Sunday, 9 December 2012

MY Reggio Approach - part one


The moment I "discovered" Reggio I knew that this was how I had always been working - it was not so much learning something new, as a confirmation that there were others like me - and that by connecting with these people I could develop my Reggio approach - learn, reflect, test, reflect, learn, document, reflect, test, reflect - it will never end it will never be a finished product - it will always be a process. AND that is what makes me happy - I fear the day when I feel I have mastered everything - because then I think I can only be conning myself. The area of ECE will always be changing, always developing - not just because society is always changing but because research is discovering more and more about, for example, how the brain works/develops and how we learn etc...

I like how Malaguzzi wrote "our Vygotsky" etc that they could take the bits that suited them and mix it up to create the right learning environments for the children, staff and setting at that time. I believe that by taking this line of thinking we can recreate RE preschools no matter where we live in the world - as every setting will be unique - meeting the needs, interests and capabilities of children and staff as well as the layout of the setting.

The third teacher, the environment, is an important partner in our learning processes - how do we as teachers interpret the spaces we work in? How do we expect the children to use them? Do they then use them as we expected - do they create a negative or positive environment (ie do the rooms allow the children to be competent or do we as teachers have to say "no" a lot?). I am not at all keen on the word "no" - I am not afraid to use it, but I would much rather create environments and situations that ALLOW children to explore on their own terms and in a natural, organic way. Through observations I learn more about what the children are interested in, what triggers problems and what works - by documenting these observations I can return to them - and either ensure we do not return to something that did not work OR see how the children have developed and can now manage something that could not previously; or to ensure that ALL children have access e.g. that boys and girls are encouraged to test everything. The preschool ALLOWS them to be who they are and to reach their individual potential within the group.
I think changing rooms around should be a well thought out process that the whole team discusses together so that everyone understands the pedagogical thinking behind changes - if the teachers do not know/understand how the rooms/areas are to be used how can we ever expect them to be able to guide the children? - I also think that if one colleague mentions to one or two others  "do you think it's a good idea if I move this shelf over there and... " does not create a proper pedagogical understanding - nothing is documented as to WHY the change is being made, or the expectations of the change so that it can be reflected upon in the future... it also means that only one person has thought through the process and the others have agreed to it without consideration...

The one thing I have realised is that the RE approach cannot be worked alone. Sure, you can think Reggio, but the whole process is so reliant on DIALOGUE that makes it impossible to be true to the approach as the only Reggio inspired teacher. Listening, observing, documenting, reflecting and dialogue can only be done in part by yourself - to really extend your own thought processes, your own understanding of what the children are doing/learning and what you learn yourself, there NEEDS to be dialogue with other teachers - with other viewpoints, with their "backpack" of experiences that can contribute to your own understanding of the learning processes and situations that present themselves in the preschool setting. In part I think this is why there are many teachers that turn to the internet for inspiration - sharing thoughts and processes with teachers around the world - it certainly is inspiring, it certainly does allow you to reflect upon your own work, which is so necessary when you feel alone in your Reggio ways...

I appreciate documentation as a pedagogical tool - it allows me to see the children - see things that I might have missed in real time. I take lots of photographs, something that the children appreciate (I am always sensitive to children who do not want their photo taken - but I feel these days all children seem so used to being photographed - and also being able to see it straight away, the beauty of the digital world - I remember the days of taking photographs and sending the film off to be developed, waiting a week to collect the pictures to find out if there were any good ones... the digital age is such a blessing when it comes to documentation). The photographs can be taken of the children, or of what the children see (its why I take so many photos of children's hands - this is what the children see), sometimes I take 50 photographs of a child running or walking to see how their motor-skills are developing so I can contemplate what sort of physical activities and games would be the most advantageous at this point in time - it will also allow me to see a year later how they have improved, or whether I have a cause to be concerned...
Some photos are for the children - to allow them to see what they have done, to talk about it with each other, to reflect, to deepen their learning and understanding... to be able to share their experiences with their parents. I don't think I document so much for the parents (except updates etc) but I do expect the parents to read the documentation together with their children as part of the reflection process. Many years ago I started a PhD in museum studies (but realised that my true calling was in ECE), where I focussed on how children and teachers used museums - and I looked at how the information signs were used - this knowledge has helped me with how I design the documentation I put up on the walls - parents have often little time to read - so a short text - (maybe with reference to where more information can be read - eg a folder/book with a more detailed account of the activity/project) is optimal. It means parents can get a quick idea of what has happened - but are then encouraged to turn to their children to acquire more information as to what has happened (as part of my masters in ECE at Sheffield University I looked at how documentation supports children's learning by acting as a memory aid - and photographic as well as written documentation of what the children said made a noticeable difference in how the children were able recount, reflect and expand on a project/event).
As for writing down what the children say or do...





At this point I see how much more complex this post is than I originally thought - "my Reggio" has grown over the years - and I see the need to write this in parts. Partly to make it easier to read - but also so that this becomes a process for me too - that I can get the chance to pause, and reflect upon what I have written, and maybe expand some of the ideas I have already shared... so this is going to be pause one! I feel I need some time to reflect more on what to write about documentation...



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