The assignment was a group activity which required students to research and present a teaching approach which could support transformative classroom management. Reggio Emilia was selected by my group, who were a collection of primary educators from both special education and mainstream schooling backgrounds. The following paper is an individual summary of learning and gives detail in to how the Reggio approach can be adapted in Australian schooling to create a positive and constructive classroom environment.
Reggio Emilia is an economically thriving city in a northern province of Italy. As a city-based community, it developed a unique educational approach during the post-war period to better the learning of the children living in the city. It is greatly influenced by the Montessori style of teaching. The Reggio approach has a foundation in the constructivist theories of Vygotsky and Piaget (Jaruszewicz, 1994, p. 4). Essentially the approach was developed when a group of parents, following the resolution of World War II, were discovered selling abandoned German supplies to fund the construction of a school for their children. This forms the basis of the Reggio approach, in which parents, families and the broader community are integral to the success of the school. While the Reggio Emilia approach was developed for preschool aged children, it has been expanded and adopted by primary schools, and its fundamental principles can be applied across all schooling and beyond.
The Reggio Emilia approach focuses on the process of inquiry learning and constructivist ideals, in which children are responsible for their own learning and the process of inquiry. It suggests that we consider the child as an apprentice and researcher, as well as a social being and constructor of their own knowledge and understanding. In the Reggio Emilia approach, high value is placed on children working in pairs and small groups, constructed around the concept of a community of learner. The curriculum is student driven and focuses on students explaining their own experiences. Students work on long and short term projects that may carry over multiple years of schooling. Interestingly, in the Reggio school, children stay with the same cohort and teacher throughout their time at school, allowing for the formation of strong relationships. There are two teachers to every classroom of up to 28 students in a preschool of 3-6 year olds. The role of the teacher is not to facilitate students, but rather as a co-learner who stimulates learning.
Time organisation plays a fundamental role in Reggio schools. Time is allowed for students to rest and reflect on their learning. Projects are done over unspecified periods, and end when the students gauge that they have understood the point of inquiry. There is a daily activity sequence but it is a loosely constructed time frame so that learning is not disturbed.
One of the most significant aspects of the Reggio Emilia approach, is the classroom environment. There are three key spaces within the Reggio Emilia School: Individual spaces, social common spaces and marginalised spaces such as the kitchen. There is also a space that is common, and central to all Reggio schools called the Atelier. It is a media space in which students can create meaning through symbolic representation, which is a significant feature of Reggio practice, and to express their learning through art as a unique language. The classroom spaces reflect the community of learners within. All learning is documented through video recording, photographs etc. which are displayed along with projects and other visual representation of the people within the community.
There are a number of strengths and limitations of the Reggio Emilia approach. It foster long-term relationships between parents, students, teachers and the broader community. It also acknowledges the importance of community relationships, and being aware of the cultural heritage of the region – this applies in particular to Indigenous Australian communities. Through the inquiry-based approach, and the multiple modes of representation, Reggio caters to the diverse needs of students. Children are encouraged and supported in expressing their emotions in a number of ways. Preference is given to children at a disadvantage, and attendance in Reggio schools is exceptional. Meanwhile, there are a few concerns about the success of the approach. In Australia, Reggio is reasonable unknown style, and therefore parents and teachers are less-willing to place students in Reggio, or Reggio-inspired schools. There are also great costs associated with the training of teachers and staff in Reggio education, as well as supplying school with the materials necessary, such as plants, authentic play equipment, art supplies etc. There is a lot less structure to the school day, which could be viewed as a limitation for some students who thrive from a well-structured routine. It appears in most instances that the strengths outweigh the limitations of the approach.
Reggio Emilia holds great potential for the construction of relationships. The continuum between parents, teachers, students, administration and community is the foundation that the approach is constructed upon. It is a core philosophy that parents and families are integral to the success of the school, and that parents and teachers are co-learners with their children. The physical environment of Reggio schools endeavours to support the building of relationships, for example, kitchen spaces are often built with windows to classrooms so that students can communicate between work areas. Furthermore, Reggio aims to give students the necessary communicative skills, through dialogue and artistic expression etc. to build firm relationships and express emotions in productive ways. The approach also encourages children to capitalise on their right to choose how they communicate and with whom, which in essence allows the children to construct their relationships in their own ways.
The Reggio approach caters to the needs of all students, particularly those living with a disability. The environment of Reggio Emilia school, as well as a number of other aspects, such as the multiple ways work can be created, the visual and “hands-on” nature of the work, and the inquiry process all lend naturally to supporting students with special needs. Diverse learning spaces including individual and social spaces, allow for students to self-regulate when they wish to work with others, and when they wish to work alone. Finally, Reggio allows for students to pursue areas of specific interest, this is highly valuable for students with disabilities such as Autism, who are more inclined to be motivated and engaged in their learning when it stems from their own interest.
In context of a junior primary unit at a mid-range category school, the Reggio approach would be successful in creating a positive classroom environment with well established relationships. Although the approach is not wide-spread in Australia, it is gaining recognition within teaching communities and has potential for great success in early years education. Elements of the Reggio approach can also be applied across all schooling for life-long successful education.
Jaruszewicz, C. (1994). Reggio Emilia: an in-depth view. US Department of Education.