Progettazione, by Suzanne Axelsson & Debi Keyte-Hartland

We have been inspired by through a recent question about progettazione posed on the Facebook Page here https://www.facebook.com/groups/ReggioEmiliaApproach/ about progettazione that Suzanne curates.  We have decided to collaborate together on a piece that explores what for each of us progettazione means and looks like.

For Debi, progettazione is best described as a transdisciplinary, flexible and open approach to working with children’s hypothesises and thinking whereby their ideas are subject to moderation, elaboration and transformation as thinking develops as part of a learning group. (For more on Learning groups see here)  It is a way of working that goes beyond the completion of a topic or theme set by the adult in which certain concepts are covered through teaching to one that is more akin to a research approach where the educator is a co-researcher alongside the children exploring how young children learn both individually and as part of a group.

For Suzanne, progettazione is an approach where children and teachers are learning, they are collaborators, researchers and teaching each other. The educators are observing the children at a level that is informing them about how they are learning as well as what fascinates them within the project.  It is a complex multi-layered learning situation for all concerned where the educators document the children’s knowledge about the project, as well as their own learning styles and development and analyse this information to improve themselves as educators.  There is a mutual respect between children and educators and the project is driven by the teachers and children together.

For Debi, the children are not guided to cover a range of topics or themes but rather learning situations are created that generate a context for discussion, expression and the contesting of ideas in many modalities and ‘languages’ about the world. Children learn through being offered these generative contexts and provocations that enable children to discover learning for themselves. Progettazione therefore promotes educator development, the co-construction of knowledge as part of a learning group and should be in relationship with the children’s families. In this way, families are invited to learn about the group as the progettazione progresses and not just their individual child at the end.

Another good descriptor about progettazione can be found here at: https://www.reggioaustralia.org.au/component/content/article/65

And look here for more information on the general guiding principles of the Reggio Emilia schools. http://www.sightlines-initiative.com/in-dialogue-with-reggio-emilia.html

“If we believe that children possess their own theories, interpretations and questions, and that they are co-protagonists in their knowledge-building processes, then the most important verb in educational practice is no longer to talk, to explain, to transmit, but to listen.” 

Carlina Rinaldi (1998)

Carlina Rinaldi in the quote featured above speaks about how our image of the child affects how we teach. If we see them as empty vessels then our practice is to fill them up with facts and knowledge of our own. However if we believe that children are capable of thinking, of making hypotheses and interpretation and posing questions of their own then rather than fill up the child or transmit knowledge to them, we instead listen to them and most importantly, act upon what they say, to make a choice about what happens next by considering the multiple perspectives shared in the group.

Suzanne also reminds us that we have to agree as team of educators working together what these tricky words such as progettazione, project, topic and theme mean to each other.

“We have had many dialogues about themes and projects and what exactly these words mean for us, and how we can use them in a larger circle of educators around the world. After all this world of ours is shrinking in the sense that we can collaborate online… this means we need to have an understanding of each other. For example the word kindergarten means something quite different when I am in Jenin and Germany from when I have been in Canada and USA – so I find when starting with progettazione we also have to come to some kind of agreement on the language of the progettazione so that we have a common understanding, otherwise I think it is easy to walk away from a meeting thinking we are all in an agreement about where the project is starting from and what direction it will initially take… to discover that all the educators take completely different directions from each other.”

Progettazione therefore we could say in an approach that:

  • is co-lead by children and educators working together
  • is a flexible and open approach that is open to modification and multiple points of view
  • is a form of professional development for teachers (a research approach)
  • happens as part of a learning group collaborating together
  • where observation is used to understand the learning processes of the children as well as well as the construction of knowledge within the learning group
  • involves family engagement during the process of the progettazione
  • involves many languages of expression, to discuss and hypothesise ideas and thoughts
  • requires agreement amongst teams of educators  upon what the term means to them

For Suzanne, an example of progettazione was when she worked at a bilingual school that had at its heart a research question about language…… since they were profiling in language, to understand how children acquired and used language(s) was very important. For example how much did the children know, how did they communicate, how were they learning language and how were non-verbal children communicating, which language was the strongest, how do children learn a second or third or fourth language? She had a ”project” with the children where each of the four groups were exploring different things that each group had shown an interest in… the group she worked most closely with at the time was exploring space, which turned into an exploration of colour and size.  But it was through this space exploration that she observed the children’s language and how they communicated their ideas.  They also had regular meetings analysing their notes, films, photos etc where they not only discussed how the projects could move forward in the sense of what the children were interested in… but also what they were learning about the children’s language and how this information could enable them to be better teachers.

For Debi, who works in the Reggio Emilia tradition of a pedagogista (but also with an arts background) an example of progettazione began with children making observations of the daytime sky.  There was a certainty that the moon was in the sky at night and the sun was only in the sky during the day.  One day, the moon appeared in the sky during the daytime which provided an occasion to challenge this certainty.  What began as discussions about the description of the sun and the moon turned into a context for generating ideas about why this might happen.  Following this event, the learning group (of about 11, 3-4 year olds) seemed to be talking more about the relationship between the sun and the moon, rather than as two separate and isolated phenomena.  They talked about the power, that was held inside the sun and moon and power that emerged between the two.  What appeared to be descriptors about power were maybe, as educators hypothesised using collected traces of documentation to analyse were the genesis of thinking about gravity and energy.  It was during these year long explorations of the relationship between the sun and the moon that educators also researched how playful approaches to using digital media could be used in ways for children to co-construct and express ideas of their own thinking.

Progettazione we could then say is an approach to children’s learning, about educators learning about learning and about making that learning visible for analysis, for acting upon and deciding what to do next.  A final stage is the publication of summative documentation that  makes visible the co-research of the adults and the children.  Progettazione cannot happen without what Carlina Rinaldi calls the “Pedagogy of Listening” and does not really occur when children are working in isolation of each other.  It forms in the relationship and interaction of others; other children, other educators, other families and the community.

“Listening to children’s theories enhances the possibility of discovering how children think and how they both question and develop a relationship with reality. This possibility is magnified when it occurs within a group context that allows for the experience of others to be shared and debated.”

https://www.reggioaustralia.org.au/component/content/article/59

Thank you for reading,

Suzanne Axelsson & Debi Keyte-Hartland

Suzanne Axelsson blogs at interactionimagination.blogspot.co.uk

Debi Keyte-Hartland’s blog can be found at debikeytehartland.me

Other links
https://tecribresearch.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/progettazione-reggio-inspired-teaching-in-dialogue-with-the-learning-processes-of-children/

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Pedagogical Documentation in Challenging Times

I have in a much loved notebook that I took on my first ever visit to Reggio Emilia, now nearly 17 years ago, a quote by Malaguzzi scribed on a singular page saying that, “We can only change what we can take charge of.”  In these times of undignified, ugly and paradoxical world ‘leaderships’ whose ideals are seemingly to separate, to isolate, and to deny or describe as fake those very things that others hold dear, what is it, that we can take charge of in order to change, when the ordeal seems so great?

The process of pedagogical documentation we could say is to observe and listen closely to what children say and do, to use those collected traces of documentation (film, photographs, dialogue, artefacts etc) to help us and others to understand how children think and act, which thus helps us then to make better choices of what to do next, and makes visible in the final process of publication the image of the child we hold and have discovered.  It makes visible their dispositions, their meaning-making, the things they value and their ways of seeing the world.  In learning to read documentation it helps us to expand our minds to what is capable and possible when we work in ECE and to what our own image of the child is.  To read more about pedagogical documentation read here and visit Diane Kashin’s wonderful blog at Technology Rich Inquiry  specifically for pedagogical documentation here.

I wonder, therefore, if pedagogical documentation holds within it a power to make visible the values of a humane society?  If we look at the words associated with humane in a Thesaurus we are confronted with terms such as compassionate, kind, kindly, kind-hearted, considerate, understanding, sympathetic, tolerant, civilised, good, good-natured, gentle; lenient, forbearing, forgiving, merciful, mild, tender, clement, benign, humanitarian, benevolent, charitable, generous, magnanimous; approachable, accessible.  These are characteristics I have seen in documentation, where children are often engaged with thinking about nature in relational ways.  They demonstrate and live out these ways of being that offer alternative and multiple viewpoints on climate change, natural systems and relationships in nature and between themselves and ourselves.  Where children exclaim that they can hear daffodils drinking, that trees have songs, that things that grow can talk to each other, that everything belongs together.

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Woodlands Primary and Nursery School. Telford. UK

This drawing was made by a 4-5 year old and details a small stand of trees that the children, as part of a small inquiry group had been exploring.  There was one tree that was different, (can you spot it?)  It didn’t have all its leaves like the others did.  Children had suggested many ways of dressing it up in party clothes to make it feel better or to try and look for its parents.  The comment made after the drawing was complete was;

“We are all together with the tree’s. There is a sad one without any leaves… we can join it.”

For me, this drawing and the sentiment expressed of joining with it reminds me of the human spirt of collaboration, of empathy and the need to be with others.  It offers the antidote to what our news-feeds are filled with, in terms of politics, governance and leadership.  In making it visible and thus sharable we can take charge of what we value in our classrooms, and change what people see.  It worked for a small town called Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, could it do so on a global basis too?

Pedagogical documentation for me has always offered opportunity to share stories that offer a different perspective to the singular story or narrative being told  (the dominant discourses) and thus offers us a way of creating conditions for change to emerge.  The one thing we can take charge of is what we share, so instead of sharing the latest fad for what is on the light box, share instead something powerful, that just might, turn minds to a more humane way of being.

In this video, children from the Pre-Schools of Reggio Emilia share with the global community their thoughts and thinking about Peace.  It is something we can all learn from.