Why Novare Works for Us

novareI am engaged part-time at a small, independent, Reggio-inspired Episcopal school in the heart of Silicon Valley serving children in preschool through fifth grade. Our mission states, in part, [we] ‘value innovation and tradition.’ And in our quest to educate the ‘whole child, we inspire children to have an inquiring mind and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, and the gift of joy and wonder in the ever-changing world.’ (c.2010)

Early adopters of Novare’s Authentic Assessment Tool (AAT), we began to use it as our assessment and reporting platform in 2013 as our elementary program was beginning to take shape. We have found that Novaré’s AAT provides crucial flexibility as we align our assessment and parent reporting needs with the philosophy and growth of our organization.

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Complex Standards

An example of this versatility can be found in the recent upgrade of our semester report (i.e. report card). As an independent school our curriculum is guided by, but not strictly tied to, state and national standards (e.g. Common Core, Next Generation Science, C3 Frameworks). Previously, when attempting to assess student progress our educators found these sets of standards ponderous and overwhelming, and our parents found our ‘standards-based’ report difficult to interpret. We determined to simplify both the standards and the 4-point assessment scale. A cadre of motivated teachers synthesized the standards documents by combining critical ideas, simplifying the language, culling only the essential learnings appropriate to our student population, and reducing the assessment calibration scale from four to two (i.e. developing or consistent). That done, it was a simple matter to insert our new, home-grown sets of standards into the Authentic Assessment platform. An added plus are Novare’s artifact archive and digital portfolio features. Teachers and parents appreciate this multi-media corroboration of student learning and the dynamic repository of student growth over the years.

Collaborative Effort

Collaborative Effort

With our in-house refinement of standards transformed  into developmentally appropriate and meaningful benchmarks, we made them accessible to our teaching staff. Ultimately, we have remained true to our Reggio-inspired philosophy of teaching and learning and have prepared a parent reporting document that clearly communicates student progress.

We have found that Novare Education’s assessment platform has the breadth, depth, and flexibility to serve our (indeed any) school population.

 

Reggio Emilia North American Study Tour: Day 6 Implementation in the Primary School Part II

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As the morning progressed, the ideas that our hosts presented began to become more clearly articulated and understood. Here are highlights:

  • Teaching as well as learning changes throughout the grades.
  • We must reject the idea of sequential learning.
  • We must develop a culture of developmental readiness where the learner is central, where the curriculum serves the student, not vice versa.
  • Learning involves process as well as product.
  • Teacher + context of experience + context for elaboration + grouping strategies = learning.

Grouping in Reggio classrooms is considered paramount. In these primary classrooms the small (3-5 maximum) learning group constructs it own content. All members contribute. Through dialogue, the group collaborates with the teacher. All groups may not arrive at the same set of understandings on any given task. This means teachers need to have a vast working knowledge of a variety of concepts, know the children well, and anticipate next steps.

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Small Grouping Is Paramount

Dialogue between the teacher and the small group is key. Teachers revisit “codified” knowledge, and, through questioning, activate research or discovery to generate new knowledge. The pathway to this new knowledge depends entirely on the make-up of the group. Therefore, it is supremely important that teachers group students in a most intentional way, that they make children’s thinking visible through documentation, and that the analysis of documentation provides the lesson plan or direction for the following day’s activities. Approaching learning in this fashion capitalizes on children’s competencies and activates the 100 Languages of Children.

Unknown-2Subjects are NOT knowledge. Children’s interactions with the subject matter – the epistemological approach – IS education. Therefore investigation into Big/Essential Questions, Design Thinking, and 21st Century skill development – all parts of our curriculum delivery methodology at our small school in Los Altos, California – are allowing us to glimpse that ‘holy grail’ of education: continuity and a pluralist way of knowing.

 

The Reggio Emilia North American Tour was a insight producing and gratifying experience. Reggio Emilia Province in mid-May was lovely. I wish to thank my school for sponsoring my attendance. My learning objectives were met. I got what I came for … and then some!

Reggio Emilia North American Study Tour: Day 6 – Implementation in the Primary School Part I

-a0d9d19ae1b5e626This was the day I had longed for all week. This was the day that the veil would be swept back and the secrets of a Reggio-inspired curriculum implementation plan for grades K to 8 would be revealed. I was not alone. Many of my U.S. colleagues welcomed this movement away from infants, toddlers and preschool children and into a frank discussion about the intricacies and obstacles inherent in projecting the ‘Reggio Approach’ into America’s standards-driven and test-obsessed public (and, yes, some independent) schools. How, we wanted to know, can American educators embrace the ‘Reggio Approach’ in primary and middle school when our high schools are mired in siloed instruction with no cross-curricular connection, and our colleges and universities require standardized test scores as entrance criteria?

No true conversation around this topic happened. We were not invited to visit any of the Reggio Emilia primary schools. With all of the talk about the importance of child centered learning and community commitment to education as a “right,” were the primary and secondary schools in Reggio Emilia struggling with the same content specific parameters as we in the U.S. were?

What was discussed, first by Claudia Giudici, and then by Paola Strozzi and Giovimagesanna Cagliari was the concept of “CONTINUITY.” Why, Claudia admonished us, is continuity so important to education? Why is continuity of curriculum and its delivery methodology used as an issue to segregate different levels of schooling? By embracing the false concept of continuous growth and development at a routine or regular pace, an unrealistic expectation that children at one level will be perfectly prepared to enter the next is created. Continuity, our hosts suggested, is antithetical to child development theory and the ‘Reggio Approach.’ Continuity then, is certainly an indictment of America’s one-size-fits all Common Core.

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John Dewey © 1907

We were reminded that learning is not manifest in a linear fashion. It is a blend of the experiential as well as the formal. We were asked to leave behind the standards, accept learning as a natural process of life; like eating or sleeping. All learning is participatory. Learning is interacting in a social way with one’s immediate culture and environment. Different than that idea of ‘life long learning’ we give lip-service to in the States, we were asked to reject the concept of continuity, and to find a new vocabulary to describe the change in culture this new way of seeing education produces.

I think this is wise council. I was not disappointed that the answers I sought – or thought I needed – were not cut and dried into some “best practices” context. Wide and deep public debate about education – from pedagogical, cultural, and political points of view – will help us rediscover the role of school in society.

Reggio Emilia North American Study Tour: Day 5 – The Digital Landscapes Atelier

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With ‘Toro Mateo’ Outside the Loris Malaguzzi Center

We spent the afternoon visiting only one of the 5 atelier spaces at the Loris Malaguzzi Center. I chose the “Digital Landscapes” workshop. It is here where children use traditional materials, both 2- and 3-dimensional, to interact with with light projected from digital devices. The combination and interaction of IMG_0800these two distinctly different media transforms perception in ways not often experienced or explored.  New and surprising perspectives are revealed.

 

Here is a brief overview of the various work areas in this atelier.

IMG_0792A 15 minute black and white film loop of a choppy ocean. A variety of black, white, and transparent objects (e.g. styrofoam pillars, various geometric shapes) are provided. By arranging these objects in front of the light source (a ceiling mounted projector) students are invited to “play” with the ocean scene. A flat bed sheet suspended from the ceiling on a dowel acts as a screen.IMG_0791

A simple drawing program loaded into an ancient laptop computer provides a canvas for students to draw and project that drawing onto a bed-sheet screen. Various solid and transparent 3-D shapes are provided so students can explore not only the drawing function, but the perspective of  the geometric shape as it casts a shadow onto the screen.

AnotIMG_0794her video loop of a full-color underwater scene delineated another section of the “Digital Landscapes” atelier. This area invited children to set up typical 3-D objects to transform the scene. But mirrors were added to this area so children could play with reflected and repeated images to make patterns.

In another area of the atelier a static image of a cathedral was projected. Students were invited to build structures to harmonize or replicate the projected image.

In yet another section of the atelier a digital camera and a series of familiar objects was available. A projector was simply used as the light source and so a blank scrIMG_0798IMG_0796een offered unlimited exploration of digital images and shadows. The juxtaposition of digital camera and projected image provided a unique learning experience for the adults manipulating the materials as they worked to find out why a photographed object appeared on the screen it its natural form, but was accompanied by an infinite series of shadows!

This exploration of the “Digital Landscape” atelier was followed by a trip to Nido Rivieri; an infant toddler center in Reggio Emilia. Again, we were not permitted to take photos of the school, but I offer these take away mental images from that visit.

  • Rivieri is dedicated to music exploration with many opportunities for infants and toddlers to make music: with overturned pots and pans, a disassembled piano, chimes, wood blocks, or a tube/string telephone connecting classes
  • Rivieri has a 30′ X 30′ boxwood maze in the play yard
  • Rivieri uses fine long grass in circular patterns as meeting spaces
  • Rivieri has sliding boards built into the side of a hill so youngsters do not have to climb ladders to access a fun ride
  • Rivieri has a walkway built of varying landscape samples so children can feel different patterns and textures with their feet
  • Rivieri, although it is in the center of the town, has a very large outside play area – estimated to be over 3 acres
  • Riveria has an adult to child ratio of 3 to 1

Reggio Emilia North American Study Tour: Day 5 – What’s An Atelier?

food3The entire afternoon was to be a “hands-on” exploration of the five “atelier” spaces at the Loris Malaguzzi Center. Lorella Trancossi introduced the concept of the Reggio “atelier,” and shared how each individual “atelier,” or workshop space, was related to each of the others. The unifying concept of the atelier space is that each large, open area provides unlimited possibilities for exploration leading to the transformation of thoughts and transmission of ideas. [Please note that we were not permitted to take photographs of the atelier spaces. The images in this post are representative samples gathered from the Internet.]

 

artwords and materials

The first workshop “atelier” space, titled Mosaic of Masks, Words, and Materials, is given to drawing; observational and sketching. In this way children imagine, interpret, and communicate with a multitude of natural or synthetic materials. Links between materials and verbal and written language are explored while creative potential is released.

 

The second “atelier” space takes users into Digital Landscapes. In this space children explore the lightconnection between digital devices and their capacity to project light and manipulative materials (e.g. blocks, statues, plexiglass shapes). Mixing these materials provokes hypotheses around science colight2ncepts (i.e. physics and the properties of light, balance and stability, etc.) allowing even preschoolers to engage in the language of learning. I was gratified to see how imaginatively the “atelieristas” – persons who set up and facilitated users in the space – recycled decades old technologies like overhead projectors.

 

Everything On the Table was the third “atelier” to which we were introduced. food2Transforming raw cookingfoodstuffs into human nutrition is studied as seriously as other academic endeavors. It is in this atelier that research into the background of food (e.g. Where does food come from?), safe preparation and aesthetically pleasing presentation, healthy eating, the use of leftovers, development of habits of
composting, and consideration of re-useable food containers is
explored. Recycling (“remida”) is a significant part of this workshop space.

 

planetThe transformation of the natural world is showcased in the fourth “atelier.” Called the Living Organism, children explore the variety and the beauty of life’s cycles. It is here where children contemplate nature’s secrets; where they begin to develop emotional and empathetic responses to nature, to natural materials, and to reflect on their own place in the larger world. It living2is here where children begin to understand and appreciate beauty, aesthetic beauty, as a part of every life.

 

Planetary Messplanet2ages, the fifth “atelier,” is showcased in the Milano EXPO 2015 exhibit “Ring Around the Future.” This atelier permits children to explore the ethical foundations and cultural differences of the planet’s many societies. Through empathetic examination and devout understanding of the interdependence of planetary systems, children are transformed into planetary citizens.

I will share my experience with one of these “atelier” spaces, Digital Landscapes, in the next post.

Reggio Emilia North American Study Tour: Day 5 – Milano Expo 2015

MilanoExpoThe morning of our 5th Day allowed a glimpse of the Milano Expo 2015. This fit with our exploration of the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning because the Children’s Park at the Expo was designed to be an “atelier open to the world.” The theme of the Children’s Park, in keeping with the familiar nursery tune, was “Ring Around the Planet… Ring Around the Future.

Rolando Baldina, chief designer, along with AnnaMaria Mucchi, walked us thrologough the process of creating the Children’s Park. It was evident that they wanted to capture the culture of a Reggio “atelier” and support the ideals of aesthetic beauty, the interconnectedness and interdependence or all things, and the critical importance of childhood. The designers succeeded in proving that there could be coherence between actions and choices; the guiding principal of the Reggio Emilia approach to interacting in the world. The park was designed around 8 premises. The park would

  1. be accessible without an adult,
  2. be easy to navigate through a threaded bobbin schema,
  3. use technology to enhance mulit-age relationship building,
  4. be an active place where children could “do things,”
  5. allow children to create artifacts to promote identity,
  6. provide meeting and conversation spots,
  7. provide opportunities for multi-national visitors to meet and collaborate without needing translation devices or grasp of a non-native language, and
  8. allow real-time (Facetime or SKYPE) connections with children in other places.

A brief survey of these child-friendly, Reggio inspired exhibits follows.

Exhibit #1Ring Around Noses

sniffThis exhibit presents a mushroom like enclosure where a nebulizer pushed a fragrance (herb or perfume) into the air under the dome. The mushroom caps move up and down to accommodate taller or smaller children. The more children who congregate under the cap, the stronger the fragrance becomes. Thus the idea of the importance of collaboration is enhanced by this activity. Exhibits of real plants and herbs adds the appropriate visual to the olfactory encounter.

Exhibit #2Ring Around Water

waterUsing a funnel, children gather drops of water from tubes in the ceiling and deposit them into a collection tray. Drops that are not collected fall to the absorbent flooring and are channeled away and into the collection tray. The amount of water produced is dependent on the number of children moving under the tubes in the exhibit. Again, collaboration is key. This exhibit demonstrates the supreme importance of the water cycle; Water Is Life!

Exhibit #3Ring Around Life

weightThe message of this exhibit is that all living organisms are interconnected. Visitors stand on a scale large enough to accommodate many children. The total weight is projected onto a screen converted into other animal weights. For example, the total weight of several children might be that of a billion bees or an elephant’s foot. This exhibit provides a bridge to stories about natural cycles (e.g. water, plant, rock, wheat) and demonstrates how interdependent we are on the uninterrupted continuation of these life-giving cycles.

Exhibit #4Ring Around Rings

This mid-funstop in the progression through the Children’s Park provides an events space and open amphitheater. The stage backdrop is a series of distorting mirrors that reflect the surrounding landscape. Videos from UNICEF and the United Nations plan at routine intervals. But the space is also available for impromptu presentations by park visitors.

 

Exhibit #5Ring Around Trees

Similar to shadow screens at many children’s parks and science museums, this exhibit invites children to pose while movement sensors capture a silhouette of the each child. Unique to this exhibit, however, is software that immediately begins to grow branches, leaves, and roots from the child’s shadow image changing her into a tree!

Exhibit #6Ring Around Energy

bike2Again using collaboration as a model of dynamism, this exhibit invites all children, including those ‘special rights’ children with physical challenges, to hop onto a peddling device (e.g. bicycle, scooter, tricycle) and to become a member of a “pedal orchestra.” Each device is capable of producing a particular harmonizing tone, and rhythmic pulse that, when played in unison, becomes an orchestral soundscape. Peddling speed controls the volume of the music, and the addition of a single device has the capacity to completely change the audio output. Peddling also produces jets of water. Thus, the height of the fountain is likewise controlled by the number of people contributing to the activity.

Exhibit #7Ring Around the Future

floatmessageThis exhibit harkens back to the days of the fishing pond at the county fair. Hand written messages of planetary concern and hope are enclosed inside clear plastic spheres. These bob about on the pond until another child “fishes” it out., reads it, and composes a message of her own. These are tossed back into the pond and refloated so others can fish out and read the new message. Interestingly, the first messages to begin this cycle of interconnected correspondence were composed by Reggio Emilia pre-school children. Messages now originate from many countries around the world.

Exhibit #8Ring Around Play

play2The final stop in this journey around Children’s Park is a non-traditional playground. Capturing the value of agriculture, nutrition and the healthy body movement, designers constructed oversized vegetables and fruits as play equipment. Climbing, tag, and hide and seek are universal games played by the multi-national visitors to this Children’s Park.

 

Milano Expo 2015, with the help of Reggio kids, has made a brilliant choice in showcasing the importance of early learning in fostering a mindful, peaceful, and abundant planet.

 

Reggio Emilia North American Study Tour: Day 4 – Out and About At Prampolini

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Sample Classoom

Wednesday was a day for visiting and seeing first hand what had only been painted in words and static PowerPoint images. Prampolini, the preschool to which I was sent, was considered a “Green Center.” This means it is dedicated to the sustainable environment and the exploration of its natural surroundings. Situated in a lush farming area, the large, multi-room structure was not originally built as a school, so steps and stairways were the way to climb the three stories.

We were forbidden to take photos, so my post is derived from the copious notes I scribbled. And, the best way to relay the many mental images I have taken away is to bullet them in the following list.

  • Outside ‘Green’ Space:
    • A wooden amphitheater built into the side of a gentle hillside
    • A bird watching hut with a platform so small bodies can see through the slitted window
    • A garden with vegetables and herbs that are harvested for school lunch
    • A ‘fairy ring’ of bamboo that provides a secret hiding place for the 3 – 6 year olds
  • Inside Space
    • Platforms instead of shelving define work or discovery areas
    • Window shades make inexpensive room dividers
    • Documentation is presented on plywood covered with white craft paper, or on foam core
    • Binders – separated into months – provide a chronological look at daily documentation
    • Every space is a kid-friendly space (no teacher desks, no teacher materials visible)
    • Technology (projection, document cameras, computers) were used as tools, and handled with expert conviction, by every age
    • There was a limited number (12-20) of books – all integrated into current exploration – available to children

I heard no raised voices.  I witnessed no disrespect of materials. I witnessed no social disrespect between adults and children or between children.  The center was clean, bright, open, and aesthetically pleasing.

During our debriefing many questions that continue to haunt my U.S. colleagues were asked.

1. The school had a museum atelier on the top floor. The museum collection reflected the agricultural culture of the region. Although some of the artifacts might be risky for children to hold or use (cutting implements, etc.) agreements with parents are made that allow children to use these items as protagonists in their projects and stories. The museum permits children to connect the past with their present.

2. Technology is, surprisingly, a major feature in this “Green Center.” Using projection enhances the children’s understanding of the physics and aesthetics of light. Keeping the devices in one place assures that the connections stay secure.

3. There were many questions about admissions policies. Students are admitted to the Reggio schools using a “point system.” Similar to America, parents must present documents outlining the yearly family income. Depending on the number of hours a child is in attendance, there are 13 different fee schedules for Infant/Toddler programs (from €63 to €540 a month). There are 9 different fee schedules for Preschool programs (from €63 to €240 a month). All programs offer Extended Day care and some children are on-site from 7 AM until 7 PM. Social services can assist parents with costs. NEW legislation will combine the Ministries of Education and Social Welfare, so soon ages 0 – 6 years will be included.

4. “Special Rights” language used instead of “Special Needs.” All schools admit “Special Rights” children immediately, and with unlimited access. Every “Special Rights” student, until age 18, is provided a caring adult for their entire school day and school career.

5, There is no special bi-lingual or immersion program for children who do not speak Italian. By cultivating the inclusion of community (through parties and other events planned by ‘family facilitators’) immigrant families are welcomed. Cultural inclusion is very valuable. There is no focus on difference. Any difference is considered an opportunity.

6. Key to Prampolini is the relationship to nature. Social and academic learning is integrated through investigation of the environment. Animals are captured and kept temporarily of investigation, but are always released at the end of the day. Students use local flora and fauna for investigation and project work. As an example, the 4 year olds were using herbs, flower petals, and a mortar and pestle to invent their own personalized perfume.

7. Professional production of documentation panels is done by parents or through in-kind donations, donations from the annual “auction”, through fundraising. Costs for this type of parent communication and public relations are kept to a minimum.  All panels are archived. Panels are considered TRACES OF PROJECTS AND CHILDREN’S WORK.

8. A huge value is intentional, contextualized grouping. Small groups (less than 5) are the core of academic instruction. This builds trusting relationships where children can build and create. Small inquiry groups sustain curiosity that, in turn, perpetuates engagement.