CMK ’09: Dr. Lella Gandini

Dr. Gandini is the person I came to CMK to see.  I read a little bit about the Reggio Emilia approach; I love northern Italy; and I really wanted to understand this process of learning and teaching.  My comments will be in italics; her remarks will be in regular type.

Thank you again.  I want to start from the beginning to explain how it was possible in a small city in Italy to create a program that is known around the world. Many teachers go to visit our schools, and I want to connect to what Deborah Meier said yesterday about schools and democracy.  In 1968 there was a law passed in Italy that gave free access to education, and leftist governments implemented these laws before the central government funded them.  More laws in 1971 allowed paid maternity leave, centers for toddlers from 4 months to three years, and rules for inclusion of children with disabilities.  In 1975 there was a new family law, and in 1977 a law requiring equal pay for equal work in Italy.  So there was a framework in Italy to create a new kind of educational program.

Slide of a square. In Italy, a square or piazza is a social, economic, and political center.  The city hall faces onto most squares.  In Reggio Emilia schools, there is a central square where the social, economic and political activites of the school take place.  Loris Malaguzzi said, “one of our strong points has always been to start from an explicit declaration of the very open image of the child that we hold.”  Intellectual gifts are a child’s natural birthright.  Teaching and learning should be constructed together.

The Story of Laura: Laura finds a catalog.  The teacher sits next to Laura.  The teacher doesn’t speak, but uses body language to speak.  The child leans into the teacher and vice versa.  Laura asks a question by pointing at an image.  When you see interest in a learner, then you respond.  Laura points at a watch picture in the catalog; the teacher presents her own watch, and shows that it is a 3-d object.  She then presents Laura with the sound of the watch.  Laura listens to the catalog, to see if the page makes the same sound?

There’s a series of slides that goes with the previous story. The look of wonder on Laura’s face on discovering first that the watch makes noise, and then planting her face on the catalog to listen, is priceless.

Young children need to take the time to explore.  Here is a slide of kids playing on a statue of a lion, and here’s a 3-year-0ld’s drawing of the same lion.  The children draw what they admire, and their drawing skills are supported from a very young age.  Every classroom has 2, sometimes 3 children in it.

Every spring, a group of parents come to the school to do something for the school. The parents don’t get to decide what to do, the school sets some guidelines, and seek competent help.  DUring the last days of school, the students present their work back to their parents, explaining what they learned.  Grandparents are also often present during the children’s lives.

The community is also part of the learning.

Environment & Physical Space: This slide shows a stairway, where part of the stairs is a slide for the toddlers.  It’s not padded or guardrailed. Each school has at least one studio, and most also have a kitchen which is open to the students at all times.  Students also help prepare the meals. It would be easier for the cooks to prepare the food alone, but it’s part of the childrens’ learning process.

Listening to the children is critical to the process throughout.  Children don’t always do things the way adults think they should, so it’s important to get them to explain their thought processes — rather than criticizing right away.   Teachers are always documenting… with tape recorders, photographs, writing… rather than grading.  More and more documentation is done digitally.  Lots of need for presentation space and tools: little printed books, posters, diagrams.  A teacher with a background in expressive languages works closely with the other teachers and the children in every preschool.  A special workshop space called the atelier.  Now in preschools there is also a media-atelier for computer skills.  Students work with paint, pencil, ink, clay, found materials, digital, light.

What is the use of reading and writing?  Communication.  So every student has a mailbox. Each mailbox has a first name and last name, a photograph, a symbol.  Every child is encouraged to write, communicate, give presents, to  the other children. There is also a documentation board above the mailboxes, so that teachers can diagram what children give to each other; by fourth grade, the mailboxes are private, and children send LOTS of letters.

The Outside: nature and natural materials are important. Many Reggio Emilia schools are in cities, and cities are very interesting to children, but you could do this program in a rural setting, too.  The children and their parents have collected a LOT of natural materials to use. (When she says lots, she means it… there’s a huge amount visible in the slide…. BOXES full).

Weaving is important, and children are expected to plan their weaving process, deciding where to begin, where to end, and to design the pattern. The children create documentation too, epxlaining what they do. They made a set of photographs for themselves, and printed them to attach above the mailboxes, to remind themselves how to use them.

Example Story – Caleb and the Mirror, Ontario Canada: The story has three protagonists – caleb, teacher, caleb’s mom.  On this visit, Caleb finds a mirror, and immediately goes behind it to find himself. He Thinks to himself, and is perplexed.  He looks behind the mirror again.  Then looks at himself again.  Thoughfulness appears on his face.  He looks at his teacher.  Then he looks at his mother and expresses his astonishment and his learning.

Example: “What do you think a season is?” Asking this question to 3-year-olds produced a discussion about first months, then clouds.  This led to discussion about how clouds move — proposals included airplanes, cars, baskets. Maybe they are giants who walk.  They theorize about what is inside clouds: rain, eggs, plastic, glass, cloth… Ultimately, the students explore a variety of questions about clouds, and the teacher — having listened to the discussion — takes them outside to look at real clouds.

What I want to convey is the sense of open questions PLUS discussion.  One teacher is trying to transcribe the discussion at the same time that the other listens; hence two teachers.  The group went outside, where the children had special places outside that they looked at, both to understand the clouds and how clouds changed the weather. The teacher took photographs of this sudden trip.  Then the teacher projected the photographs a few days later to help them revisit the experience.

The 3-year-old students then drew their clouds, and built them in wire, putting eggs (of rain) from their discussion inside.  The students then developed a much larger model of a cloud, and hung it in their classroom.  They documented it as well, by naming it and writing up the history of its creation.  During the “Hundred Languages of Children” exhibit, this matter of clouds and rain became one of the most popular parts of the exhibit.  It consisted of models of clouds, drawings of the schools without rain, with some rain, and lots of rain; and then many photographs of the students playing in the rain.

The comments on the handout that the teachers recorded demonstrate that the children are thinking of the clouds as living beings, with free will and intellect, personal mobility and certain skills.

As 5-year-old children, they developed their own theories of how rain comes:  1.) In the sky there are eternal machines that make the rain.  If one machine empties, another was ready and full to go right away.  2.)The Lord makes it rain.  3.) There is the devil that makes the rain fall; he goes around in a cart with buckets of water, and dumps them down. 4) My father knows when it will rain because the man on the television points the rain around with a stick. 5) The clouds are full of water; the water gets there because the steam from the pots that boil in people’s houses when they cook spaghetti.

There less anthropomorphization of the clouds themselves, but there is is considerably more thinking that God, or the demons, building machines or using buckets.

Then they came up with theories of where the rain goes: 1) The rain falls all over the world; 2) Then it goes into the world through many shoots and channels.  3) The water goes into a sort of pitcher that collects it, and then it goes into pipes that go to people’s houses. 4) The more the rain falls, the harder it falls, and then it makes a thunderstorm.  5) The lightning is born in the sky. The lord makes them; he bangs hard on a piece of wood; that is how you hear the noise.  6) The devil makes lighting and the noise is from the pots and pans he brings from his house.  7) The thunder and lightning come into my home, I hide under my bed.

The drawings, paintings, that 3-8 year olds are doing are simply astonishing. They’re BEAUTIFUL, and I know only a few children in high school who are as skilled, really. And they’re not particularly “childish”, either.

The children also had tape recorders to record the sound of rain.  The children then had to make notations or diagrams of the sounds after listening.   So what are we learning from the children? from exchanging ideas with one another? Or from our own personal reflections?

Question and answer:

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