On Friday, I made my presentation about my own learning that evolved from my experience in Italy at the Light the Fire celebration at Trinity. I’m not much for speaking in front of folks who are tall, but I did it, and am glad that hurdle is done! It was nice to think about the path I’ve followed since the time a year ago when I was told that I was going to Reggio Emilia. Here is the speech I gave to the group—it’s long, so if you want to skip the verbiage scroll on down past the italics to find out about our latest Reggio excitement!
When I came back to Trinity after this mental earthquake, my first thought was “What will be the red thread that I follow with my kindergarteners as we finish our year together?” When I returned from Italy, the perfect situation arose. We were beginning to look at eggs, and the incubator was set up in our classroom with six chicken eggs, so the red thread was right there ready for us, and the children’s interest was high.
The role of the teacher is to find the “red thread” that the children will follow, a thread of interest that they can explore. When we find the thread, no matter what it may be, we look for as many ways as we can to stretch the understanding of the children on the path we are following. We try to break down that first glance into a more careful, thorough observation, and in so doing we involve the children in writing, drawing, reading, researching, watching, creating, observing, predicting, growing. We are diving deep, not just exploring the surface. It is a very organic process, this business of learning, and our evolution as teachers never ends.
When we think about the thread that we could follow with a look at eggs, our thread could snake around to focus on reptiles, or the thread could lead us to an in-depth look at the camouflage of eggs, or could evolve into a study of nests. This is one of the beauties of the Reggio Emilia approach, in the fluidity of the evolution of the studies undertaken. The interests of the children help create the shape of the study, which is constructivist education at the core. With one study, such as our beginning with eggs, we had the opportunity to involve writing, art, reading, and science as we wrote poetry about eggs, read about eggs, watched the incubation of eggs, and created models of eggs and nests. This wholistic approach is one that children embrace, for it is the way in which they approach life. For young children, life is not compartmentalized into separate disciplines, but flows as an organic whole, and they are able to see the whole picture.
Documentation is an important part of the work done in Reggio Emilia, and it was another area in which my awareness was broadened. Much of the documentation is done through pictures and through dialogue with the children in the classes. For our work with eggs and egg-laying animals, there was much to be explored in the area of documentation, particularly through pictures, writing, and the artwork produced by the children. At first our children thought only of birds, but soon found that birds weren’t the only oviparous animals they knew. From exploration at Imaginon, writing their own books, making an oviparous animal from modeling clay, to observing the miracle of life occurring in our own classroom the children built their understanding on a spiraling foundation.
As we began the current school year, Mr. Casey and I decided to change the look of our Science Buddies, in which kindergarteners are paired with 8th graders. We have found a “red thread” to follow in becoming the Trinity experts on Jamie’s Courtyard. The children have measured the courtyard using standard and non-standard units of measurement and they have charted the changing temperatures as the seasons change each Monday at Greet the Week. We have planted four different types of bulbs and are recording and comparing each type as it emerges and blooms. We are currently looking at the courtyard as an extension of our kindergarten study of the five senses and are documenting the senses we use in our courtyard. We have drawn the plants in the courtyard and the 8th graders are working to identify each plant by both the common name and the scientific name. Oftentimes we will begin an exploration with our 8th grade friends and the kindergarteners will continue to work on it through the week, such as our look at birds in the courtyard. We have put out different types of seeds and record which kinds of birds are attracted to each and the little ones have tallied how many birds visit each feeder.
As teachers it can be hard to give up knowing exactly where each activity is headed, and we often feel the need to have a distinct beginning and ending to sense that we have had the impact we have hoped for. Often, however, the learning is a process that is evolving, and it takes more than one experience to develop a clear understanding. Much like our constructivist approach to reading and writing, this “letting go” provides the children with the same constructivist vision we offer in other activities in their days with us. As teachers we are watching, observing, pondering the ways in which we can stretch these children as learners of life. Just as we use the reading and writing of the children as we plan our next course of experiences, so we can use this close look at our children as they explore the world of choice time. When we look at our children’s writing following Writer’s Workshop, we may notice they need a closer look at how to leave spaces between words. During reading we may notice that our little ones need to check the beginning sounds of the words they are reading. Looking at choice time provides us with the same opportunity to shape the experiences of our children in ways that are beneficial to their growth. We can set the stage and then let the children explore, and often they will make discoveries that we haven’t even dreamed of. This is a part of Reggio, as we look for the interests of the children and do our best to help them as they fulfill their vision.
Thanks again to the Trinity Fund for providing me with this powerful learning experience, and for giving me the opportunity to bring my discoveries back to my Trinity community. The earth is still rumbling under my feet!
The Light the Fire grant still is burning, and the fire is expanding. Harvard University’s Project Zero is offering an eight week online course called Making Learning Visible, and there are seven Trinity folks taking the class. The book that is being used is Visible Learners; Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in all School, a book that was given to me last spring by the Mills family. This course is going to help us learn ways in which to use group collaboration as a tool to improve teaching and learning, not only within our classrooms but within our entire school community. We are so excited about the promise offered by this work we’ll be doing together, spreading the word throughout Trinity. We have one team that is comprised of middle school teachers and another team that includes two lower school teachers as well as one of our administrators. We’ll also be learning about how to document our experience, and we’ll add some of our findings here for you to read.