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Children With Special Rights in Reggio Emilia – A Story of the Possible

Part 1: An Overview of the Reggio Philosophy
By Laura Cox
Children With Special Rights in  Reggio Emilia – A Story of the Possible

By Laura Cox
Last November, I had the opportunity to spend a few days at the Loris Malaguzzi International Center in Italy to learn about the Reggio Emilia philosophy. This approach to education and the ways in which children with special rights are included was a revelation. Few professional development experiences have been so profound and powerful. The three-day study tour was organized by Next Frontier Inclusion, an organization that aims to support international schools in developing programs to support students with disabilities or special rights—a population woefully underserved in most international schools.
Reggio: an overview
Reggio Emilia calls itself an educating city. This could not be a more accurate description. The level of importance placed on the education of children—especially the youngest—and the respect and care given to these learners is felt throughout the city. On the first morning of the conference, Paolo Cagliari, Director of Preschools and Infant Toddler Centers, along with Ivana Socini, psychologist responsible for the inclusion of students with special rights, gave us an overview of the most important aspects of the Reggio approach to working with children.
The Reggio educational project begins with an idea of difference. The first, central priority is a value for the subjectivity of every child. Relationships are important because it is here that all differences emerge. To make this possible there are always two teachers in a classroom, but this approach also recognizes the contributions of cooks, cleaners, and assistants. All of the people who help to care for children in any way at school are part of their learning community and are seen as co-responsible for the children.
Another central priority is the role of the atelieristas. These are full-time staff members with a background in art. They work with teachers to multiply the possible entry points of knowledge and access, allowing adults to understand the child’s different ways of knowing and to construct experiences that are varied. If the class offers a multiplicity of opportunities for learning, then all members of the group can take part, approaching learning in their own unique ways.
Additionally, the environment plays a key role in helping to form relations among children. In Reggio, it is often referred to as the third teacher. Environments can encourage collaborative thinking, provide the freedom to move and explore, and promote the possibility of choice. This is accomplished using materials that are set in the environment, which make us feel curious and invite us to discover. The space promotes autonomy and is a manifestation of the intelligence we put in our work, sending messages of respect and freedom of expression.
Pedagogistas work with schools and families to plan projects for all the schools and work with multidisciplinary teams to help plan for the kids. These teams need time together to update their thinking, thus collaboration is another central priority. This learning community works together to share their research about the children, consider possible interpretations of that research, and plan for future provocations or recasting of ideas.
To do this well, documentation is crucial; as such, it is the last central priority that defines Reggio. Teachers in Reggio see documentation as an ethical choice, a tool to spy on the knowledge-creation process among children. By using documentation and reflecting on it within multidisciplinary teams, adults can enter into dialogue with the minds of children, instead of dragging them down a planned journey. It is also a powerful tool for dialoguing with parents.
Within this framework, a sense of wonder is used as an entry point to knowledge. A provocation is offered to the children—in the form of a question, a challenge, an experience, a set of beautiful things to consider—then the adults document how the children engage with the provocation.
The teacher is a researcher, documenting what questions the students ask, in what ways they attempt to make sense of what is before them, whether or not they are interested in it, and what they discover while interacting with it.
Then the multidisciplinary teams reflect on the research resulting from that provocation. How close or far are the students from the task or learning it was meant to provoke? How might we use their questions and interactions to recast the idea to create new learning and push their understanding further? Did we miss the mark completely? Is it too far away from their zone of interest or development right now? In this way, students and the members of the multidisciplinary team co-construct knowledge and the path for learning that is most relevant to the learners.
In Part 2, I will discuss how students with special rights are integrated into this community. View Part 2 here.
Laura Cox is PK-12 Learning Support Team Leader and Elementary Learning Support Teacher at the International School of Prague, as well as the author of the blog

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