of contexts. It is carried out by means of the processes of observation, documentation, and interpretation in a recursive relationship.
The organization of the work, the spaces, and the time of the children and the adults is a structural part of values and choices.
Environment, spaces, and relations
The interior and exterior spaces of the infant-toddler centres and preschools are designed and organized in interconnected forms that foster interaction, autonomy, explorations, curiosity, and communication, and are offered as places for the children and for the adults to research and to live together.
Ongoing professional development is both the right and the duty of each individual and of the group, and is included and taken into consideration in the work schedule and organized collectively in terms of its contents, forms, and the methods of participation of each individual.
Assessment, being an action aimed at the continuous attribution of meaning and of value, is a structuring process of the educational and administrative experience. The infant toddler centres and the preschools of Reggio Emilia make use of specific practices such as documentation for assessment purposes.
Finding our own place within the continuums of practice in relationship to Reggio principles and remaining true to context is the challenge that lies ahead. Change and transformation is possible with intentionality but authenticity is key. I ended my time with these teachers before the summer break with the LAQ portion of the chart featured above – L- What have we learned? A – What action will we take? Q – What new questions do we have? The next step will hopefully mirror the principle of progettazione as a strategy of thought and action that is respectful and supportive of the learning processes of these teachers. I am prepared to accept doubt, uncertainty, and error as resources. I am hopeful that the teachers will as well. The path will be modified as we take it in relation to the evolution of our contexts.