Personal and Professional Impact: Reflections from Reggio Emilia

Each Spring, the entire class of graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program travels to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend the US Students and Professors Study Group. Below is a reflection from Cassie Sorrells and Kacy Grady, 2016-2017 graduate students.

The week began on Sunday afternoon with a gathering at the International Centre Loris Malaguzzi to meet fellow conference participants. The nearly 200 conference participants represented teachers, administrators, researchers, artists, and even an actor. It was eye-opening to see how the Reggio philosophy drew professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds and regions of the world. We toured the city, hosted by several kind volunteers from the organization, Friends of Reggio Children. Reggio Emilia is a beautiful Italian city; modern-day avenues form a hexagon around the old city, in the footprint where the medieval city walls once stood. The colorful buildings have been rebuilt and re-appropriated many times within the centuries since their founding, so that what was once a nunnery, today may serve as a local police station.

Part of the conference was dedicated to offering us hands-on experiences in several “Atelier” settings within the International Centre. One of the ateliers focused on Living Organisms and Life Cycles. During this experience, the atelierista illustrated the beauty in living things throughout every stage of their lives and how everything can be repurposed. There were beautiful displays of living organisms for us to observe and reflect on: decomposing foods (fruits, vegetables, bread) and plants of all varieties. We were invited to create a piece of artwork based on our reflections on the Atelier.

Another Atelier, Border Crossings, focused on the learning that occurs at the intersection of nature and technology. We were instructed to explore the area outside of the Centre, and return with images and materials that reflected that natural space. We used infrared cameras, projectors, light, plastic, and metal objects to create an artistic interplay among the materials of these seemingly disparate realms. Our first attempts were quite goal-oriented, and we abruptly found ourselves at a creative standstill. The atelierista offered us some insight: “As adults,” he said, “we often approach a project with a goal in mind. But it is the process, the creation that is the goal.” As we shifted our mindset to one that more accurately mirrored that of children, we found that our creation blossomed.

That afternoon we began our visits to the schools, an experience that everyone had been very much looking forward to. Participants were given the opportunity to visit several different contexts, each of which offered a unique example of the Reggio Emilia Approach in action. We gathered in small groups at the bus station, located near the International Center, and took buses to our school sites.

Salvador Allende, an infant/toddler facility, located on the outskirts of Reggio Emilia, is characterized by its extensive outdoor park. Upon first glance, Allende’s classrooms seemed strikingly bare. The typical Reggio use of vertical space was noticeably absent, and the only materials found seemed to be those being used for an investigation. Upon reflection and through conversations with the teachers, it became clear that this intentional simplicity encouraged deeper investigation. The simplicity of the classrooms was mirrored in the outdoor space. We were immediately struck not only by the natural beauty of the rolling landscape, but also by the total lack of man-made materials. This lack of materials, while creating an ostensibly simple landscape, did not detract from the complexity of experiences possible in the environment. One member of our group actually began crying as she observed the stunning willow tree, the free-roaming rabbits and ducks, and the unassuming swings made out of rope. Allende was a powerful reminder that the natural world can be a phenomenal provocation for learning, without our assistance or intervention.

                          

Iqbal Masih Preschool is located on the same property as the recycled materials facility, REmida. REmida promotes the idea that waste materials can be resources, and feeds these materials into many of the preschools in Reggio. The Centre collects, exhibits, and offers alternative and reclaimed materials, obtained from unsold stock and rejects or discarded materials from industrial and handicraft production, with the aim of reinventing their use and meaning (REmida, 2012). It was inspiring to see the ways in which recycled materials can be offered as provocations. We reflected deeply on the idea that materials have multiple functions, and that every child can find a different use for the same material. This is a refreshing idea in a world that promotes the possession of single-use plastic toys.

(Photos provided by Sam Prince, who visited the Centre, and by Google Images)

Our four days at the International Centre were followed by two full days to explore Italy in any way we chose. Most of our cohort chose to branch off into small groups, exploring Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Milan. These days of travel were an incredible way to end an already life-changing experience. They provided an opportunity to further cement the strong bonds we had formed with our classmates during the course of the trip. Our group of six chose to explore Milan. We ate, drank wine, and explored this huge metropolis that is such a contrast to the sleepy town of Reggio Emilia. Although we were technically finished with the school related component of our trip, our conversations (typically held at dinner over incredible spreads of pasta) tended to spiral back to the themes and experiences we had gleaned from the study tour.

null

The personal and professional impact of this experience is evident in the way our classroom practices have changed since we returned. Not only have we been able to draw upon the many examples of quality work seen in Reggio as inspiration for our daily provocations, we have also been reoriented towards the philosophy underlying our work. We have started circulating conversations around the idea of clearing out our playgrounds of all toys and “unnatural” materials, offering a space with only natural material provocations. In addition to its impact on our immediate practices in the classroom, spending a week in the company of such innovative and inspirational early childhood educators reminded us that the work we are doing is part of a larger movement towards a future in which children are seen and valued as true citizens of our world. We could not be more grateful for this experience.

 

null
Blog authors, Kacy and Cassie

REmida Retrieved April 16, 2017 from http://zerosei.comune.re.it/inter/remida.htm

The Mosaic of Marks: Reflections from Reggio Emilia

Each Spring, the entire class of graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program travel to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend the US Students and Professors Study Group. Below is a reflection from Sam Prince, a 2016-2017 graduate student.

Each Spring, the entire class of graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program travel to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend the US Students and Professors Study Group. Below is a reflection from Sam Prince, a 2016-2017 graduate student.

My trip to Reggio Emilia was overwhelming in the best way possible. An abundance of important and thought-provoking experiences were packed into a very short period of time. In the days after leaving the conference one moment is sticking with me as being particularly remarkable.

On the second day of our conference, I attended a learning experience in one of the ateliers in the Malaguzzi Center. The setting: twenty educators situated around two small tables to spend open-ended time with a set of drawing materials. My tendency when confronted with a large group of unfamiliar people is to slip into the background as much as possible. I go out of my way to go unnoticed.

Early in my time at Boulder Journey School, Alison, Boulder Journey School Education Director, told us to run towards areas of dissonance. Messing about with open ended materials is an area of dissonance for me. Working in a large group is an area of dissonance for me. I fought my tendency.

To attain the right frame of mind, I had to ignore the atelierista, her assistant, and a translator who perused the room, scribbling furiously on clipboards and talking to one another.

I focused on the materials.

What were they meant for? How could I tweak their meaning? What could I create? What did I want to create? What had I never seen before? What seemed appealing to play with?

I let myself go.

I felt the teaching team gathered behind me. My concentration slipped in an out, fighting with slight anxiety and a whole new set of questions.

Was I using the materials right?  Was I not being loose enough?  Was I acting like I thought I should be acting instead of letting the moment simply exist?

Eventually a tap on my shoulder pulled me out of my own head. The atelierista in training and I talked. She asked me what I was doing and how it was going. It was inquiry disguised as idle chit-chat. She pointed out the colors I was using, the way the shadows were interacting with the page. I hadn’t noticed. We took turns exploring, using our hands to make shadows on the page.

Then a mysterious light appeared on the page, a reflection. We tried to see if it was her watch; not the culprit. A metal pen; nope. The atelierista joined in. She tried more objects that could possibly be responsible. Eventually, through some more experimentation, we realized my name tag had made the light. No language was needed. We shared ear to ear smiles, pointing at what we had figured out. No translator was needed.

At the end of the session we debriefed as a group. Someone asked about what had happened between me and the team. The atelierista included the following ideas in her response:

Documentation and observation are forms of caring. They are a way that we show people they are valued, that their process is valued. When we co-construct with someone we open ourselves up to great joy—the joy of discovering, of exploring, and of empowering. What happened there clearly was of great benefit to the person being observed. It was also of great value to the observer. It incites in both a feeling that reminds us why we are teachers. 

It is okay to not be good at something. Even teachers who have been in the profession for two and three decades aren’t good at everything. Running towards the dissonance is the only way to get better. If I had faded into the background, embracing my most base level instinct, the profound moment I had the fortune of sharing wouldn’t have been possible.  I would not have felt the overwhelming joy of discovery, neither would the teacher who co-constructed with me.

The trip to Reggio has been a time of great reflection for me. Over the course of this year I have been given multiple opportunities to evolve as an educator, from optional workshops to mandatory classes to insightful conversations with colleagues in passing. This year has been designed for me to grow. I’ve embraced it as much as I can. The trip to Reggio Emilia felt like a culmination in a sense, a time of realization that I am not the educator that I was nine months ago.

Below is a panel Sam created from photographs of the experience.

Mosaicofmarks 2

Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course

For the Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum course, Intern Teachers observe students, document their observations using a variety of tools, reflect on their documentation with colleagues, and develop and implement curriculum plans throughout the semester.

The course objectives are as follows:

  1. Observe and document students for the purpose of planning and implementing a curriculum that is relevant, meaningful and contextual.
  2. Reference Early Learning and Development Guidelines and/or Colorado Academic Standards in curriculum planning.
  3. Use literature related to child development and learning theories to enhance the curriculum.
  4. Collaborate with colleagues to create and implement the curriculum.
  5. Prepare materials to provoke student learning.
  6. Organize group learning experiences that offer the potential for peer learning and the potential for a differentiated curriculum based on individual strengths and goals.
  7. Integrate technology into the classroom in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  8. Extend the curriculum beyond the walls of the classroom, outdoors and into the community.
  9. Reflect on the roles a teacher can assume within each learning experience.

 

Each Intern Teacher enrolled in this course is working in an early childhood classroom, supported by a Mentor Teacher who has already completed the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. Intern Teachers, with support from Mentor Teachers, gather documentation from their classrooms in the form of photographs, video, transcribed conversations, notes, audio recordings, graphs, and charts. These documents become data that is analyzed with colleagues to better understand learning and teaching.

Intern Teachers reflect on their documented observations, using the questions below as a framework. This framework supports their understanding surrounding the significance of what has occurred in the classroom and what future learning experiences could be offered in order to extend the learning:

 

WHAT? – Why did you plan this experience? How did you organize for this experience? What materials did you collect? What spaces did you utilize? What feedback did your co-teachers/mentors give you, and how did you integrate their feedback? During the experience, what were your students doing? What were your students not doing? What were the students’ goals, strategies, and theories? What were you and your co-teachers doing? What were you and your co-teachers not doing? What were the teachers’ goals, strategies, and theories? How were the goals, strategies, and theories of students and teachers the same and/or different? What else did you notice? What surprised you? What made you laugh or wonder or pause? What do you perceive as the successes and failures of this experience?

 

SO WHAT? – So what does this mean in terms of child development and learning theory? What is significant about what happened? What connections can you make between what you documented and what you have read and discussed in seminar? How does this experience connect with the purpose of education? What connections can you make to the Early Learning and Development Guidelines and/or the Colorado Academic Standards? By reflecting on documentation of this experience, what do you understand about teaching and learning that you did not understand before? In other words, what did you learn from the analysis of documentation of this experience?

 

NOW WHAT? – Now what will you do next? How will what you learned from the analysis of documentation of this experience inform what you do next? How might this experience be extended? How might you further challenge your students? Based on your analysis of the documentation, how many possibilities for future learning experiences could you offer students? What actions will you take? What do you need to learn more about in order to better support and challenge your students? How will you extend your own learning? How can families participate?

 

By engaging in dialogue surrounding these questions, Intern Teachers develop new understandings that are translated into curriculum possibilities. The curriculum possibilities developed by Intern Teachers are then implemented in classrooms. In this way, Intern Teachers establish a strong connection between ongoing authentic assessment and curriculum planning.

This way of approaching the development of curriculum offers Intern Teachers opportunities to make active contributions to the classroom. Intern Teachers are learning by doing, rather than merely learning by observing their Mentor Teachers, which provides a higher quality of teacher education.

We will look at a few of the ways the Intern Teachers have applied this coursework in our next blog.