Key Elements of The Reggio Emilia Program
Additional key elements of the Reggio Emilia model are the cooperation and collaboration between staff members in each school and throughout the system (Gandini, 1993). Teachers work in pairs in Reggio classrooms and view themselves as equal partners in gathering information about children and making plans to enhance students’ growth and development. Through active cooperation, teachers and administrators make it possible for students to achieve the lofty goals of the program.
Cooperation and collaboration are more effective in a system that is highly organized. Reggio Emilia teachers work within a structured system that is designed to make planning and discussions about children more effective. The program sets aside a minimum of 6 hours each week for teacher meetings, preparing the environment for children, parent meetings, and in-service training (Hendrick, 2003).
A specialist trained in the visual arts referred to as the atelierista is hired for each Reggio Emilia school and works with the other teachers and children to develop projects summarizing learning experiences (Edwards et al., 1998). The atelier (workshop/studio area), with its tools and art materials, is the focal point for the atelierista’s efforts. By guiding teachers and children as they proceed through several refinements of their projects, the atelierista contributes significantly to the work efforts in the Reggio Emilia classroom.
The Importance of Documentation
A critical part of schooling in the Reggio Emilia model is the process of documenting learning experiences (Hendrick, 2003). Students are expected to describe for others the work they have accomplished and the processes they have used in discovering new knowledge. This documentation can take a variety of forms, including
- Transcriptions of children’s remarks and discussions.
- Photographs of activities in and around the classroom.
- Art media representations of experiences (group murals, sculptures, paintings, drawings, etc.).
Documentation serves several important functions (Hendrick, 2003). First, it helps parents become more aware of children’s learning and development. In addition, teachers use these representations of learning to better understand children and to assess their own teaching strategies. Reviewing documentation with other teachers also encourages a sharing of ideas among adults and promotes professional growth. Children benefit as well, seeing that their efforts are valued by adults and consolidating their understandings by being able to communicate them to others.
A project is an extended study of a topic usually undertaken by a group of children, sometimes by a whole class, and occasionally by an individual child. The study is an investigation into various aspects of a topic that are of interest to the participating children and judged worthy of their attention by their teachers. (Roopnarine & Johnson, 2005, p. 209)
Although the Reggio Emilia program is the most recent example of the project approach in early education, the methods have been a part of educational experiences since at least the 1920s and the work of John Dewey. More recently, the “open education” movement in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s relied on project work.
Four key steps are involved in implementing project work (Roopnarine & Johnson, 2005):
- Selecting a topic.
- Beginning the project.
- Doing the project.
- Ending the project.
In-depth projects often last several weeks and captivate the interests of both children and adults. Ideas for these projects come from the experiences of both children and adults and lead children to advanced understanding of the world around them.
Hendrick (1997) describes how children and teachers in a Reggio Emilia classroom developed a project related to birds on the playground. Teachers remembered how children during the previous school year were very interested in promoting birds visiting the playground and had built a small lake and birdhouses as projects. The teachers then prepared questions and possibilities to present to children to see if the students were interested in following up on these earlier efforts.
Then they had the first meeting with the children. The children’s conversation was full of ideas and surprises as, in the course of it, they became more and more involved. First, they explored the idea of repairing what had been constructed the previous year, and then they thought of improving the area by adding several amenities for the birds to make them feel welcome in their playground. Finally, they became very enthusiastic about the idea expressed by one child of constructing an amusement park for the birds on the school’s playground. (Hendrick, 1997, p. 23)
This discussion led to several children drawing what they thought should be included in the amusement park for birds. The teachers discussed the idea further and presented more questions and suggestions to the children, and gradually the idea began to take shape. A project was born and eventually implemented by children and adults in the Reggio Emilia classroom.
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