Over the last two years all of the staff at Ramsay School have been examining the ways to personalize learning for each of our learners. Each staff member comes to Ramsay with a range of experiences gleaned through their own educational and teaching experiences and as we began talking about how to best personalize learning, we turned to a range of pedagogical philosophies and research to help frame our shared understandings and values.
Through careful discussions and investigations, our staff has begun to explore the Reggio Emilia Approach to learning. Established in Italy and developed by the late Loris Malaguzzi and a group of committed, competent educators, the Reggio philosophy is built on a solid foundation of philosophical principles and extensive experiences. There are key principles embraced through this philosophy that have framed our approach with our students this year. These principles or fundamental ideas include are intricately aligned the Calgary Board of Education’s focus on Personalization of learning:
The image of the child
At Ramsay School we believe that all children have preparedness, potential, curiosity, and interest in engaging in social interaction, establishing relationships, constructing their learning, and negotiating with everything the environment brings to them. Teachers are deeply aware of each child’s potential and construct all their work and the environment of the children’s experience to respond appropriately. Each child is curious, wondrous about learning, filled with potential, possesses many talents, skills and abilities, and sees joy in all things possible.
Environment as third teacher
The school environment conveys many messages, of which, the most immediate is this is a place where adults have thought about the quality and instructive power about space. The layout of physical space, in addition to welcoming whoever enters the schools, fosters encounters, communication, and relationships. The arrangement of structures, objects, and activities encourages choices, problem-solving, and discoveries in the process of learning. The spaces are intended to be beautiful by conveying a message about children and teachers engaged together in the pleasure of learning. There is attention to detail everywhere: in the colour of the walls, the shape of the furniture, the arrangement of simple objects on shelves and tables. Light from the windows and doors shines through transparent collages and weaving made by children.
But the environment is not just beautiful --- it is highly personal. The space is full of children’s work. Everywhere there are paintings, drawings, paper sculptures, wire constructions, transparent collages coloring the light, and mobiles moving gently overhead. It turns up even in unexpected spaces like stairways and bathrooms. The reflections of the teachers, the photographs of the children, and their dialogues are part of the displays to help the viewer understand the process of children’s thoughts and explorations. It is about making children’s thinking visible. The work thoughtfully selected by the teachers, literally surround the people in the school.
Children’s relationships and interactions within a system
We believe that the education has to be personalized for each child; not considered in isolation but in relation with the family, other children, the teachers, the environment of the school, the community, and the wider society. Each school is viewed as a system in which all these relationships, which are all interconnected and reciprocal, are activated and supported. Within this system, children’s rights should be recognized, not only their needs. Children have a right to high-quality education that support the development of their potentials. It is by recognizing that children have rights to the best that a society can offer that parents’ rights to be involved in the life of the school and teachers’ rights to grow professionally will be recognized.
The value of relationships and working collaboratively
In preparing the space, our teachers offer the possibility for children to be with the teachers and many of the other children. Teachers are always aware that children learn a great deal in exchanges with their peers, especially when they can interact in small groups. These collaborative relationships are also transferred beyond the classroom.
Small groups provide possibilities for paying attention, hearing and listening to each other, developing curiosity and interest, asking questions, and responding to them through a process of inquiry-based learning. It provides opportunities for negotiation and dynamic communication. This type of small group also favours the emergence of cognitive conflicts that can initiate a process in which children construct together new learning and development. It is because of these collaborative relationships, that students are able to engage in a deep inquiry process; asking thoughtful questions, deeply immersing in focused explorations, observing carefully, collecting and organizing information and pondering and testing their wonderings.
The three rights of education
Our children have a right to high quality education that supports the development of their potentials. It is important to recognize the rights of children to realize and expand all their potentials while receiving support by adults who value the children’s capacity to socialize, to receive and give affection and trust, and who are ready to help them by sustaining the children’s own constructive strategies of thought and action rather than simply transmitting knowledge and skills.
Parents have the right to participate actively in the experience of growth, care, and learning of their own children --- participation that is so vital to the sense of security for children and parents, participation that is an essential part of working together, sharing values, modalities, and content of education.
Valuing teachers’ rights is also important as they contribute to the definition of the contents, objectives, and practice of education accomplished through a network of collaboration, supported by the ideas and competencies of everyone, and that always remains open to professional growth and research.
It is the respect of these rights that will bring mutual and shared benefits for children, parents, and teacher. It is respect for these rights that makes it possible for them to construct their learning together. And, finally, it is respect for these rights that will render the school an amiable place that is welcoming, alive, and authentic.
What is done with materials and media is not regarded as art per se, because in the view of Reggio educators, the children’s use of many media is not a separate part of the curriculum but an inseparable, integral part of the whole cognitive/symbolic expression involved in the process of learning.
The power of documentation
Transcriptions of children’s remarks and discussions, photographs of their activity, and representations of their thinking and learning using many media are carefully arranged by the teachers to document the work and the process of learning.
This documentation has several functions. Among these are to make parents aware of their children’s experience and maintain their involvement; to allow teachers to understand children better and to evaluate the teachers’ own work, thus promoting their professional growth; to facilitate communication and exchange of ideas among educators; to make children aware that their effort is valued; and to create an archive that traces the history of the school and the pleasure of learning by many children and their teachers.
The emergent curriculum
Although instruction is mandated by the Alberta Program of Studies curriculum, it is not always established in advance. Teachers express general goals and make hypothesis about what direction activities and projects might take; they make appropriate preparations using the inquiry process. Then, after observing children in action, they compare, discuss, and interpret together their observations and make choices that they share with the children about what to offer and how to sustain the children in their exploration and learning. In fact, the curriculum emerges in the process of each activity or project and is flexibly adjusted accordingly through this continuous dialogue among teachers and with children aligned with the learner outcomes for the Alberta Program of Studies.
Projects provide the backbone of the children and teachers’ learning experiences. They are based on the strong conviction that learning by doing is of great importance and that to discuss in groups and to revisit ideas and experiences is the premier way of gaining better understanding and learning.
Ideas for projects originate in the continuum of the experience of children and teachers as they construct knowledge together. Projects can last from a few days to several months. They may start either from a chance event, an idea or a problem posed by one or more children, or an experience initiated directly by teachers.
Resources: First Steps to Toward Teaching the Reggio Way, Joanne Hendrick, editor and a special thank you to Carmen Roman, Principal, Calgary Board of Education
Reggio at Ramsay School
Embracing a Reggio philosophy has been, and will continue to be a journey for all of the staff, students and parents at Ramsay School. You have no doubt seen many elements of this philosophy beginning to emerge throughout the school through new classroom arrangements, skilfully created learning spaces being created throughout the school, an emphasis on creativity throughout the curriculum, a new emphasis on “thinking about thinking,” through the development of learning plans and embracing the inquiry process, the social construction of knowledge through collaborative groups and a greater emphasis on the importance of documentation of learning.
We have been thrilled to hear parents comment frequently over the last months that the “School has never looked so good,” and “I just about cried when I walked into the school.” Parents have also asked, “How do we keep the momentum going? I love this!” A former parent commented that “I would never have recognized this school. This is incredible.” We thank Ramsay parents wholeheartedly for recognizing our efforts and for your support in this journey with your children.
We would like to offer parents the opportunity to further discuss this important approach to learning. Please feel free to speak with your classroom teacher if you would like to know more.