During my recent trip to Reggio Emilia, Italy to participate in an intensive study on the Reggio Children approach, it became visibly crystal clear the powerful learning moments as written in the book, Visible Learners Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in All Schools.
Written by a group of researches from Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, learning experiences were brought to life through the documentation and storytelling of the educators of Reggio Children.
The Reggio stories that were verbally shared by teachers, atelieristas, and pedagogistas were supported with documentation of students’ and teachers’ transcripts, photos, video clips and authentic student work.
The idea is that learning takes on the notion of a socio-constructivist and coherent process by all participants. Visiting schools in the town of Reggio, every space is permeated with an attitude of research which eliminated the hierarchy of roles.
For example, an experienced teacher, Laura, whose role is to connect learning with her students and similarly connect students with other students in the learning process through dialogue, questioning and reflection also learns from a new teacher, and the pedagogista whose role is to develop the capacity of recognizing the jewels (the students and teachers) in everyday life.
One profound story of visible learning happened around a wall, a “secret wall’ that is, by a group of kindergarteners and their teachers, pedagogista and atelierisata. The community environs became their classroom, a place of exploration, observation and accountable talk and thinking.
Prior to launching this twelve-day inquiry-based learning project, the atelierista, pedagogista, teachers, students and parents had conversations around the topics of ecology and the preservation of nature. Adults wanted to instill an attitude of respect and care about nature and ecological preservation.
And so, the project began with a group of students escorted on a field trip to the city park. The children walked on the wall. A wall, no more than three feet high and one foot wide, that surrounded a 1900’s university with renovated buildings except for the “wall’.
The wall had been forgotten by the people of the neighborhood, but the nature that grew in it and around it used it as their home. The wall was created as part of a private garden. The children’s initial investigation was their close observations of the wall as a boundary. On one side of the wall there was nature, and on the other side, a street with cars and buildings. A few students talked about the perspective of the wall and how far and close it was to their school. Students tried to interpret the life of the wall with their own life. For example, one student said, “You can use your finger as a brush and moving the water paint the stone.” Another student remarked “The water has drained and has gone down, down, to the bottom and has brought drinks to the plants so they can grow”. Another student exclaimed, “But it is possible. Plants can grow up in walls. Then a person, is born from a baby. It goes inside and then is born in the wall”. Students explore with tools- magnifying glass, rulers, tape, string, boxes, pencils and paper to document their observations.
Students through their interaction and dialogue develop theories. Students began to become very attentive of the plants and begin to name them based on their features. The tickling plant, the 100-leaf plant, the butterfly plant. They return to class and show the other students through photos what they had encountered.
The teacher poses questions and prods their curiosity. How can we make people understand interesting and wonderful things about the wall? Can you choose some of the most interesting things about the wall? Why?
On one hand, the teachers offer the students the opportunity all that the wall offers. And on the other hand, teachers are teaching children how to best communicate their observations to others – the importance of this complex wall, secret wall.
Students begin to experiment by watering a brick to see if something grows from it, they become curious about the plants and insects. Asking questions one after another, they have a research attitude.
They bring their creations made of clay back to the wall and adhere them harmoniously with the environment. Students collected plants, nuts, pebbles, leaves, twigs, and brought in soil. This was an opportunity for students to create new learning. They observe that the plants begin to suffer and collectively decide to transfer the plants into an indoor garden.
Then, pencil and paper document the students’ observations. As one student stated, “We tried to draw the plants in the little wall. We like it because we know we can make 1000 different plants.”
And the process of learning continued. Teachers posed questions, documented through video, photography, artifacts and transcripts. Students developed other skills while discovering. Students began to have other perspectives toward plants knowing that the plants can exist in the wall and the indoor garden. Parents viewed the documentations by the teachers and students. Parents collaborated in learning more about the wall and sharing their learning with the children and teachers. Answering the questions of how it came to be? Who built the wall? Why was the wall initially built? How was the wall built?
This powerful learning is grounded on granting students the freedom, yes freedom, without expectations. Luckily, youngsters learn without the influence of adults. Students are capable and able to carry out their exploration of the wall and increase their awareness and understanding of the indoor garden.
How do you foster inquiry-based learning among your Pre-K and K students? How do you engage teachers to become learners and observers of their students’ discoveries and questions? How can you integrate the community to support higher order thinking skills in an engaging process-oriented project? To learn more on how to develop a Reggio framework in your school and district, visit my website at www.elevateeducator.com for a full day workshop titled “The Wonder of Learning – Creating Powerful Learning Moments for Pre-K, K Students” coming soon in the fall in Fairlawn, NJ. More information to follow.
Til next time,
Happy teaching, learning and sharing
Founder and Facilitator