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A Story of the Possible: Individuals with Special Rights in the Reggio Emilia Context (Part II)

By Laura Cox

Last November, Laura Cox spent a few days at the Loris Malaguzzi International Center in Italy to learn about the Reggio Emilia philosophy. The three-day study tour was organized by Next Frontier Inclusion, an organization that aims to help international schools to develop programs that support students with disabilities or special rights. The first installment of this two-part series appeared in TIE’s April 2017 issue.
Ivana Socini, the psychologist responsible for the inclusion of students with special rights in Reggio-Emilia schools, insists that all children—all human beings, in fact—were purpose-built to ask questions. As educators, we must listen for those questions in order to create the right environment and recast provocations to meet children (with special rights and others) at their proximal zone of development. We must take time to first observe, and only then try to interpret.
It is through our attention and our degree of interest that we can show respect for students’ learning differences. We then have to give ourselves time to help them amplify their learning through questions and challenges, pushing their thinking to become more complex, multiplying it by figuring out ways to connect it to other concepts and ideas, then relaunching it to increase the level of challenge, complexity, or depth by introducing new variables to move the learning forward.
This cycle of observation, documentation, and interpretation leading to relaunch involves the same series of steps that work well to stimulate the growth of all students. Embracing this process enables those with special rights to participate in whatever ways they can to access and demonstrate interest in learning.
One of the core tenets of the Reggio approach is that including, accepting, and valuing students with special rights within the learning community improves the practice of teachers. Improved teacher practice, in turn, benefits all students. Additionally, students within the community have an opportunity to learn empathy and to accept difference in a way that would not be possible without the participation of these children who face unique challenges.
Ivana Socini underscored the fact that the Reggio approach is not just about creating beautiful schools. It is about fostering a deep culture of respect that values difference. These educators observe the children then dream based on those realities to tell the story of the possible, and there is so much that is possible.
On the final day of the workshop, Annalisa Rabitti led a powerful session discussing her experience of having a child with special rights and significant needs. She wrote a beautiful book about her son called Martino has Wheels (2016) in which she explains that even though he is nonverbal, if you listen very carefully with your heart, you can hear his voice. What Annalisa stressed as a parent, which echoes all of the voices we heard over course of our stay in Reggio, is this: it is not just about inclusion, not just about having students with special rights in the schools. The magic is in the way that adults accompany the children into that context, carrying a deep belief in the importance of including all because this gesture enriches the community. The level of respect for the individual learning journey as it connects to the learning community is profound. This is why inclusion works in Reggio. It is an integral part of how these educators understand children and how they accompany all children on their journey.
What does this mean for us?
At almost every session, a workshop participant invariably asked the educators at Reggio what they did with students that were too challenging due to their behavior or skill level. And invariably, the Reggio educators were utterly confused by such questions. Their answer: “We never ask kids to leave.” The children who are at their school are those they serve. No need is too great or too challenging.
I was equally struck by the degree of difference that was accepted and the level of choice afforded to students. We know that disruptive and defiant behavior is often a manifestation of frustration in response to tasks that are too difficult or less desirable, and can be symptomatic of an effort to exert some level of control in response to a perceived lack of choice. Might this offer us some insight when rethinking our typical responses to our most challenging students? How can we multiply the entry points for all students, and how might that affect the ability of our most vulnerable students to succeed?
All of these questions will influence my practice and thinking as our school continues its own learning journey influenced by Reggio and with growing consideration for how to meet the needs of students with special rights within our school context. ?
Edwards, C., Gandini, L., and Forman, G., eds. (2012). The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, 3rd Edition. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.
Rabitti, A. (2016). Martino ha le ruote – Martino has Wheels. Italy: Corsiero Editore.
Laura Cox is PK-12 Learning Support Team Leader and Elementary Learning Support Teacher at the International School of Prague.

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02/12/2024 - Natalie
I come from an early education background and know the wonders of the Reggio Approach. A couple of years ago I earned my extensive support needs teaching credential and currently teach in a high school age extensive support needs autism -focus classroom. I know in my heart that implementing as many of the Reggio philosophies and practices into my classroom and teaching as I can is the best way to support and make a real difference for my students. I am trying to find research to back up my belief, however I am finding little to nothing at all about implementing the Approach at the high school level, and absolutely nothing on working with students on the autism spectrum. I was thrilled to find this article and will definitely use it as a reference. I am wondering if you might be able to recommend further research or reading that will help me to meet the needs of my students in the kind of environment I know will best benefit them.
Thanks in advance, Natalie



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