Notes from Working in the Reggio Way: Progettazione

Since readingthrough Working in the Reggio Way I’ve been revisiting chapters of the book, reading them more thoroughly, and doing the journal work she recommended doing along with the book; essentially using it like a workbook. This has been really informative both for how I see working with Cam and for examining my own thoughts about education.

In terms of more practical, hands-on application, the chapters on planning and observation have been incredibly useful. I feel like I now have a clearer idea of how to approach these things in a Reggio way. In my last blog post about this, I noted that I have read Authentic Childhood, another fabulous Reggio book, but it was so theoretical. That was what I needed when I was first approaching the idea of the Reggio Emilia approach, but now I’m at the point where I need more concrete ideas and examples of how it’s done. Working in the Reggio Way has a been exactly this kind of book.

My understanding had been that the Reggio Emilia approach has no set curriculum and that all activity is thought up by the children. It sounded like anything goes and anything and everything happens. I found this idea incredibly intimidating and didn’t really know how to ease in. How do you know exactly what provocations to set up, especially if you know your child isn’t familiar with everything in the world? Is there some kind of starting point? Do you just jump in? Does that mean there is no planning until you’ve observed and made mind maps? Do you observe your child or class for a week then begin “using” the method?

It turns out that my understanding was true, but it’s not exactly how it sounds. Firstly, there are several different kinds of projects that occur in a Reggio classroom. They are, of course, all tied together and may fit more than one category, but as Julianne Wurm points out, when trying to wrap your head around it, it makes sense to look at it in a more linear way. Throughout the chapter she uses the Italian word for planning, progettazione, because there is no good English translation that doesn’t carry other meanings. This idea carries over to her definition of several of the projects, they have words for them, but the English words carry some baggage.

The teachers do have a set of projects with set provocations and they do do some curriculum planning (progettazione). They may use these every year with little or no tweaking. However, they are very broad ideas that can encompass a lot of learning and exploring. I would call them umbrella topics. Wurm called them a project theme and says “this is the foundation, projects that all the children will do in the course of three years [the length of the program]”. Where the learning goes depends entirely on the group of children and their ideas and interests. The provocations that go with these projects tend to also be broad or open ended and, again, how the children approach them, interact with them and what they get out of them is entirely up to the group of kids and changes from year to year.

To make this a little more concrete, Wurm explains that one of the schools she apprenticed in had the Color Among the Hands project. She describes it as ” a color theory project in which children use many different languages to explore and create their own understanding of color theory”. While there was plenty of room for the children to discover and follow their interests within this project they would also have some set provocations such as painting on easels that would give the students jumping off points. 

There are also environmental projects, projects and learning that are inspired by the different areas of the classroom (such as the block area, the house play area, etc.). There are daily life projects which come from daily exposure to the world and ideas children

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wonder about. Wurm notes that these are spontaneous. There are also self-managed projects which are projects undertaken by individual children or small groups. These can be big or small and can be child- or teacher-initiated. Wurm stresses that the lines between these various projects are very fluid and it’s important not to become too rigid when thinking about them.

The projects remain flexible and child-directed because of one type of documentation called the Intended Projects. This is a planning document that is added to and edited throughout the year as new projects and ideas arise. It is also begun at the beginning of the year to get things started. I plan on discussing this in more depth next week in a post about documentation as discussed in Working in the Reggio Way.

One of the ideas I really love about the Reggio approach is that it isn’t standards based or driven. There is no end point to the learning and you believe that the children will learn what they need to learn without setting some goal. It also values the process of learning and exploring over a product that can be used to give a grade or check a box.

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