Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Reggio Emilia Approach... the short version

Unlike many other pedagogies the Reggio Emilia Approach does not have specific models or written methods and thus makes it more tricky to define - especially if you want to keep it short... and over the years this has been a request I have heard being asked often. So below is my attempt to describe it as short as I can...

For me it is an approach that has come from the need to allow children to think critically and creatively and to form their own opinions and not just follow what others tell them... but to evaluate and make informed choices. Born out of the need to ensure that the citizens of Reggio Emilia do not follow a fascist blindly again. (The approach started in a town called Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy, at the end of the second World War... the fascist was Mussolini).

To "do" this approach one needs to listen..

  • to the children, to understand what they already know, to comprehend their abilities so that the learning can occur appropriately. To listen to their ideas, to their interests and to value them as citizens. To create a democracy within the learning environment.
  • to parents - to better understand the whole child
  • to colleagues - to have many perspectives - to better understand the child, to better understand the learning, to better understand what is needed to meet the needs of the children and to better understand your own teaching style.
  • to the process - focus on the how and why, not the product. The process will teach you so much more about how the children learn, their interests, the learning languages and skills etc than the product ever will
  • to the room - both the indoor learning space and the outdoor - how does it help/hinder the children in their learning, is it making the children dependant on adults or independent and capable, does it provide interactions with materials and social etc... in this way the learning space becomes a third teacher... and extra colleague.
  • to research - to be continuously exploring what research has to offer to better improve your own skills as an educator. Not just research within education but on a broader sense - psychology, neurology, sociology etc etc - all of this will allow the teacher to gain a more complete and more nuanced understanding of learning in the world today.
  • to the world - to understand that the world is always evolving, this means that the children we interact with as educators are also evolving... not only as individual children, but as a group, and also as a reaction to the society they find themselves in. This means we need to listen to the needs/direction of the society the child finds themselves in, we cannot simply lift something that works in one community and place it in another community... we need to listen to what aspects are needed to make it work for these children, in this setting, in this community...
To help with the listening we document - we take notes, photos films etc and use these to support reflections. Reflecting is a part of listening, a part of understanding.
These documentations and reflections can be shared,  also as publications (a finished product of reflections and images etc), with the parents and with the children. The democratic approach means that the children participate in the documenting and the reflections - it is not just a process that is done by the teachers for the children - or for the parents to prove what the children are learning.
It is a way to make the children's learning visible so the children can evaluate, understand, reflect and think critically - but it also makes it visible for the educators and the parents so that they can evaluate and understand the children, the learning and their own impact.
These understandings become the basis of launching new learning opportunities and styles.

There is a clear focus that the child is competent... and not simply an empty vessel to be filled by the teacher. This is why we need to listen to the child... what do they already know, understand? What are they already capable of... how can I, as a teacher, build on this foundation. How can I, as an educator, facilitate the children in their learning. How can I encourage the children to build a community of learners... where the children learn from each other and value and respect each other - that it is not just the teacher's voice that weighs the most... that all voices are equally valued.

There is a focus on the 100 languages of learning and play - that there is not a one size fits all approach to learning - each child has multiple ways of learning, and each child will have preferences for which languages they feel most comfortable to learn with. For me, the Reggio Emilia Approach is about making available all the learning languages for all the children - to help them discover and develop ones that are less often used, so that they can expand their learning opportunities, as well as allowing them to refine those they feel comfortable using. This can mean a project can be explored in many ways - so that new discoveries can be made through different learning languages being used. Music, art, science, math, language, stories, play, kinaesthetic, visual, social, etc etc.

Democratic... this I have already mentioned... but as an educator we are co-learners, co-documenters - we have equal value as all the children... as an adult we have gained more life experience and more knowledge across the board which we share with the children, and act as a guide. But we also allow ourselves to be guided by the children and their experiences and their knowledge... as they have taken different paths from ourselves and can share new wisdoms with us. We need to be open to that.
It is not about following the child, but walking with the child/ren on a learning journey together.
It is a relationship with the children, with learning, with play, with exploration, with democracy etc etc...

So if I am to keep it short... the above is what I would include...
if you wish to read more... then the following posts I have written over the years might be helpful...

Listening and reflection

Co-learners, co-researchers, democracy

The Third Teacher


The Competent Child

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