On Saturday the 21st of May, Wendy, Taryn, Claire any I were fortunate enough to attend ‘An Encounter with Tiziana Filipini’ in Sydney, a conference organised by the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange (REAIE). Titziana is a Pedagogista and former Director of the Documentation and Research Centre in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
The Reggio Approach is an educational philosophy which originated in the town (and surrounding areas) of Reggio Emilia after World War II. It was born at a time when educator, Loris Malaguzzi, and parents believed that children were in need of a new way of learning. It is not a method which can be replicated as the Reggio Approach is unique to the context of Reggio Emilia, however, this approach has been inspiring educators all over the world to consider the principles of teaching and learning which are advocated by their philosophy. In the Reggio Approach the image of the child is that of a strong, capable protagonist in his or her own learning. The philosophy promotes a strong commitment to continual research into teaching and learning and educational environments are… “spaces where young children are offered daily opportunities to encounter many types of materials, many expressive languages, many points of view, working actively with hands, minds, and emotions, in a context that values the expressiveness and creativity of each child in the group.”
The presentation was engaging, heart-felt, thought-provoking and incredibly inspiring. I wanted to share some key insights from the day in the way that they were shared with us by Tiziana.
Education is not technical or methodical
The Reggio Approach is not a method. It is a way of thinking. It is an approach that asks educators to consider the relationship between theory and practice. Educators need to talk to each other: (as Deborah explained at the recent Big Ideas Day, we need to rigorously defend our practices). This is what the educators in Reggio do. In their schools there is a ‘continual dialogue between theory and practice’ and this dialogue includes educators, parents and children. The three must come to an agreement.
Do our practices follow our values? Many schools (especially primary schools) have a ‘top-down’, governing approach to education. In this methodology the teacher ‘knows’ and the students are empty boxes needing to be ‘filled’ with knowledge. The Reggio approach is a ‘bottom–to-top’, values approach to education, beginning with the children. It is so important that our schools have clear values and that every educator knows what they are, because these values should underpin everything that we do with children.
Children are learning from birth
There is a common belief in our society that in our profession we prepare children for learning. We prepare them for school where they will begin their education. This is ridiculous! By the time children go to school they have already been learning for 5 years. There is a belief that school is where life begins. Children don’t know how to ‘get prepared’ for living. They are already living.
Children are born with 100 languages which are used to express and communicate. This metaphor welcomes differences. Different ways of learning and understanding. Schools should have a wide range of possibilities which allow children to ‘interact’ and ‘think’ with us. We cannot narrow the child because we are narrow. If we empower the child we will empower the teacher, and we will empower the school. This cannot be done alone! Educators need to collaborate, to share ideas and understandings. Through communication we will learn to speak 100 languages. If we find meaning in what we are doing, the children will feel it.
Image of the child
Is our image of the child that of a ‘human being’? A human being who is a citizen of our society, a person who is ‘complete’ at each stage of his life? We sometimes feel the need to push children to ‘learn’ something, or ‘be’ something, to move them on to the ‘next stage’. But we must remember that children are complete at every stage. They are complete as the person they are at that time of their life. Do we credit this child, this human being with constructive and interpretive potentials? Do we consider that a child is not only the recipient of care, but also the producer of relationships, a person engaged in seeking the sense of her actions?
The child as Protagonist
Children have the right to be recognised as:
If children are protagonists in their own learning and teachers have a responsibility to teach, where can the two meet?
Laboratories for democratic life
Reggio schools are laboratories for democratic life. They are places to develop rules for how to discuss, argue and compare ideas. They are places where children are not raised as individuals, but as individuals who form a group: a community of learners. In every occasion we should be thinking about how we can connect children to each other: to create this community. Point out the importance of working together. Find ways that children are connected. This may be as simple as how they get to school in the morning.
- Documentation should support the ongoing relationship between children and educators.
- Documentation is used to share with colleagues and decide where to go next with children’s learning. By communicating with colleagues we find different ‘lenses’ to look at what the children are doing. The more we brainstorm the more flexible we can be, because we will have more lenses through which to view what the children are doing. We will also have more lenses to decide on where the children could go next.
- Once we decide on the key ideas we would like children to explore (i.e. empathy, ecological ways of thinking, respect for change/differences etc.) we will look at what the children do next through those lenses. We need to document learning with these milestones (empathy, respect etc.) in mind. We will see many things but we need to look for the things that are connected to what we are hoping to see.
- If children show an interest in something but come to a point where they can no longer continue then this is an opportunity for educators to consider how to bring children back to that interest. When we document children’s interests and collaborate with educators we can offer children a new lens to re-motivate them to keep going, because once they understand a new meaning they will begin working with lots of detail.
- Educators need to share ideas, thoughts, visit different schools etc. to see how other educators are doing it, because children are quick! We need to be on the ball and prepared with a number of ‘lenses’ to view their learning.
What stood out for us?
“Documentation is a vehicle for extending and sustaining children’s and adults’ learning. This experience showed how documentation is an integral part of educational theory and practice and as an ongoing vehicle for professional development. This has opened up our eyes into the world of documentation and how we should look at what the children are doing and why.”
-Taryn and Wendy
“The conference reminded me to take things slowly and allow children to guide where the ongoing project will lead. Not just to jump from zero to a hundred in a week. This will allow for a deeper, richer learning experience and increased engagement as well. Also, it is so important that educators collaborate to gain more diverse perspectives about where projects could lead.”
“If the values of the school support the importance of creating a community of connected learners then we will always have a lens through which to document learning. When educators collaborate we will find new ways of seeing things. Being an educator is all about making decisions, collectively. Our colleagues are the most valuable resources that we have.”
Rebecca Morgan, Treehouse in the Park Early Education Centre