Friday, 9 June 2017

Progettazione, by Suzanne Axelsson & Debi Keyte-Hartland

Progettazione, 
by Suzanne Axelsson & Debi Keyte-Hartland 

We have been inspired by through a recent question about progettazione posed on the Facebook Page here Reggio Emilia Approach about progettazione, a group that Suzanne curates. We have decided to collaborate together on a piece that explores what for each of us progettazione means and looks like.

For Debi, progettazione is best described as a transdisciplinary, flexible and open approach to working with children’s hypothesises and thinking whereby their ideas are subject to moderation, elaboration and transformation as thinking develops as part of a learning group. (For more on Learning groups see here) It is a way of working that goes beyond the completion of a topic or theme set by the adult in which certain concepts are covered through teaching to one that is more akin to a research approach where the educator is a co-researcher alongside the children exploring how young children learn both individually and as part of a group.

For Suzanne, progettazione is an approach where children and teachers are learning, they are collaborators, researchers and teaching each other. The educators are observing the children at a level that is informing them about how they are learning as well as what fascinates them within the project. It is a complex multi-layered learning situation for all concerned where the educators document the children's knowledge about the project, as well as their own learning styles and development and analyse this information to improve themselves as educators. There is a mutual respect between children and educators and the project is driven by the teachers and children together.

For Debi, the children are not guided to cover a range of topics or themes but rather learning situations are created that generate a context for discussion, expression and the contesting of ideas in many modalities and ‘languages’ about the world. Children learn through being offered these generative contexts and provocations that enable children to discover learning for themselves. Progettazione therefore promotes educator development, the co-construction of knowledge as part of a learning group and should be in relationship with the children’s families. In this way, families are invited to learn about the group as the progettazione progresses and not just their individual child at the end. Another good descriptor about progettazione can be found here at ReggioAustralia.org And look here for more information on the general guiding principles of the Reggio Emilia schools. Sightlines Initiative

“If we believe that children possess their own theories, interpretations and questions, and that they are co-protagonists in their knowledge-building processes, then the most important verb in educational practice is no longer to talk, to explain, to transmit, but to listen.” 
Carlina Rinaldi (1998) 

Carlina Rinaldi in the quote featured above speaks about how our image of the child affects how we teach. If we see them as empty vessels then our practice is to fill them up with facts and knowledge of our own. However if we believe that children are capable of thinking, of making hypotheses and interpretation and posing questions of their own then rather than fill up the child or transmit knowledge to them, we instead listen to them and most importantly, act upon what they say, to make a choice about what happens next by considering the multiple perspectives shared in the group.

Suzanne also reminds us that we have to agree as team of educators working together what these tricky words such as progettazione, project, topic and theme mean to each other. “We have had many dialogues about themes and projects and what exactly these words mean for us, and how we can use them in a larger circle of educators around the world. After all this world of ours is shrinking in the sense that we can collaborate online... this means we need to have an understanding of each other. For example the word kindergarten means something quite different when I am in Jenin and Germany from when I have been in Canada and USA – so I find when starting with progettazione we also have to come to some kind of agreement on the language of the progettazione so that we have a common understanding, otherwise I think it is easy to walk away from a meeting thinking we are all in an agreement about where the project is starting from and what direction it will initially take... to discover that all the educators take completely different directions from each other.”

the children were exploring light, shadow and art... previously we had explored this from the perspective of fear... this time I was able to observe how the children interacted with each other, see how they used their empathy to support those who had been afraid of the dark the previous time. This was a part of the children's listening project... for Suzanne it was an exploration of relationships...


Progettazione therefore we could say in an approach that: 
• is co-lead by children and educators working together 
• is a flexible and open approach that is open to modification and multiple points of view 
• is a form of professional development for teachers (a research approach)
• happens as part of a learning group collaborating together 
• where observation is used to understand the learning processes of the children as well as well as the construction of knowledge within the learning group 
• involves family engagement during the process of the progettazione 
• involves many languages of expression, to discuss and hypothesise ideas and thoughts 
• requires agreement amongst teams of educators upon what the term means to them

For Suzanne, an example of progettazione was when she worked at a bilingual school that had at its heart a research question about language... since they were profiling in language, to understand how children acquired and used language(s) was very important. For example how much did the children know, how did they communicate, how were they learning language and how were non-verbal children communicating, which language was the strongest, how do children learn a second or third or fourth language? She had a ”project” with the children where each of the four groups were exploring different things that each group had shown an interest in... the group she worked most closely with at the time was exploring space, which turned into an exploration of colour and size. But it was through this space exploration that she observed the children's language and how they communicated their ideas. They also had regular meetings analysing their notes, films, photos etc where they not only discussed how the projects could move forward in the sense of what the children were interested in... but also what they were learning about the children's language and how this information could enable them to be better teachers.

For Debi, who works in the Reggio Emilia tradition of a pedagogista (but also with an arts background) an example of progettazione began with children making observations of the daytime sky. There was a certainty that the moon was in the sky at night and the sun was only in the sky during the day. One day, the moon appeared in the sky during the daytime which provided an occasion to challenge this certainty. What began as discussions about the description of the sun and the moon turned into a context for generating ideas about why this might happen. Following this event, the learning group (of about 11, 3-4 year olds) seemed to be talking more about the relationship between the sun and the moon, rather than as two separate and isolated phenomena. They talked about the power, that was held inside the sun and moon and power that emerged between the two. What appeared to be descriptors about power were maybe, as educators hypothesised using collected traces of documentation to analyse were the genesis of thinking about gravity and energy. It was during these year long explorations of the relationship between the sun and the moon that educators also researched how playful approaches to using digital media could be used in ways for children to co-construct and express ideas of their own thinking.

As part of a project about Leonardo Da Vinci - the children wanted to make a film... this was the last of 4 years with me (Suzanne) and I knew these children really well, but I was exploring how ready the children were for school in the sense of do I need to help them strengthen certain parts of their body to be able to hold a pencil, or help them become masters of their own emotions... I was learning more about so-called "school readiness" and trying to work out exactly what that means. As they drew images of Stockholm they were learning about their hometown, I was observing their pencil grip and how they dealt with drawing their building of choice... some children had a hard time not doing it perfect, what strategies did they use... what strategies did I need to use... and how could this information be used to support the relationship with the new teacher in school...


Progettazione we could then say is an approach to children’s learning, about educators learning about learning and about making that learning visible for analysis, for acting upon and deciding what to do next. A final stage is the publication of summative documentation that makes visible the co-research of the adults and the children. Progettazione cannot happen without what Carlina Rinaldi calls the “Pedagogy of Listening” and does not really occur when children are working in isolation of each other. It forms in the relationship and interaction of others; other children, other educators, other families and the community.

“Listening to children’s theories enhances the possibility of discovering how children think and how they both question and develop a relationship with reality. This possibility is magnified when it occurs within a group context that allows for the experience of others to be shared and debated.” 

Thank you for reading, 
Suzanne Axelsson & Debi Keyte-Hartland 

Suzanne Axelsson blogs at Interaction Imagination (that is this blog)
Debi Keyte-Hartland’s blog can be found at Debi Keyte-Hartland - this post has been shared on her blog at the same time. Our hope is that we can reach more people interested in Progettazione in this way.

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