Tag Archives: Pedagogy

Documentation in Reggio Environments

While reading in the Miss Reggio blog I came across an article (Learning to Document in Reggio-inspired Education) that looks at the phases a teacher goes through while learning to document in a Reggio way. It’s an incredible article and I can’t recommend it highly enough. There were several thoughts I had while reading it that I wanted to share and discuss, always the sign of a good article.

In all of my reading, documentation and observation have come across to me as two pieces of the same idea. It has even felt like they have been used interchangeably although they are obviously different. What finally clicked for me while reading this article was that observation could be called recording and it’s a subset of documentation. Observation is also just straight recording. You may do this in all kinds of formats, photo, video, paper and pencil, etc., but it is recording nonetheless.

Documentation, on the other hand, is the synthesis, interpretation, and showing of the recording. Documentation is there to show the “aha moments” of the children. Your recording, or observations, provide the raw data to help you find, synthesize, demonstrate, and support these moments. It is also incredibly important to understand that the purpose of documentation is to make the children’s learning visible, not their doing. Documentation is not a narrative of what happened. Not exactly. That is the observation. Documentation has added value in that you have added your understanding and interpretation to what you have seen and made visible what the actions and words of the children reveals about what and how they are learning. I think this quote touches on this idea and the fact that this is one concept that sets the Reggio Emilia approach apart from other educational approaches:

 “Pedagogical documentation is a research story, built upon a question or inquiry “owned by” the teachers, children, or others, about the learning of children. It reflects a disposition of not presuming to know, and of asking how the learning occurs, rather than assuming—as in transmission models of learning—that learning occurred because teaching occurred.”

I especially like the term they chose to refer to documentation, “pedagogical documentation”. They discuss this choice of term early on in the article and I think it really sums up what sets apart Reggio documentation from the regular “documentation” seen in many schools and daycare centers.

Finally, I find this article very comforting, in that it gives me permission to make terrible documentation panels and documents initially. Intellectually I knew documentation and observation would be skills that needed to be developed, but a lot of my reading hasn’t been really clear on how that skill might develop, pitfalls to be aware of and the like. It’s also one thing to read about what good documentation contains, but it’s another to actually create it. Seeing that there are common mistakes and how collaboration can help correct them and build your skill was incredibly refreshing and heartening.

Notes From Working in the Reggio Way: Observation

Wurm combines her thoughts on observation and documentation into one chapter, but I’m going to break up my notes and thoughts on the chapter. What has come through loudest in anything I’ve read about observation is that you have to make it a habit. Your documentation supplies- paper and pencil, camera, voice recorder, etc.- have to be at hand, but carrying those around doesn’t guarantee you’ll make the effort to use them unless you’ve established a habit.

One really common problem or pitfall of observation that Wurm points out is that beginners tend to add narrative and analysis to their recordings. Observation is strictly recording of that observation, quick jots and photographs of what the children are doing and what they are saying.

When you observe, you record all kinds of things in all kinds of ways, that way when you see an “aha moment” or see a child learn something you may discover, in your recording, the steps and learning that lead up to that. Also, over time begin to develop a sixth sense, of sorts, for what kinds of things/when to record and be able to prevent the creation of so much data. You’ll refine your recording so that you get less irrelevant or superfluous data. Once you’ve refined your observation technique and made it a habit, documentation panels and the like can be much fewer and farther between and provide a place for you to turn when you see the “aha moments” or when you need to revise and develop provocations and “curriculum”.

In some of my other reading, on the Miss Reggio blog, I read her post on the types of documentation she creates. One of the first documentation formats she lists is a daily journal. I suppose because a daily journal might or does contain some analysis and is recorded after the fact it would be considered documentation and not observation, but I can’t help but think keeping a daily journal where you record things you remember from throughout the day could be a good way of easing into the habit of observing. I know there are times throughout the day I will think to myself, I should remember this or This is important.

I actually think observation is connected to and linked with being present. You can’t be thinking of anything else, only focused on exactly what is happening in the moment. This is something I struggle with and I suspect this is why I have yet to form the habit of observing in a Reggio way. My goal, however, is to make it a habit by the end of the year.

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.

Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm

I’m kind of traditionalist when it comes to learning for myself. I want to read about the topic I’m curious about. Then I like to reflect and think about it and discuss it if possible, although the pool of people I can talk with about pedagogy, especially alternative pedagogy, is pretty small.

Reggio Reading ListWhen I first began reading about the Reggio Emilia approach to education I picked up Authentic Childhood (see my discussion of it here). I can’t really remember why I chose this particular text, but if I had to guess it was recommended somewhere and it was available to me. Next I read Project-Based Homeschooling. This one came up on several “Reggio must read” lists and was available from my public library. Finally this past week, I finished my first read through Working in the Reggio Way.

In retrospect, not only were these good books to use as an introduction to the Reggio approach, but the order I read them in was also really useful and appropriate. Authentic Childhood was an excellent introduction. It gave a good broad overview of the approach and its principles. It could be dense and theoretical at times, but personally I like the authority these kinds of texts have. I also think the way my mind works I prefer to have a solid understanding of the bigger picture of something like this before I jump into the details.

Project-Based Homeschooling (which I mention a bit here) did a really good job of bridging the gap between the theoretical and practical application. It was especially helpful to me for setting up our atelier and shaping my thinking about how Cam might approach using the materials. It also nudged me further from the Montessori ideas I was (and am, to some extent) still keeping on the back burner. It isn’t specifically Reggio, but you can see the underlying principles in it.

Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner’s Guide for American Teachers is, obviously, specific to the Reggio approach. It has been wonderful for guiding my reflection, forcing me to take notes, and think deeply about everything from our space to documentation and observation. Although it’s called a guide, I think it acted more as a workbook, providing prompts and questions that will help you work toward using the Reggio principles. I have yet to decide how much of my notes from the book I want to share here. They’re so specific to us that I’m not sure they would be helpful to my readers, but when I’m done I may copy some over. I will note it is geared toward teachers, but I don’t think that mattered much. It was easy enough to understand everything in context of the home. In tandem Project-Based Homeschooling and Working in the Reggio Way will shape how you think of educating your child and will get you up and running.

Honestly, the order you read the last two titles in doesn’t matter much. I think Project-Based Homeschooling would be best if you want a quick start up guide to start with and then move on to the deeper reflection. If you have time and want to do the reflection first go with Working in the Reggio Way first.

I do still have a couple books in my Reggio to-read list. They include the classic tome The 100 Languages of Children and The Language of Art. When I get around to reading those I’ll be sure to either update here or, if they are worthwhile, I’ll write up a longer review.

Imaginative Play

Pedagogy BannerOne of the projects I tackled this summer was working my way through my TBR (To Be Read) pile and, while I didn’t make it through many parenting/learning theory books, I did read one that I found very inspiring.
Reading about the place and importance of imaginative play, however, brought to mind Montessori for me. If this blog is any indication, I am far from being a Montessori purist. I don’t follow all her ideas, I won’t use all her materials and lessons, but this doesn’t stem from any distaste for her methods or any disagreement that I have. Except for when it comes to imaginative play.A Child’s Work was not a title I was familiar with nor was the author (although in the education field that isn’t surprising), but I was clued into it by one of the library blogs I follow. It was a quick read, but well worth it just for the pure joy Paley clearly feels for the relationship between imaginative play and children.

Child's Work

Now my understanding of the Montessori method is that it does not contain any imaginative play (meaning building with blocks, dressing up in costumes, pretending animals talk, playing in a toy kitchen, etc.) in the early years (0-6). I have read that fantasy is discouraged, although how strictly any Montessori program adheres to this I am not sure. However, I can’t help but look both at current research and at the natural inclinations of children and think the Montessori method is wrong to discourage imaginative play and fantasy.

One of the reasons I find myself passing on various Montessori ideas is that I find her to be very much a product of her time. (I’m not as concerned about teaching my daughter how to use a dustpan because we own a little hand vacuum.) Child development was a new concept. Sure, she was a pioneer, but we now have a century of research that she did not have access to. She was also very much a socialist looking to help the poor. I won’t argue that it was a lofty goal and one we should all aspire to in some way, but it also really colored her methodologies. The children she began developing her method for needed structure, needed to feel useful, needed to be a part of a collective, needed to keep the house clean in the absence of one or both parents. I would agree that children of all sorts need that and want that to some degree, but I think they also need to engage in imaginative play and the ideas encapsulated in A Child’s Work really hit home that point for me.

A Child’s Work is a bit light on providing real research to back up any of Paley’s claims. It’s a much more touchy-feely book than a hard evidence sort of book. Really it read more like a notebook of Paley’s thoughts and notes and that was fine with me. It went by quickly and its anecdotes and impressions certainly got her point across about the importance of fantasy. I think next up will be another book that I have on my shelf about play. I’m hoping to get a bit more of the science behind the theory in this next round.

Not only do I remember the joy of fantasy play as a child, but I can see the seeds of it starting to grow in my own daughter. Since Montessori is all about observing our children and following their interests I think I will let Cam lead me into the imaginative play realm.

A Little Weekend Reading: Blog Links

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A couple great blog posts this past week and half that I wanted to share:

  • Want to help your child follow directions? Try singing them. A post from Moving Smart about how singing instructions can help your child retain directions better.
  • Having worked in the classroom I’ve seen how delicate a balance it can be when choosing to either start a child early or late. There can be social issues and developmental issues and even self esteem issues. This article makes a really, really good point about the Montessori educational structure that I had never considered. It essentially eliminates the need to either hold a child back or send them in early by grouping students in 3-6 and 6-9 classrooms.
  • I came across this post through one of my library blogs, but it so spoke to what I am looking for in creating an educational experience for my daughter. It’s all about blending subjects better and the importance of teaching and encouraging inquisitiveness and the ability to think. It also talks about the duration of an education and how shortening academics can leave time for other important activities  like music and art…The piece isn’t long, but it’s really fabulous. I highly recommend reading it.

Academic Creep

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I normally save my links to share on Fridays, but I came across this one today and didn’t have anything else planned so I thought I would share it. Academic Creep is the push and desire for academic subjects (like reading, ABCs, and 123s) with younger and younger children. I really really disagree with it and this blog post really spoke to that dislike. It isn’t long, but it’s very good. It makes the distinction between academic and educational very clear.

Academic Creep on Moving Smart blog

A Little Weekend Listening: Reggio Emilia

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A few months back I posted a link to an interview with a Montessorian from a local radio show. It was part of a series that Insight is running on alternative education. This week I’m posting a link to their interview with the head of the local Reggio Emilia inspired school. It was a really, really good interview. Lori Hammond does a phenomenal job discussing what a Reggio education entails and what its guiding principles are. The audio clip is only about ten minutes long and is totally worth the time. Click the link below to listen. It will begin playing immediately, so adjust your volume before you click!

Insight’s Reggio Emilia Segment

Application: Learning to Be a Follower

Monday’s post was all about how both Reggio-Emilia and Montessori require the teacher to carefully observe the child in order to discover what it is the child is ready to learn. I have to admit, it was hard when working with my daughter to let go of the more traditional teaching model that I used in the classroom and was subjected to as a child. I really agree with the child-led model though, so I’ve made a very conscious effort to observe Cam and give her activities that she showed interest in.

Sometimes I get a little carried away and we end up with activities that are a bit beyond her, but sometimes it takes a little trial and error. I’ve noticed, though, that the activities Cam wants to do, the ones she leads me to, are the ones that have the most staying power. Of course I can step in a show her something new that she didn’t know about (like the water table we bought her), but if she is excited and runs with it (like she has with the water table we bought her) I know to leave it out and ensure she has time to interact with it. I also believe she is cognizant, on some level, of what kind of materials she needs to satisfy whatever needs she has. Much like she asks for food when she is hungry, she gravitates toward language materials when she is receptive to learning to speak.

As a side note, I don’t fully buy into Montessori’s sensory periods, but I think the idea that underpins them, that a child will be attracted to materials that support whatever developmental needs they have, is a powerful one. Particularly because it encourages a view of the child as capable of being involved and leading their learning and that is very empowering.

So, today I’ve included a small gallery of photos of some of the activities that Cam has picked herself. The first is a container of beans that she loves to scoop and pour. She didn’t pick it herself, but she got really into it. I observed her pouring her basket of marbles and puppets and thought maybe the Montessori pouring activities would be appropriate. This isn’t exactly how they are supposed to be set up, but I’ve tried the really strict Montessori set ups and she loses interest pretty quickly. By integrating several of them (bowls, pitcher, and scoop) she seems to stay engaged with it much longer as she can switch between the various methods of manipulating the beans. Also, by having them loose in the container it’s much less stressful for her to spill them. As she get older we can modify the activity so it’s more in-line with the traditional Montessori activity. The second photo is a box of post bindings, much like you find in scrapbooks, that she saw at an estate sale. I’ve included a photo of her playing with it when she first found it. This is far and away her favorite activity. It’s been out for eight months and she still gets it out at least once a week. There is also a basket of marbles and a basket of jars and boxes, both of which she was attracted to outside of the classroom. I simply aggregated them for her on the shelves and showed her that they were there.

A Little Weekend Watching: Education in the 21st Century

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If you do nothing else this weekend, watch this TEDx talk about education in the 21st century. It’s only 15 minutes and speaks volumes to me about why I want to homeschool Cam and everything I see wrong with the current educational system- even many of those expensive private schools. I found this through one of the library blogs that I follow, Stephen’s Lighthouse. I’m really glad he found it because I don’t think I ever would have come across it, but it articulates so well what I have been thinking about education. Plus it’s based on interviews Grant Lichtman conducted with real teachers and students.

Some of the problems he sees are that subjects are too compartmentalized, that teachers are too proprietary and not collaborative enough, and that there is too much standardization which stymies even the best-intentioned educational system.