Loris Malaguzzi was referring to an exhibit called The Hundred Languages of Children which carries the art of the Reggio Emilia early childhood school students around the world. The quote, however, is a fine description of the basic educational philosophy of the Reggio system and I find it fascinating.
I encountered the educational philosophy of the Reggio Emilia schools some years ago and was immediately struck by its originality and flexibility, very much in contrast to the rigid US approach (and many others with which I am not familiar, I'm sure). Begun as a cooperative effort between parents, educators and children in post-war Reggio Emilia, by 1970 it had developed into a municipal system of public education for all children between the ages of 3 months and 6 years.
Its community-focused organizational structure, the intentional lack of hierarchy (the cooks, the teachers, the graphic experts, the educational director work together on the same level with parents and students every day), the 12% of the city budget dedicated to the school system, all indicate the high priority the society places on education, another notable contrast with the United States.
Encompassing aspects of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner's educational philosophies (I know this because it says so here, but I have no real knowledge of those approaches and would be very curious to hear any information y'all might have), the Reggio system is based in the following principles:
- Emergent Curriculum - a curriculum based on student interests
For example, the teacher meets with the children in the morning to discuss the activities of the day. These discussions communicate respect for the ideas and preferences of the children. Teachers listen closely to children's discourse and strive to understand the children's interests. Believing that teaching is not merely the transmission of knowledge, but that the teacher is a facilitator of the child's learning, teachers exhibit flexibility in planning the day with the children. Teachers also attend to cues from the children about the point at which interest in a project begins to lag. (2)
- Project Work - in-depth studies of those interests
In a small art studio off to the side of one classroom, I noticed a book opened to a picture of the Milky Way galaxy. I thought that the children were studying about space. Other objects in the room included a bicycle wheel and an orange. On a large documentation board in another area of this classroom was a photograph of the bicycle wheel and the orange. I asked one of the teachers about the project that the documentation board described. She responded that the children were examining carefully the relationship between things that are found in nature and things that are man-made. In particular, the teachers asked the children, "What structure connects all other structures?" The children were observing the similarities in the physical structure of the objects, such as the sections of the orange and the spokes of the bicycle wheel.
These children were certainly exhibiting high-level thinking. Seeking relationships, comparing and contrasting, and pursuing similarities and differences are all strategies that engage the mind in high-level thought processes. The children were not, as I first suspected, studying factual information about space, the galaxy, or spiral objects. (1)
- Representational Development - using the graphic arts as tools for cognitive, linguistic, and social development
The teachers referred to their use of "graphic languages" to make the learning experience "visible." Carla Rinaldi talked about the "Pedagogy of Listening" using documentation as a visible form of listening. Without the careful attention to how ideas are represented, and the use of the art expertise, the children’s work would be less visible to themselves and to the wider public. The graphic arts, broadly defined as any form of visual artistic representation, are their chosen media to share with others what children are thinking, doing, feeling, learning, and experiencing. They teach children art techniques to give them tools to express their ideas.(1)
- Collaboration - group work as learning tool
The first example was revealed during a presentation about the differences between boys' and girls' perspectives on developing a plan for a city. Giovanni Piazza, an atelierista, explained how two boys worked together for approximately 30 minutes before a third boy joined in. Sitting with his hands on his cheeks, the third boy observed the other two as they worked together. Only after one of the boys drew a road toward this third child did the third child initiate working with the other two. I could imagine that in an American classroom a teacher might have intervened much earlier to coerce participation and collaboration. Many American teachers might have had difficulty respecting the time needed for the third boy to join in.(1)
- Teachers as Researchers - teachers learn from the children as they lend their expertise to guide without controlling
Teacher-directed teaching is all about the teacher and what the teacher thinks the children need to know. Children may learn content and skills taught, but they may be of little meaning to them. When the learning experiences flow from the children's ideas, however, there is more likely to be a good match between what the children are ready to learn and activities offered in the classroom than in a teacher-dominated curriculum. (2)
- Documentation - careful observation and recording of children's' work
For example, a child may work on a particular drawing, which the teacher then photographs, makes an audio recording of the child talking about his or her experience with the project, and take notes on supplies used or observations made. All this provides a visual display of learning. However, the focus remains on children's' thoughts, memories and overall experience rather than the work itself. (3)
- Environment - the "third teacher", much attention is given to the look and feel of the classroom and school itself
Some of the environments are breathtakingly beautiful. The environment of each center supports the imagination and creativity of each child. The inside of the center is warm and calm (no primary colors jump out at you), featuring wood, glass, and muted colors. There is space to be alone, yet the environment encourages children to interact with others. Every center has a welcoming area with comfortable adult-size chairs for parents to give a last cuddle before saying goodbye for the day. The centers are very inviting and beckon you to come in and play. Each center contains many real plants and flowers, a kiln, kitchen, piazza, dining room, toileting rooms, and garden areas. (2)
(3) http://ematusov.soe.udel.edu/final.pape ... 00002e.htm
I know there are Reggio schools in the US, and there's a Montessori not too far from my house, but they're private, of course. I'd love to hear about creative approaches to childrens' public education in the US, but I fear that the standardized test trend makes such attempts less and less likely.