First was the question of continuity. Specifically, how does this Reggio Approach translate to older students from age 6 through 18? There would be some further discussion about this at the end of the week, but, much to the dismay of many of us representing primary schools, no real “formula” for implementation in the upper grades was ever suggested. Perhaps that will be fortunate since we will now be free to integrate the Reggio Approach into our exact – and usually very different – contexts.
The second theme was that of curriculum. The foundation of Reggio curriculum is a fundamental belief that all children are capable. Concepts develop over time and in a spiral pattern as each idea is met with new cognition as the child grows older. A huge piece of this curriculum development approach is the teacher’s focus on “process” and making student/child thinking visible. Recording “how children know.” This is accomplished through grouping strategies, collegial meeting protocols, presentations, exhibits, and documentation.
The third theme involved the question of mixed age grouping. The Reggio Approach does not believe in mixing ages. Although there are enrollment and space issues where groups of students near in age are placed in the same class, this is not generally an acceptable practice. Claudia outlined these reasons: 1.) young children (infants and toddlers) need the security of a static group, 2.) it is hard for 1/2 of a group to move on each year leaving the other 1/2 group to deal with a new set of children moving into their learning space, 3.) although individual difference is valued, and teachers work very hard to meet these individual personality differences, age adds a significant variable that only adds more complexity to the class, 4.) the schools hold cross-class events to encourage encounters between different age children. These reasons seem potent enough to discourage mixed-age grouping in pre-school. But the question about mixing primary and middle school-age children will be up to those of us who work with these age groups.
The fourth theme dealt with parent participation. Several ideas were generated. The most starling was that class meetings for exhibitions and presentations were held after 8:30 in the evening. Those of us from the U.S. found this suggestion to be almost laughable given our teacher contracts and individual cultural contexts. But several other ideas for engaging parents seemed in sync with what we already do. There is always a welcome celebration where children meet other children and parents have a chance to get acquainted and oriented. Often these celebrations center on an evening meal or picnic. Although schools vary in their outreach methods and expectations, center directors work to set conditions that encourage attendance by the greatest number of parents.
The fifth theme suggested by our insatiable insistence on knowing everything concerned teacher professional development. Basically, teachers in the infant-toddler programs and preschools in Reggio Emilia have earned a degree in teaching after 3 years equivalent to undergraduate study in the U.S. These teachers then move through a rigorous public competition to secure a position at one of the Reggio Children centers. Once appointed, they participate in an intense 3-yer mentorship program under the guidance of a lead/mentor teacher. Training in the Reggio Approach happens on-site under the tutelage of an experienced teacher. Novice teachers observe and work with children, reflect on their work, collaborate with colleagues and mentors, and practice the process of documentation.
Documentation – this critical work of the teacher – is up next.