The Role of the Environment
Through conscious use of space, colour, natural light, displays of children’s work, and attention to nature and detail, the environment serves as another teacher. The environment serves as an invitation to enter and participate. The schools are, of course, the most visible aspect of the work done by teachers and parents in Reggio Emilia.
The Classroom as Teacher The classroom is referred to as the “third teacher” in Reggio schools. Much like the Montessori approach, great care is taken to construct an environment that allows for the easy exploration of various interests. The documentation mentioned above is often kept at children’s eye level so that they, too, can see how they are progressing over the year. Items from home, such as real dishware, tablecloths, plants, and animals, contribute to a comforting, “homey” classroom environment.
They convey many messages, of which the most immediate is that this is a place where adults have thought about the quality and the instructive power of space. The appearance of each school is like that of an excellent, experiential museum for children.
All of these principles and beliefs combine to make Reggio Emilia classrooms an interesting and highly effective method of expanding children’s minds—one adventure at a time.
The Role of the Teacher
Teachers facilitate children’s ability to represent what they know and imagine. Teachers mediate between children’s current understanding and what they are on the threshold of understanding by: reviewing and helping children tell the story of their own learning; arranging new experiences, challenges and problems; connecting children with resources; facilitating group discussions and social interactions; reflecting children’s ideas; and facilitating the development of new skills.
To know how to plan or proceed with the children’s learning, teachers observe and listen to them closely. Teachers use the understanding they gain in this way to act as a resource for them. They ask questions and discover the children’s ideas, hypotheses and theories. Then the adults discuss together what they have recorded through their own notes, or audio or visual recordings, and make flexible plans and preparations. Then they are ready to enter again into dialogues with the children and offer them occasions for discovering and also revisiting experiences since they consider themselves to be partners in this process of learning which might proceed with pauses and setbacks, but which is an experience constructed and enjoyed together with the children. The role of teachers, therefore, is considered to be one of continual research and learning process, taking place with the children and embedded in team cooperation. Doing research, reflecting, and listening to children together with other colleagues, contributes to a situation of continuous individual and group professional growth.
The Reggio approach follows four major principles. These are:
● Emergent Curriculum. A classroom’s curriculum stems from the particular interests of children. Curriculum topics are derived from talking with children and their families, as well as from things that are known to be interesting to children (puddles, dinosaurs, and so on). Teachers compare notes and observations in team planning sessions to decide which projects would be best suited to children in their classes, what materials will be needed, and how they can encourage parents and the community to become involved.
● In-Depth Projects. These projects are thorough studies of concepts and ideas based on the information gathered about children’s interests. Projects are often introduced to children as adventures, and can last anywhere from a week or two to the entire school year. Teachers act as advisors on these projects, helping children decide in which direction they would like to take their research, how they can represent what they learn, and what materials would be best suited for their representations.
● Representational Development. This principal takes into account Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences. The Reggio Emilia approach calls for the presentation of new ideas and concepts in multiple forms, such as print, art, drama, music, puppetry, and so on. Varied presentations ensure that all children have the chance to understand and connect with the concepts being explored.
● Collaboration. The idea of collaboration is seen as necessary to further a child’s cognitive development. Groups both large and small are encouraged to work together to problem-solve using dialogue, comparisons, negotiations, and other
important interpersonal skills. Each child’s voice is heard in order to promote a balance between a sense of belonging to the group and a sense of self.