Light the Fire presentation and Project Zero

 

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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!

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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.

The courtyard project continues

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Our courtyard project has continued throughout January with a look at measuring the courtyard, since kindergarten has been absorbed with measurement during this month.  In kindergarten we have been largely involved with using nonstandard units of measurements as we forgo yardsticks and other measuring devices, and use instead our feet, our hands, our fingers….We spread our measurement over a couple weeks, and first used nonstandard measurements.  The children selected a part of their body that they would use to measure the perimeter of the courtyard.  Kindergarteners learned the word perimeter, and step by step discovered how many of their footsteps would circle the courtyard.  Wonder of wonders, when compared with their eighth grade buddies, the numbers didn’t match up.   What was happening?

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The next week we brought in a variety of standard measuring devices, such as a meter stick, measuring tapes, rulers….The children set to work again, and the middle schoolers found this more challenging as they tried to make their measurements more accurate, which isn’t always easy when your helper is a five or six year old!  The children were able to see that common ground was met when they used standard units of measurement (and that you need to take care as you make those measurements).

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As we looked at the questions the children (both kindergarteners as well as eighth graders) posed for exploration in our study of the courtyard, one was a look at the plants that grow in the courtyard.  We thought of ways they could experience/investigate these plants in a way that would fully involve both kindergarteners as well as their more mature friends.

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We decided that it would be a duel process, in which the children would work together in making detailed drawings of a plant of their choice in the courtyard.  The eighth graders will add another step to the process by using their skills in research to find both the scientific name of the plant of their choice as well as the common name.  Today they worked together to select and draw their plant, and during the course of the week the older children will find the name(s) of their plant and will label their drawing in the hallway.DSC_0029

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It is such a joy to see the delight on the faces of the kindergarten children when they realize they will have a chance to spend some quality time with their beloved science buddies.  Their lives are richer for having this time to spend with an eighth grade friend, and they are learning so much from the experience of working together on a common project.

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The Noticing Table

Long time since a post, but here are some thoughts.

One of the pieces that I have added to my choice time routine is one table that is designated as our Noticing Table.  This happens to be the low table (one that has the legs removed so that children sit on the floor), and it is a constant, dependable presence in our choice time.

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Every day something new is at the Noticing Table.  This child is examining some beeswax, and is discovering that each of the cells is a hexagon.  The children examine the material presented, draw it, and label their picture for the Noticing Wall.

 

These two pictures show the details that children are beginning to notice as they observe the items on the table. This dragon fruit engaged Amani, and her illustration is a clearly dDSC_0128etailed picture of the actual fruit.

 

 

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In the past week that we’ve been back from Christmas, the children have observed and drawn the dragon fruit, coral, a camellia blossom,  and a sprig of pine with a pine cone attached.  Earlier in the year one of my parents tended to send in items that were perfect for the Noticing Table, such as an acorn squash from her garden or a seed pod from a special plant.  There are mornings that I am scrambling to think of something to add to the Noticing Table, but the world is so full of wonderous things that I could never run out of things to notice.

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I love this activity, for it brings everyday items into the attention of the children, and they take the time to pause at this center to notice objects that might escape their observation in the business of their days.  They love the grown-up trust in using permanent markers for this work, even though there is a measure of clean-up that they aren’t able to take care of.  They really look, and look carefully as they think about how they are going to be able to represent this item in their art work.  The Noticing Wall is loaded with pictures the children have drawn of the items on the table. Dragon fruit, pine cones, honeycombs, and money plant are all represented on the wall..

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Freedom to learn

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As we continue to explore the concept of teaching with a Reggio Emilia imprint, we are beginning to recognize that part of this exploration involves a sense of letting go of control.  Today Ms. Lovett, my right hand, had to go home with a fever, and suddenly Choice time was of necessity much more open-ended.  Usually our Choice time involves a choice or two that is teacher-directed, a task that we are asking the children to work through.  Often this is an ABC clinic job (such as an activity to help the children to develop a recognition of sight words), or it could be a math activity that we want them to accomplish in small groups.    Today, however, Choice time was, of necessity, much more student driven.  There were several activities to choose from, including working on our Wampanoag village scene, drawing our pumpkin in detail, exploring the light table with black light materials from the show we saw at Imaginon last week, and creating a name tower to use in math workshop tomorrow.  Magic happened, however, when one of our children asked if she could develop an activity.

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This young friend asked if she could make a collage table for her friends.  When asked what she would need, she was very clear—she would need paper, scissors, glue, and some of the tubs of “stuff” that we collected earlier in the year.  We set up a table with all of her materials, and then set to work.  Her table was full of creativity for our entire choice time, as children moved freely throughout the room with many of her friends selecting her table as an option during their time.  Everyone did their “job” of creating a name stick with sticky dots labeling each letter in his/her name, Kate and Gabrielle worked on the Wampanoag village, Maggie and friends worked with the pumpkin, and Tristan and Amani were engrossed with the black light table.  Back to the collage table, one child created the Eiffel Tower using puff balls and another used every material available to make a picture of her dog and doghouse.  As all of this was going on, other children were writing books to give to their friends, making labels for their block buildings.

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This feels like juggling, putting all of our balls in the air, hoping they will stay airborne but knowing that if one falls we’ll pick it up and keep on going.  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 feel 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.

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With our Science Buddies our vision is evolving.  We have begun to announce the temperature each Monday at Greet the Week and are recording this on a bulletin board in the hallway.  We have done rubbings of leaves and other signs of fall that we have observed in the courtyard.  We’ll meet together on Thursday to plan our “wonderings” and things we would like to learn about life in our courtyard.  This is a way for our school to explore our K-8 identity as well as to become careful observers of the life around us.  Our job as educators is to document what we see as well as to provide these learners with the tools they will need to fulfill their vision.

Looking for the red thread

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As I begin this year with these little ones, I have been on the lookout for the “red thread” that will tie our year together.  I’ve been searching for something that we could explore as a group that would give us a rich experience of discovery, and I believe I have found it in conjunction with our 8th grade science teacher, Sean Casey.

Sean’s 8th graders are our Science Buddies, a partnership that grows richer with each hour that we spend together.  This Science Buddy partnership has been a part of our K-8 group for the past several years, and the children develop a strong bond with their buddy, who remains the same throughout the school year.  Kindergarteners light up when they see their buddy around the school, and the 8th graders delight in the joy they bring to these little ones.

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In the past, the 8th grade project with the kindergarteners has been to weigh and measure them once a month as well as to chart how many teeth have been lost.  We teachers began to feel that while the connection was being made between children, this experience could provide much more as a learning experience.  As we continued to ponder this, we looked out as the courtyard outside our doors, and realized that the courtyard could provide our “red thread” for this school year.

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Together the 8th graders and the kindergarten buddies could become the experts on Jamie’s Courtyard, for there are a wealth of ideas to be explored. The children can measure the courtyard using standard and non-standard units of measurement and they can chart the changing temperatures as the seasons change each Monday at Greet the Week.  They can report on all the activities that use the courtyard, from Greet the Week to lunches to the annual Oyster Roast.  The children can study the wildlife that make the courtyard their home, including the bugs and insects that live in the raised beds.  They can make a calendar showing when the leaves begin to fall, and when they begin to emerge in the spring.  Together they can plant bulbs, learn about the plants in the raised beds.  Couldn’t we record the sounds of the courtyard, from footsteps to the sounds of birds at the bird feeder?  We can chart all the varieties of birds that visit the feeders outside our window, making a book of “Bird Visitors” that could be a kick-off to the 8th grade science project in May.

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Suddenly we would have a K/8 Reggio inspired partnership that would enrich both groups in a dynamic way.  We could provide documentation with photos, videos, and recordings as well as the work of the pairs of children.  It may be that the 8th graders would start us off on each exploration, such as birds at the feeders, and that kindergarten would spend time before the next session of Science Buddies to find out those “wonderings” that they could report back to their buddies.  The 8th graders may provide some of the technical expertise for recording/graphing of our discoveries.  DSC_0012

I think this may be the thread that we can explore together, looking for the trail that leads to the next red thread.  I’m sure these children will have paths in the courtyard to lead us toward that we haven’t even thought of.  The adventure begins!

Beautiful Stuff

I am still in the process of learning about these little folks who will be a part of my life for the next ten months or so, and finding the red thread that we will follow as we follow our path together.  For now I’m finding a link to math as we are exploring common attributes.  In math we are looking at buttons, and sorting them according to common attributes.  Some of the buttons are round, some have two holes, some are small, some are red… Buttons give us an ideal venue to find similarities and differences, so Reggio has stretched my boundaries.  We have asked each child to go home with a paper bag (not huge, just sandwich size) to find some treasures they could donate to our class studio.  IMG_0392

When they come back to school at the end of next week, we are hoping for a range of materials—corks, bottle tops, ribbon, screws…you name it.  Then we will put the children in groups and let them sort the things they have shared.  We have a quantity of clear plastic tubs that they can use as they group the materials they have found.  There could be a tub of round things, a tub of  ribbons, a tub of things made of plastic, a tub of things that are made of metal…The possibilities are endless!  This will expand our work in math as we stretch beyond buttons and attribute blocks to find similarities and differences, and perhaps it will help lead us to the red thread that we can follow as this school year progresses.

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I have done this kind of thing before as I asked parents to send it the things they want to send our way, but without the parameters of sorting.   When I would ask parents to send in those beautiful and random items, they would dutifully respond, sending in a big bag of stuff that I then felt responsible for using. With the sorting, the materials are organized, they are accessible to the children, and the children  have ownership of the beautiful stuff.  As we give the children the job of sorting, they gain understanding of the materials, they discover common traits as they work to put the items together, and they know what is available when they are looking for supplies for art work.  The Reggio experience is present here in the beginning of the school year with this new batch of little ones, and their year will be richer for that time in Italy.

Another year begins

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It is August, and we are in the heady mix of preparing our brains and our classrooms for the year ahead.  A new team of kindergarten players (welcome to Katie), fresh supplies, new ideas, unfamiliar schedules, and most importantly, a newly minted list of kindergarten names have greeted us as we returned this week to 9th Street.  I have been in this game for a long time now, for I am beginning my 41st year in the classroom.  It is very easy to get entrenched in the same path I have followed, thinking of things we have done that have been successful.  How can I keep my thinking fresh and alive?  There are some pieces of the kindergarten beginnings that I would have trouble giving up, such as the letter we send to the children with all the “stuff” to remind them of our year ahead (a life saver to remind them that we are always there for them, a tissue so they can help dry a friend’s tears, a penny to let them know they are valued).  I try to think about the WHY when I am considering the pieces we like to include in our beginnings.   The WHY of this letter we send is that it is child friendly, it has visual and tactile reminders, and there is a link to literacy for when they see the same words when they come into our classroom.

I have young blood with Katie in my class this fall, and she will help to bring a fresh perspective to all that we do.  I also want to stretch the beginning of the school year to include much of the Reggio Emilia work that I began where we left things in June.  I want to make sure that the Reggio approach is clear in our work in Choice Time as we begin our time together, and that I include some of the gleanings from my summer reading as I think about the first meeting with parents during our Open House in late August.  As we build our year together, I want to include the documentation that is so much in evidence in Reggio Emilia, and to make sure that this documentation is clear to everyone, from parents to other teachers to visitors in the school.  Another of my goals is to include technology as a part of the documentation by putting the iPads in the hands of our little ones so that they can record each other as they explore the topics we undertake.

So here we are, with just a short week before the true beginning.  When the children enter our room next Tuesday, there will be no turning back.  We will be immersed in the river of children, swimming along with them as we make our way together.  Our best laid plans may come to naught when we meet these little ones, for they will help us as we chart our course through these unknown waters.  The children will help us as we guide our way along, for through their interests, their passions, and yes, their needs, our way will be made clear.  Our job is to keep our eyes and hearts open, looking for the current that will lead us during the course of the year.  Carpe Diem!

Making Learning Visible: Documentation Exhibition

The book I’ve been reading, Visible Learners, has a website to demonstrate how the Reggio approach can be used to document progress in all grade levels, from kindergarten through high school.  Documentation is a way to handle the accountability that is such a major focus in education today.  This link to the website of the book is like browsing through a gallery, looking from one room to the next as you can explore the ways documentation has been used from grade level to grade level.  If you are interested, just explore and see what you discover!

Making Learning Visible: Documentation Exhibition.

The fog is lifting

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So now we are in the middle of July, and the fog has lifted.  Ideas are swarming like mosquitoes, and keep me awake at night as I think of ways to capture all these new kindergarteners who will be coming our way in less than a month.  The Reggio books are engaging my imagination and I am looking at everything I see with the eyes of Reggio Emilia.  Collections of “stuff” are growing as I think of ways in which those creative young minds could make these things new.  For instance, peach pits…  I bought a peck of the most delicious White Lady peaches on the way back from the mountains, sweet and succulent, and we ate every last bite.  I have saved the peach pits in a little jar, and think of ways in which the children might use these seeds in their art or in their drawings.

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Hardin is moving his space, which holds everything that won’t fit in our house.  In the space are puppets (life sized), costumes, fabric, props for OMIMEO, and a myriad of other things.  As we work our way through the space, boxing things to move, my imagination goes to work as I think of ways in which I could use this “stuff” in my classroom.   We now have a treasure box of well organized jars of beads, pearls, marbles, and glittery things that we’ll use next year.  Another idea is to create a “light box” from an old trunk, fitting the top with a translucent lid.  I’ll put a light inside creating a light table for the children to use as they explore the world of light.  Since we are going to see the black light show that OMIMEO is performing at the Children’s Theatre in October, I have a black light to hang under the loft, have made black curtains to enclose the space, and will give the children the opportunity to create creatures from uv “hot” materials under the black light.  By the time they go to the show, they’ll have a strong grasp of what they are experiencing.

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Soon the children will walk through our door, and I feel sure they will be enriched as I have been through this summer as I have battled the ocean waves, watched dance at the American Dance Festival with Hardin and my friend Ann, hiked around the lake, made long, daily swims, cleaned out closets, read books to children, marched in the Fourth of July parade…. Everything that has made my summer so rich will also add to the gifts I can bring to our class.  Like adding a chunk of butter to finish a sauce, summer gives that irreplaceable “something” that makes my life complete.  By the time school starts I’ll be chomping at the bit, ready to make the most of the new school year.  But for now, there are a few more summer adventures to explore!

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And now summer

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And now that the school year is over, the Reggio experience continues as I look at the world with eyes that are seeking possibilities.  One day at the beach the early morning was shrouded in mist.  We couldn’t see the horizon, or the pier, or any of the familiar landmarks that help us remain grounded.  This is something of what summer can be for an educator, looking ahead to the next adventure with the children who are coming in August.  We are peering through the mist, wondering what we can do to prepare for the year to come.  We are trying to glimpse the horizon, but it isn’t yet in focus.

Some of our preparation involves reading during this time when hours are less encumbered with the tasks of the school year.  One of my parents gave me two books as a much appreciated end of year gift.  One is called Beautiful Stuff, and is involved with using found materials to stimulate learning.  This book is right up my alley, for there is nothing I enjoy more than using “junk” to create treasures.  The authors inspire ways in which we can involve the children to become collaborators with the adults in their life (both at school and at home) to collect materials that can be used as expressions of learning.  One of the big take-aways from the Reggio Emilia conference was the REMIDA Recycling Center in Reggio Emilia.  At the REMIDA center, discarded matter and materials, the remnants of industrial and artisan groups, are collected, sorted, and offered to schools and to the community as a source of reusing materials in new and imaginative ways.  The schools in the city use these materials abundantly in their projects and art work.  The REMIDA network includes nineteen centers in Italy, Denmark, Germany, Australia, Norway, and Sweden.  Closer to home is the Durham Scrap Exchange that provides the same kind of thoughtful recycling that I saw in Italy.  The Scrap Exchange also holds classes for the public to instruct in ways in which to use recycled materials.  In Italy patrons pay a yearly membership fee,  and in Durham people can pay by the class or by the amount of materials they collect.  This is something I’d love to see happen here in Charlotte!  

http://www.scrapexchange.org/

http://zerosei.comune.re.it/inter/remida.htm

The other book I was given is called Visible Learners, which looks at ways to incorporate the Reggio approach in all schools, from preK-12.  This book was produced from researchers from Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and demonstrates the ways in which the comprehensive approach to documentation that is so evident in Reggio can be a powerful tool throughout the grades.  This book is rich with information that I still need to explore, but has a wealth of ideas in the appendix that will help me as I look through the mist toward the year ahead.  Some of these include ways to include families in the learning process, engagement during parents’ night events, and ways in which the parents can stretch their children.  Much of the book involves ways for documentation during the year and how strong documentation makes the learning of the children visible, not only for the adults in their lives but for the children as well.  This is such an important piece of work in this age of accountability, for growth can be seen over the course of the study rather than relying on the final result, or assessment.  Through documentation we are able to witness the growth of the child as well as the process that children go through as they make their way through the subject area.  Thank you, Mills family, for these enriching gifts that are helping me to continue to grow through this lovely summertime.

So summer continues, and as it progresses and as I read, as I observe, as I discuss, as I collect, the mist will gradually lift, and the plan for the year to come will emerge from the fog.  The horizon will come into view and the children I’ll bond into a family will soon be here.  But for now, summer will reign!

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