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Reggio Emilia approach & pedagogical documentation

Reggio Emilia approach & pedagogical documentation


August 2, 2016 | By Ron Spreeuwenberg
This is a transcript of the Preschool Podcast, episode #3 "Reggio Emilia approach and pedagogical documentation”.
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Ron SPREEUWENBERG: Hi I'm Ron Spreeuwenberg, Co-Founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things early childhood education.

Today I speak with Diane Kashin a professor of early childhood education at Ryerson University in Toronto and chair of the York region nature collaborative. Diane helps us to understand what is meant by a Reggio inspired approach and how early childhood educators can use pedagogical documentation to enhance their own learning and development while improving learning outcomes for children. Diane has some great knowledge to share about Reggio inspiration and pedagogy that you won't want to miss out on in our third episode of the preschool podcast.

Diane why don't we start off with you telling me just a little bit about who you are and how you came to work in early childhood education.


Diane KASHIN: OK so I’m Diane Kashin, I have been in early childhood education now for three decades and I first got into it through a interest in parent education as a new parent and just trying to find new information about how to raise kids and someone had recommended that I look into early childhood education and I had already had an undergraduate degree and I looked into it at Seneca College, and before I knew it I was signed up and taking courses and I knew pretty early on that I wanted to eventually teach early childhood education to adults. And after working for a number of years in childcare I pursued finishing my master's and my doctorate in early childhood education.


SPREEUWENBERG: Awesome. And so you said pretty early on you realized that you wanted to teach early childhood education. And what was it that drove you down that path versus you know working in childcare programs directly or being a director in a child care program.


KASHIN: I remember very clearly that it was desired to teach in a way that I thought others could learn, because I was frustrated myself in a largely lecture format class. And I remember a number of times looking up at the professor standing in front of the class and thinking I could do that better. So really it would always be in my mind.


SPREEUWENBERG: Yeah. I actually think that's probably a pretty good segue into my next question. You mentioned you know how a lectured format of teaching doesn't work very well. I think the same idea can be applied to how young children are learning in child care programs. Can you explain to me what the Reggio inspired practice is?


KASHIN: So to be Reggio inspired is to be inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. So I am not a Reggio educator. You know only Reggio educators are actually from Italy. And after World War II a group of parents got together and were joined by Loris Malaguzzi, who was a teacher and poet, and an inspiring individual. They started the first child care center and has expanded to what I think is 80 municipally run child care centres in Reggio Emilia that follow this approach. And of course all over the world. In many many many different countries, so many people have been inspired by this approach. I myself have gone to Reggio Emelia twice on two different study tours and have started incorporating some of the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach into practice.

But at the same time Loris Malaguzzi, who brought much of the theory to this approach, was inspired by John Dewey who was the father of the progressive movement in the US in education. So the roots go back to North America and go back to the idea of what Dewey was a proponent of. What is experiential education and what you learn by doing. And that goes back to when they talk about the lecture format. So it's not the teaching by telling. It's not the empty slate the empty vessel of the students whether they be children or adults where the teacher presented information into empty heads. But it is learning by actively participating in one's own learning. And that's also influenced by theorists such as Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, who influenced Loris Malaguzzi and the educators in Reggio.


SPREEUWENBERG: Now would you say that experiential education is what the definition of the Reggio Emilia approach is like. If you had to summarize it would you say it's all about experiential education?


KASHIN: Well no, if I were to define the approach I would speak as Loris Malaguzzi did about the image of the child and it’s the image of the child when teaching begins, which is his quote. So it is the belief that children are capable and rich potential. And it's that belief that allows teachers to give children ownership of their own learning and to have that experiential approach really based in play as well.


SPREEUWENBERG: Assuming you're speaking to somebody that doesn't know anything about this at all why is that better for the child's learning and development versus a different approach?


KASHIN: Developmentally children aren’t made to sit and listen, they learn by doing. That's how learning happens. It allows for children to have rights and allows children to have a voice, and it really is you know we've gone so far from children should be there but not heard. But children should be in the background that children you know should just do what their parents or their teachers tell them to and that's not promoting learning for children. And so giving children a voice giving children the opportunity to be actively involved in their play and learning is the right approach. And again it's not necessarily one that only stems from Reggio Emilia. It has a long history in education going back to Plato. So there is this rich history that learning should be involved and self-directed.


SPREEUWENBERG: If I'm taking the view of again, of someone who doesn't have a lot of understanding of this area, let's say someone who might push back on this approach and might say “Well but aren't young children too young to really know what they need to learn And what's most important for them for their development. So aren't we better off to have early childhood educators that are sort of teaching them what they need to know?”


KASHIN: No. No. That's really presumptuous, kind of like a Donald Trump. I don't know what that is really, that kind of upsets me to hear that. Because what that sounds like is that there is a sense that there is information or knowledge or facts that children need to know, their letters, their numbers and that again that the teacher has all of the information and the child does it and that's it. Babies are very intellectual babies are very capable. There's so much potential in the child to learn actively. So to think that the teacher has this knowledge and has to give it to the child is really not looking at the highest order functioning of the child's play. And it's the lowest sort of functioning and this goes to Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy and is memorization and understanding.

So you know asking a child what they know rather than asking them what they think and as the hierarchy goes up, it involves the child analyzing, the child creating, and those are the higher order processing of their brain. So when we just give a child their permission and say this is an apple, a stands for apple. We just give them that kind of information then they can possibly say a back to you and say Apple but they're not using their brains to their highest capacity. If you give them a lot of loose parts or open ended materials to make create something then they are using their brains in a much more involved way.


SPREEUWENBERG: And I think it's probably safe to say that a lot of families out there who have their children in childcare early learning programs, you know in Ontario where you are and elsewhere, might not understand a lot of these concepts. How would you explain it to them, to the parent who might come to you and say that's all great but I'm really worried about Johnny going into kindergarten and being behind because on his reading writing and arithmetic kind of stuff. What would you say to that parent?


KASHIN: Yeah that's a tough one and I think most early childhood educators will run into to parents like that all the time and they'll say you know why aren't you teaching my child their ABC's why aren't you giving the child worksheets. And it is an early child that educators are well trained. They're part of a licensed profession and registered at the College of ECE and they should be able to articulate the importance of learning through play in the early years and not to children. Children’s brain development is very plastic in the early years. The brain responds well to active play, though this is the greatest window of learning for children and research has proven that children learn through play and not learn through being told information. So it would be giving the parent some articles, sharing with them some videos that they can watch and what I would do it with I would have parents come in for a family evening. I would give them opportunities to play with the same materials that I would have in my class and for children to play so that they could see the potential and the materials for learning.

So when you're building with blocks that’s math, there's language, emotional, literacy, and there's science, and there's dramatic play. There's so much potential. There's playing together. When children come together and build it so there's cooperation and social play. So there's so much and you can't know it until you play it yourself, and I think that's good for adults today to act to go back to a playful way of doing and to realise how joyful and how wonderful it is and when they push academics on their children at very young ages they're actually doing harm to their children and they're taking away this wonderful opportunity that children have in the early years.


SPREEUWENBERG: So it sounds like the Reggio Emilia approach is a more progressive view of early childhood education. Do you think that most if not all child care, early learning programs will move to this model over time?


KASHIN: So first of all it's not a model and it is the Reggio Emilia approach and I say that only because if you read the Reggio Emilia literature that has come out over the years, the educators there are very explicit. They don't want to be perceived as model because a model is duplicated and they want people to be inspired by the principles in the things that they do and then to take it to their own context and make it work based on who they are and where they are and who the children are. So I do think that there is a move towards embracing the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach. And certainly in Ontario it's very clearly influenced in the How Does Learning Happen, Ontario's pedagogics very clearly influenced by the Reggio Emilia approach. And you can see evidence when how does learning happen, it speaks to the views of children, families, and educators.

It aligns with what Reggio speaks of in terms of the image of child the image of the teacher and the image of families it speaks to the environment as the third teacher, speaks a hundred languages, then it speaks to pedagogical documentation and it's now the expectation coming from how does learning happen that educators do these things. So that clearly influenced by Reggio Emilia and more and more across the world. I follow a lot of different programs and I've been recently in Australia, the year before was in Sweden, and more and more programs across the world are being influenced by Reggio and the progressive ideas and the philosophy. So yes I do see the move, but change is always difficult for some people and unless they have training and support in time it's difficult to know what you don't know and to know where to find out what you don't know.


SPREEUWENBERG: And so you touched on it just a little bit there. But what do you think are the major barriers for I guess more widespread adoption of a Reggio inspired approach.


KSAHIN: I think in Ontario it would be really good if they clearly came out and said how much How Does Learning Happen has been inspired by Reggio. I understand that probably what the case is that they don't want to turn people off at the onset because you've got multiple approaches and models now, like Montessori and HighScope that that can align with the Reggio Emilia approach and to connect with it. But they want to keep it open. That's my theory. So I think that there is resistance to it just because there is that lack of clearly stated acceptance in the how does learning happen of approach but also because of the lack of time and the lack of what commensurate wage to Early childhood educators who are considered professionals and part of a regulatory college they need to get paid better, and with that have the benefits of a prep time, paid training and there is a move I know in my own region in York.

There is a move to give each child care center one time funding so that they can get professional development from people to help them understand How Does Learning Happen so there is a move and it's slow but the individual early childhood education has to really feel the passion and the desire to want to change and work to grow. And that's hard because they could be very satisfied with what they've been doing, it becomes a habit it becomes something that's almost mindless that they don't stop and think about that perhaps we could give the children more time to play. Perhaps we can expand our outdoor play time. There's so many different things that they can do that they may not think of.I think there needs to be some intervention in terms of support from those people that can help them see the possibilities in this type of play and learning.


SPREEUWENBERG: Yeah absolutely. So it's kind of a combination of the early childhood educators themselves challenging themselves to challenge the status quo and try different approaches, and then also the powers provide them with the resources to be able to do that, the combination of those two.


KASHIN: Exactly.


SPREEUWENBERG: Just switching gears a little bit. You have a blog on line “Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research” and one of the topics you touch on there quite a bit is pedagogical documentation. Can you tell me a little bit more what that means?


KASHIN: The definition of pedagogical documentation is making learning visible. So it is somehow making the learning that is happening in the classroom visible to others. So it involves a three part a process through that process it involves observing children and observing them for something interesting. So it's not just oh I'm watching a child pick up the ball. Well what is interesting about that? What's important about that? So it's making those observations, documenting them and then interpreting them. So why is this important? What have I just witnessed what learning has happened. And in order to really understand that the learning that's happening it's important for early childhood educators to share their documentation whether it be to other educators to families and to children as well. And so it's like a work in progress because you can't really know exactly what the child's intent was when they playing with that doll.

But what you can do is you can interpret it based on your photographs, based on your notes about what the child was saying, you can ask the child to draw or you can ask the child questions about what they are doing. So you're collecting artifacts you're collecting evidence of the learning. So pedagogical documentation has to be shared in order to be interpreted in order to lead your curricula. So if you have done a good job of collecting and sharing documentation about the children playing with balls, then you should have an idea of what you would do next in your curriculum. Would you add different kinds of balls. Would you expand that experience, would you do some research with the children about how a ball is and balls are made of and so that needs to be shared in order for you to analyze and think about what's next.

So I often talk to educators about what, so what, now what. So what is the children playing with balls. So what, so the children perhaps are exhibiting different schemas of play. So what's next. What are you going to do to build on this to continue to challenge the children so documentation can have many forms it could be a bulletin board in the classroom, it could be outside the classroom. It could be a portfolio that the child has access to or like to be an electronic portfolio that the parents also have access to or it could be digital documentation which is sent to the parents or the parents have access on a regular basis. So there's many different types of documentation.

I've just been exploring FloorBooks which was developed by Claire ward of the U.K. and that's using these large sketchbooks to record and visually represent the learning that's happening in the classroom and the children have access to it and contribute their ideas of what they want to do next as well.


SPREEUWENBERG: Very cool. Let's say I'm an early childhood educator and I'm thinking to myself, "Diane this is really awesome. I want to do this stuff. But I'm not I'm not very creative."" So you know I'm pretty good at doing the observations I think I'm pretty good at the documentation. Even the so what piece I'm pretty good but so what's next. I don't know. Do you have any tips for thinking through how you think about planning from there or where you go from there.


KASHIN: Yeah I would really encourage early childhood educators not to do this in isolation. So you don't have to have all the answers and you don't know how to exactly know where to take your curriculum. The curriculum should be organic, it should be emergent. And so you can have some ideas and you can go to others to get their ideas. I love when I see educators on Facebook or on Twitter talk about an emerging interest of their children and getting others to give some feedback and just trying things and to let go of the kind of fear that you're taking it in the wrong way, the wrong direction because children will tell you if it's the wrong direction because they won't be interested. So it's very easy to keep children's interest in everything in the world because they're fascinated by it. As long as they can have the opportunity to experience it in a concrete way in a way, that they can get their hands around get their minds around. So as we go back to the very beginning of the interview it's not just telling children. So once you have some ideas, you play with them and see where it goes.


SPREEUWENBERG: Yeah that's a good point I suppose. Children can have fun and learn from almost any concept or direction you go, which is kind of the whole point of some of the things you've been talking about I think. So just stepping forward from there one thing you mentioned that you thought was really neat was when you saw early childhood educators for example go online to discuss some of their observations, documentation, and reflecting with others on what that might mean. And I think that touches on a point that I'm increasingly interested in in early childhood education which is that I feel like it's great to have more leaders in the field that will take that initiative to start those conversations. Do you have any thoughts about leadership in early childhood education and the importance of that?


KASHIN: Of course I do. I was actually at a center yesterday doing a workshop and one of the early childhood educators introduced herself as the pedagogical leader at the center. So I just thought that was amazing. And certainly heave heard of that concept before. In Reggio Emilia they do have a have pedagogy stems that are connected to each center and who are the pedagogical leaders. And certainly it's something that you find in Australia and you’d find in other countries. So it was wonderful to see a center embracing it. There needs to be more opportunities for early childhood educators to be leaders. You don't have to have a leadership position. It doesn't have to be positional leadership. So not everybody wants to be a supervisor or a director. Some people would show tremendous leadership skills and abilities in their own classrooms and children can be leaders as well. So just really getting to the idea that leadership is for everyone.

And that's why I love social media so much because you don't have to be a recognized leader and I've seen early childhood educators who have become a real presence, source of expertise and knowledge on social media just because they put themselves out there because it democratizes the world. If you're there no one is asking what are your credentials are or do you have the position that fits this. They just put themselves out there and are sharing and talked about their ideas and they now are leaders in social media, the virtual world. So I would expect that they are leaders in their own communities because once you get a taste of having an opportunity to share and have a voice I think you keep going at it. So I really would see them as advocates in their communities since they are advocates online. So we do need more support in the same way you need support or early childhood educators do to learn about theReggio Emilia approach and pedagogical documentation we need more support to encourage leadership in in Ontario.


SPREEUWENBERG: I agree. And very good point about not having to be related to your position to do it, there's different opportunities to do it not just for example in the role of a supervisor or director. Was having a similar conversation with someone in another podcast about the different types of leadership. You know some types of leadership might be in the more traditional sense, some people can lead quietly as well or lead by sharing their insights online. So, absolutely agree with you about that. A couple more questions, just to finish things out. What is the trend that is most exciting to you in early childhood education right now?


KASHIN: I would say outdoor play. I'm very excited about this personally and professionally and also excited for the potential of more children getting outside playing in and with nature for extended periods. Connected to the forest school movement in Canada, nature preschools. This is something that as an adult I spent too many years not loving nature but as a child I did. So I had quite a few decades there that I became a creature comfort. And for the last couple of years I have been involved with the York region nature collaborative on the chair. Our mission is to encourage early childhood educators to learn to embrace nature and outdoor play. And so I'm very excited about that. I'm also working on a research project funded by the Lawson foundation on outdoor play.

Because there are so many reasons that I think so much learning can emerge from the outside because children are very interested in the ants that are crawling on the ground or the different types of trees or the wild flowers. And this captures their attention and could easily be the basis for an inquiry or a long term project. And also because childhood is increasingly becoming an indoor culture. We are in, I think a crisis in our world, because we can't ask children who will grow up to be adults to take care of our environment if they don't know it and they don't love it. And so it's really important for so many reasons that we encourage educators to go beyond their playgrounds so it's not enough to just stand there and watch children go up and down the slide and the climber and run around in a fenced in pen. They have to go beyond and find the ravine or find the hillside or find the tress. To realize that they are part of a common world. They will learn to love it because they haven't been given the chance. Outdoor play will have tremendous impact on their overall health and well-being as well.


SPREEUWENBERG: Makes a lot of sense. Maybe we can start teaching outdoor play to adults as well.


KASHIN: Absolutely. So that's part of the Lawson foundation funding is that we have more outdoor play courses in early childhood education, in teachers college wherever we can. So that, again, if you go outside and spend time you know the potential. But if you don't, you don't. So it's important the same way as to help parents learn about play by giving them opportunities to play themselves. It's important for educators to be outside and to learn the potential of playing outside.


SPREEUWENBERG: Absolutely. Last question you just came back from Australia you're there. You did a couple of workshops and visited a few childcare programs. What's the most interesting thing you learned while you were there?


KASHIN: Oh my goodness I learned so much but I think the most interesting thing was all the centers that we were there they had free flow between indoors and outdoors. And I thought that was just phenomenal that children had so much choice and they could play indoors they could play outdoors. And while they were playing outdoors and were given many opportunities to play. In a way that we, in North America, might term as risky play. And this is how children develop skills in practice, managing risk, given the opportunity to practice balancing or running around in bare feet which was phenomenal to see all these kids in bare feet. It was just great. So it was one day it was raining and one day it was cold but it didn't matter. But the outdoors was embraced and the teachers were there constantly recording children's ideas giving children opportunities to represent their ideas. And there was a lot of wonderful documentation that support what they were doing in and outside their classrooms.


SPREEUWENBERG: Phenomenal sounds very cool and very much in line with a lot of the things that we've been talking about. Finally you're pretty active on line on social media. You also have a blog. What's the best way for people to find you online if they want to look you up.


KASHIN: Twitter is really easy @DianeKashin1 and my blog of course the Technology Rich Inquiry and if you Google that or just google my name Diane Kashin the blog comes up I'm also on Facebook and have a number of Facebook pages. Technology rich inquiry based is one of the pages. And so it's pretty easy to find me.


SPREEUWENBERG: Perfect. And for listeners Kashin is K A S H I N. Wonderful Right. Thanks so much for your time Diane.


KASHIN: Thanks Ron. Have a nice Day.


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