Reflections From the ORA Conference 2012
Our presenters from Reggio Children, Reggio Emilia, Italy: Daniela Lanzi, Pedagogista & Leslie Morrow, Translator & Maura Rovacchi, Atelierista
In this Issue:
Reflections on the ORA Conference
Letter to the Editor
Reflections on the Posters of Pedagogical Documentation at the ORA Conference
Squishy, Soft and Pliable
Images from the Conference
Saturday Documentation Study Sessions
Always during a conference at The Bishop Strachan School, we experience a sense of a rich context that attends to multiple levels of interaction for participants. From the very fine food to the presence of a sculpture of tall wire “grass” with which we were invited to engage, the sense of welcome is strong and strongly invites participation. I have the impression that we love to be there! So our gratitude is equally strong.
From my notes, I select a few elements that seem significant to our work together. Daniela Lanzi impressed on us the sense we should take documentation out into our communities in broader ways, make what is happening in our schools and programs more visible. She asked, “How can your city recognize the work schools do if it is not visible?”
Our speakers from Reggio Emilia also offered several additional roles for documentation that we may not have considered fully. Daniela mentioned that a role of documentation is to make visible the relation between our values in theory and our actual practice. Now there’s a different kind of assessment! Imagine an assessment that brings the providers of education into relation with both what they say and what they do. How well does our walk match our talk? How would we do on that?
They also spoke about a role of documentation as “to give visibility to what is meaningful.”
Maura spoke on Sunday about the history of the Reggio use of the term “progettazione”, first by distinguishing the term from “programmazione”. The latter is similar to our conventional notion of planning – a rigid curriculum in which everything, including endpoints and evaluation, is planned out in advance. She reminded us that the Reggio view of learning is that it is not linear, that it involves the unexpected, that they wanted a stronger word to signify their different idea, and so chose progettazione from architecture, meaning to put into relationship, to make forecasts, to make hypotheses, having certain expectations but also possibilities. “It means for us to take paths of research with children but also to leave openings for the possibility of another path not forecast in the beginning.” “Contrary to a program, the statement of progettazione is based not only on the initial decisions for starting up but also on later decisions that modify original objectives” [paraphrase].
She added that it is a difficult way of working, that it is not improvising, but rather an approach in which exchange and discussion, based on listening, form the ground for decision making. As someone trying to learn jazz improvisation, I would add that is exactly what improvisation is – it is never simply doing anything that comes to mind, but rather listening so closely and selecting from multiple systems and patterns for organizing sounds the best possibilities for exchanging together.
Carol Anne Wien, Editor
From the ORA Board President
There is something in the air. It is as if we are waking up from a long period of darkness, when it seemed that there were few options but to conform to the dominant discourse of contentheavy curriculum documents, checklists, evaluation, and the separation of ECE from kindergarten, of kindergarten from the other grades, of arts from the academic sphere, of epistemology from aesthetics. Teachers and parents were worried about how “ready” children were – for kindergarten, for grade one, for grade three. Our conference bore evidence that we are emerging into a new context that we are co-creating, inspired by the schools and educators in Reggio Emilia. There is a feeling of excitement as we face the challenges associated with meaningful change, sharing our documentation of our learning, making ourselves more ready for children whose intelligence and competence we recognize.
Discussions at the poster session and in table groups at our conference were vibrant. Perhaps we are also more “ready” now for the complex messages we hear from the educators in Reggio. The feedback we received from participants will help us to continue to support and challenge our communities of learners. Our first-ever program visits were well received. We recognize that there were some logistical difficulties with transportation and will strive to eliminate those next time. We will hope to see an increase in the number of sites who offer to host visits. It is a powerful learning opportunity for both the visitors and the educators at the host site. The gift of fresh eyes and questions of visitors can support reflective practice. The same can be said of the poster session. It is courageous and perhaps a bit intimidating to invite others to give feedback on our work, but the benefits are many. Many thanks to those who contributed to our learning in these ways.
The facilitated discussions were also well reviewed. We will continue to work with this approach to support meaningmaking and exchange of views. The richness of the ideas presented by the educators from Reggio Emilia is more fully realized when these thoughts are mulled over, played with, and actively brought into exchange with our own experience and that of others. We were reminded by Maura and Daniela that context is central to this thoughtful, responsive work and that it must be given visibility through pedagogical documentation. It is up to us to be response-able, and that requires a deep level of thought about the identity of our own contexts and the role we play in co-creating those contexts. We must seek collaborators on this journey.
Our organization has from the beginning worked in partnership with the Canadian Association for Young Children. In lieu of an ORA conference next February, we will be working in collaboration with CAYC Ontario on a conference to be held this November. In this issue, you will see information from Anne Marie Coughlin about these plans. We also encourage local events. If you have a conference, study group, or site visits planned in your area to support exploration of the Reggio philosophy, we would be happy to help spread the word. If there is someone in your area who would be interested in being a key liaison with us, please let us know.
Finally, on behalf of the ORA board, I would like to thank Louise Jupp for her work as a board member. Louise joined the board when the association first formed, but her teaching responsibilities at Seneca have made it difficult to attend meetings. We look forward to seeing her at conferences and other events. We welcome Sharon Speir from Sudbury to the board and know we will benefit from her perspective.
Enjoy your journey!
Reflections on the ORA Conference – February 2012
by Randa Khattar
With a title as provocative as “Inviting Complexity: Deepening our understanding of pedagogical documentation”, the Ontario Reggio Association Conference 2012 was for most of us a study in reflection, amiable conversation, and deepening insight. We left the conference energized with new ideas about what documentation can and might do to transform our sense of children’s intelligence and our different roles in joining in children’s research. There were just too many moments, but if I were to pick a few that stand out, they would be about the power of context to make complex conversations possible.
Situating at The Bishop Strachan School amid the towering, rooted trees, the conference invited people to a gymnasium where they sat amongst new friends (we were asked to sit according to letter designations), were offered lovely textured scarves as small gifts of appreciation and remembering, and ate hearty food cooked by a lovely staff.
As I sat with others listening intently to the melodic and excited tonalities of Daniela Lanzi and then Maura Ravocci, and then slowly turning my attention to the words as they were translated by Leslie Morrow, I began to understand, to see a different sensibility – a shift in context – and what it might do to transform our view of our work as educators. As a participant who was not involved in the organization of the conference, I do not know what question the presenters had been asked to come and speak to us about. Had they been asked to speak about their different roles in relation to documentation? About their image of children? About the relationship their schools have with their city? Perhaps all these. But what stood out for me was the palpable sense that neither Daniela, a pedagogista, nor Maura, an atelierista, spoke about their work with a focus on themselves as a central figure. Rarely did I hear terms such as “I did this” or “I know this”. Rather the focus was unwaveringly about the context in which they and the community around them engage in relationships. I do not think this shift was accidental or because of translation. They appeared to really see themselves and their work in relationship.
Understanding the patterns of these relationships is the stuff of learning, as Gregory Bateson has so clearly articulated, and I am more deeply realizing. This context is based in relationship, and documentation, which in considering the image of the child, has the power to project us temporally, spatially and relationally into different contexts and thus transform our knowledge and relationships with others. At every moment during the conference I felt, as I still do, in trying to understand the life of documentation, how the process of documenting itself becomes a most important way for carrying out listening to one another in mutually reciprocal ways. Thank you for a wonderful conference.
Letter to Editor
by Dianne Traynor RECE, KCCS Pedagogical Team Leader, Lindsay, Rolling Hills, Discovery Space
Dear Carol Anne:
Thank you for this lovely message. Your words were also some of the many quotes and inspirations that I have reflected on from that weekend. “If you want to increase your happiness in life express your gratitude.” When we returned on Sunday evening, I sent a message out to our organization with this quote along with my gratitude to the educators that I am so thankful that educators took the COURAGE to participate in the panel session. I was so excited and thankful that children’s theories, words and thinking were celebrated!
I have so many detailed, reflective notes from those 2 days. It is difficult to pick one thing about the conference and condense it to one paragraph. Here are some of the quotes that spoke to me.
“…when walking with children we cannot walk ahead or behind , we must travel with them”…..Daniela Lanzi pedagogista, Reggio Children’ quoting Loris Malaguzzi
“Documentation enables the search for meaning.” Jerome Bruner
“Documentation is not mandatory or an obligation, it is a RIGHT of children and of the teachers……it helps us know what we know and understand what we know….” Daniela Lanzi
Hearing Daniela and Maura speak sent me straight back to Italy in my mind and helped me to reflect on so many of the big ideas that I continue to reflect on from the Canadian Study tour. My journal of notes from Italy, and now my journal of notes from the ORA conference, are a valuable resource in my work that I revisit and reflect on regularly. I look forward to more ORA opportunities!
Reflections on the Posters of Pedagogical Documentation at the ORA Conference
by Ellen Brown
It was exciting to read the posters of pedagogical documentation at the ORA conference at The Bishop Strachan School in February. Each revealed the complexity of the relationship of children’s thinking and teachers’ understandings. It was as if the activities of the children had mixed with the interpretations of the educators in a whirl and then rested and settled on the presentation boards. Then, each time the panels were read they seemed to stir again. Atelierista Maura Rovacchi said at the conference, “It’s almost as if children’s ideas get extra oxygen when they go outside (into the community).” I would agree with Maura, because for me, the posters were living documents of thinking and understanding as they were shared in this beautiful environment.
Squishy, Soft and Pliable
By Brenda Jacobs
At the conference, Daniela Lanzi shared what Loris Malaguzzi’s thoughts were about children’s theories. Lanzi said that for Malaguzzi, “Children’s theories are kind of squishy. They are soft and pliable and easy for them to expand on and bring in new ideas. Children are not as attached to their own ideas as adults are and they are more open to other’s ideas.” (Day 1) Suddenly there was a buzz of enthusiastic soft conversations all around me. Words like squishy, soft and pliable helped us all to visualize why children’s theories and ideas are constantly changing as they coconstruct knowledge with others. Squishy makes us think of a sponge that is soft and porous and can be compressed and expanded, and pliable makes us think of flexibility and being influenced by others. As we age we become less squishy, soft and pliable. It is therefore very important for children to have as many opportunities as possible to work together and share their theories and ideas so that they become interwoven and perfected over time. Daniela Lanzi also talked about how, “children from very early on have this idea of learning together” (Day 2). She showed us this amazing video of two infants playing with a ball. The infants, not yet old enough to talk, shared their theories and ideas about the ball by communicating with one another through sounds, gestures and actions. This video provided us with an even deeper understanding of how children’s theories are squishy, soft and pliable.
Images of the Interactive Wire Piece at the Conference
Saturday Documentation Study Sessions
by Carol Anne Wien
Several of us, including Jennifer Armstrong and Karyn Callaghan, attended an NAEYC presentation some years ago in Chicago of a group in California that met monthly on Saturdays to study documentation: we thought this would be a wonderful idea for our own context. Karyn has been offering monthly workshops on Reggio-inspired practice for years in the catchment area around Hamilton, and in the fall of 2011, a group began to attend documentation study sessions in the Toronto area. I recall asking Allison Blight, a kindergarten teacher who was also a graduate student working with me, would people really come on a Saturday after working all week? And she assured me they would, while we both recognized the difficulty for anyone with a family.
We have met monthly since then, from October through May, and our initial small numbers of devoted teachers and educators have recently expanded considerably, with principals, board instructional leaders, and even parents joining from time to time. Here are some highlights from our April session. Kathy Cope, artist in the “Artists at the Centre Project” in Hamilton, very kindly offered an image from her collection to illustrate her question. And Joanne Babalis very kindly took photos of the groups in interaction. I take the liberty of sharing several of these images to convey the flavor of our work together.
Documentation on April 28 ranged from first images, bits of conversation, and thoughts about these to finished documentation panels prepared to be shared with large audiences. One example of “first-thoughts” documentation shared conversation with children about how airplanes and helicopters stay up in the air, and how parachutes work. One child thought an umbrella would be more secure.
One member brought their first set of panels on children’s responses to pussywillows in a kindergarten classroom. The children were especially drawn to the “pointy white things” growing on the stems underwater and the yellow stuff (“like honey”) appearing on the fur. There were panels on a design project to create a book with kindergarten children, showing their uses of technology to infuse hand-drawn and coloured figures into photographs of areas in their school. There were panels on making the learning in creative dance education in four classrooms visible to others. There was a flip book called “Walking Feet”, showing 3- year-olds moving on a line of cardboard blocks, on and off. There were paintings by young children paired with the existential question, “Do children see the universe?”
When the group started almost two years ago, we had no idea how it could become a celebration of the extraordinary creativity of teachers, early childhood educators, and others working with young children. When we, or children, come up with an enticing question, or a strong aesthetic response, then engagement and thinking and doing begin. The longer we can sustain the engagement, the more ideas and responses that can be generated, then the richer and deeper the inquiry becomes. Often such questions arise from ordinary moments in teaching when someone responds in an aesthetic way that opens a door to another landscape for being in education. If we think of questions as “seeds for thinking” and watch what happens when we do not try to answer them immediately, a realm of new possibilities might emerge.
My gratitude to every participant for the pleasure and stimulation of our engagement together around documentation, and for the sustained commitment shown to this process. It feels like a windhorse moment …..
Save the Date: November 10, 2012
CAYC conference at Charles Sturt University, Burlington, ON
In collaboration with the Ontario Reggio Association Creative early educators across Ontario are undergoing a complex transformation which shows that pedagogical practices with young children are changing from instrumentalist approaches of management to attentive listening to children and to deeper connections between early childhood and elementary school classrooms. In November, the Canadian Association for Young Children, Ontario Branch, will host a one day conference where participants will have opportunities to engage with other Early Learning professionals across the province and gain insight into a cross section of innovative approaches from infant rooms to elementary – and beyond to college classrooms.
We invite you to consider submitting to the ORA online journal. The Ontario Reggio Association online journal, ORA NOW, is a scholarly non-refereed journal edited by members of the ORA board. It comes out twice a year, spring and fall.
The journal is available to ORA members only. Submissions from members of ORA will have priority.
Requirements for manuscript submission:
ORA members are invited to submit articles for consideration by the editorial committee. Length may vary from brief articles of 7-10 manuscript pages to longer articles up to 20 manuscript pages. We wish articles to be accessible but also grounded in literature related to the work of Reggio educators and others writing about their interpretations in North America. Manuscript pages are double-spaced with 1” margins and carry about 250 words. Style should be consistent with either the APA manual (5th ed.) or the Chicago manual. Articles should be sent as email attachments to the editor. Images may be included if ethical consent to use such images has been given. Authors do not need to submit consent forms but should keep them. A brief biographical sketch of the authors (up to 150 words) should be included.
Submission deadlines: Fall edition – Oct. 30th, 2012