Listen

20180418_144228This week I visited Sabot School at Stony Point in Richmond, Virginia.  Sabot is a Pre-K through grade 8 independent school running a program that is Reggio Emilia inspired.  I’ve been a practitioner and learner within the Reggio inspired world since 1996 and I continue to find ways to grow.  This year Sabot’s school-wide Umbrella project is based on the book, Listen by Patty Wipfler.  As I explored the corridors filled with beautiful, child-designed projects, I was reminded of the wonder within the child.

When observing children it can be easy to jump on the first sign of a shared interest.  For instance, this year’s class has been strongly devoted to playing “family” since day one.  In the beginning, I thought, “Oh! I see they are curious about families.  We can dive right into this!”  In past years, this meant quickly gathering supporting materials (books, real-world-objects) to support the development of questions and ideas.  I was worried that if I waited, I would miss the opportunity to build on a shared idea.  This week at Sabot I learned to change my lens a bit.

As teachers, we are encouraged to listen with our whole being to understand a child’s true intent.  First observations regularly point out obvious, surface topics or trajectories.  Upon further observation and questioning, we can draw forward the children’s thinking.  We can help each child bring their theories to light and assist them as they test these ideas through investigation.

When reflecting on this family play, I am beginning to wonder if it is not so much the family unit that they are exploring, but the power of being in charge.  In this game, there is often one member of the family that is “in charge” and directs the others’ actions.  It is not always the same child.  Sometimes “the boss” is more diplomatic, sometimes more autocratic.  Whatever style the family leader tries on, the peers’ reactions to requests (or demands) begin to create an internal rule book for “how to be in charge and still get people to do things with you.”  I’m looking forward to exploring this perspective on “family play” with them in the upcoming weeks.

 

Questions Regarding Emergent Curriculum

 

This week, I presented Growing Their Curriculum: The Emergent, Interest-Driven Curriculum (How It’s Done in a Real Classroom) at the Young Child Expo and Conference. We had a lively discussion near the end and we missed a few of the questions posted by attendees.  Below are some of the questions.
IMG_1287How do you incorporate an emergent curriculum when using a prescribed curriculum?

One of the ways to work within this predefined structure is to set aside short sections of your day to study the children’s interests.  Although it is lovely to devote your entire day to child-led research, it is not always possible.  If 15 minutes a day or two periods per week are all you can manage with a hectic schedule, it will still be more than never acknowledging your students’ desires to delve further into their own questions.

How to explain an emergent curriculum to parents?

Parents want their children to grow and succeed.  They need to know that their child will do so in your classroom.  When explaining the use of an emergent curriculum to teachers, I adamantly suggest the requirement of fully knowing your students learning goals be they benchmarks, standards or developmental milestones.  When you know what your children need to learn next, you will know how to support them as they grow.  Once you are comfortable with this knowledge, explaining to parents how you will sheppard  their child along the process is more manageable.  Be ready to explain how their child will practice, experiment and grow in all domains.

The most powerful evidence of the learning possible in an emergent curriculum comes from the children’s own work and voices. Share these with parents and include explanations of the learning happening.  Use documentation boards, blogs, tweets, letters home or any other communication method that works for you to present the parents with examples of their child’s growth.

Is it still Reggio? Do you consider yourself “Reggio-Inspired?”

My teaching is Reggio Emilia inspired. Although a class cannot become “Reggio”, many of the truths at the heart of the Reggio Emilia Schools can be applied within our classrooms.  I believe that each child comes to my class full of curiosity and as a capable, experienced scientist.  My job is to help them explore their interests while providing them with the environment and tools they need to grow in all domains.  An Every Day Story gives a wonderful description of Reggio-inspired teaching.

How do you create art projects based on a family or gardening unit?

First, let me say that there are practically no “craft” projects completed in our classroom.  When we are researching a topic, we often draw, sculpt, paint and invent representations that go along with our studies.  Many times, the creation of a finished product is not nearly as important as the process that goes along with it.  The children’s work is can be seen through photos, their journals, portfolios and their drawings lovingly taped to anything that is not painted.  (We wouldn’t want to damage the walls, so we tape onto everything else.)  I let go of “art projects” when I realized that a beautiful finished product was not the point of using materials.  In our room the following are important:

  • experimentation with materials
  • explorations of a material’s properties
  • discovering limits and boundaries to our plans (gravity, space, time, other friends in our class)
  • investigating options when met by these limits
  • adjusting and moving forward

In a family study, we have drawn and painted our families.  We have sculpted our mothers and built our homes out of boxes.

A garden study might make us curious about how to create a vegetable garden using water colors.  Maybe we’d even make masking-tape vegetables.  There is no denying the joy of unhindered access to masking-tape.

What is the longest time you have worked on a unit?

Just to get this off my chest, I don’t actually refer to our studies as units.  I’m not actually sure why. I think a unit reminds me of a set in stone group of activities that were devised by the teacher to meet the teacher’s goals.  A unit also sounds like a measurement, something with a definite beginning and ending.

I usually refer to our learning as studying topics or conducting research.  A year ago, I had the pleasure of studying with Erin Kenny of Cedarsong Nature School.  Erin refers to her take on emergent curriculum as “flow learning.”  Erin’s program is completely outdoors and naturally (pun intended) connected to the daily ebb and flow of questions offered by the environment.  It makes sense that a topic of study might last for weeks or minutes.  I’ve brought a bit of this flexibility to our classroom.

A topic might be investigated for weeks at a time.  This year, I’m fairly certain we could have continued studying pandas until the children grew beards.  Even though we sensed a shift in their interest and have since moved on, pandas still play a huge role in the children’s play each day.

At other times, an engaging topic springs up so quickly that you daren’t miss the opportunity to learn more.  Our very short (one Morning Meeting) molecule study is a great example.

Then, there are of course, the flops. Sometimes, you notice a string of interest only to watch it fizzle as the children begin to explore it.  No worries.  Emerge yourself onward, my friend.  If we are not learning alongside our students, what is the point?