ORA-Journal-MastSummer 2013


‘Documenting our Successes’


In this Issue:

  • President’s Message

  • What does it mean to learn in a group?

  • Identity Masks: Representing Our Own Identities

  • Protocols and Documentation: Structures for Transforming Teacher


  • Mathematics: “Making It Red”

  • Events Information

From the ORA Board President

Karyn Callaghan

The Ontario Reggio Association has grown to include over 360 members. Educators in our province are becoming energized at the signs of opportunity for meaningful change in classrooms – change that is congruent with fundamentals of the Reggio experience.

What was initially being explored by a small number of educators, mainly in early childhood classrooms, is now being taken up at all levels, right through to university. In March, the Ministry of Education released the Ontario Early Years Policy Framework (www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/OntarioEarlyYear.pdf) and on p. 7 is the following statement:

We view children as competent, capable of complex thinking, curious, and rich in potential. They grow up in families with diverse social, cultural, and linguistic perspectives. Every child should feel that he or she belongs, is a valuable contributor to his or her surroundings, and deserves the opportunity to succeed. When we recognize children as capable and curious, we are more likely to deliver programs and services that value and build on their strengths and abilities.

Hearing that the Ministry intends that this view “go up” in the grades, as each level becomes ready for children who have been in classrooms where the pedagogy has been based on a view of the competent child, is cause for great optimism. This transformation is challenging, and needs support. ORA has been providing opportunities for educators to think together, to share challenges and break-throughs, to be critical friends. Conferences, study groups, school visits, a study week in Reggio Emilia, a journal, and a fledgling “speaker series” have brought educators from all levels, artists, administrators, and policy-makers together to construct meaning in our own context from the inspiration of the Reggio experience. We are currently in discussion with our colleagues in Reggio about a conference next spring, and are exploring the possibility of a study week in Reggio in the spring of 2015.

In this issue of our journal, you will see stories of educators’ work and thinking with children and with each other. It is always interesting to see different questions, different contexts, and different approaches to documenting. One of the gifts of pedagogical documentation is that it invites other perspectives and interpretations. We are enriched by the opportunities provided by those who “go public” with their work, and appreciate the contributions to this issue.

Check our website regularly, and keep us posted on events in your community that would be of interest to Reggio-inspired educators. We look forward to meeting more of our members at upcoming events.

Have a filling summer.

Ciao, Karyn Callaghan

What does it mean to learn in a group?

by Sharon Speir, Superintendent of Schools, Rainbow District School Board

In a French Immersion Early Learning Kindergarten classroom at R.L. Beattie Public School in Sudbury, educators and children have been exploring paper tubes as a material. The children think that what they have created looks like a city. This prompted the question: ‘What makes a city?’ The children think that cities have cars, people, houses and skyscrapers! The skyscrapers intrigue many of the children.

The educators invite the children to look at different cityscapes and pay special attention to the architecture of the skyscrapers. Children notice their height, the windows and the different types of roofs.

At the art studio, a small group of children are given the opportunity to draw a cityscape using black fine tipped markers.

“Let’s do a big one…on a long piece of paper,” says Julian.

“Then everyone can make the gratte-ciels (skyscrapers) to make a city,” adds Morgan.

The group begins talking about the space that will be needed for different buildings, and they spend time discussing what space will be required on the long paper for a ‘fat one (building)’.

The four start at one end on one side of the paper and move together along the paper as a group, as they each draw their own building.

Another child joins in and begins to draw a person on the other side of the paper (at the top, opposite the others).

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” they say, “you are drawing in the sky”.

“The person is flying, she is an angel,” says this child who repositions herself on the other side of the paper.

This example of learning in a group, shared by teacher Julie Kelly, is one of the many examples shared by educators over the past year to gain greater insights about what it means to learn in a group.

“To learn as a group, means to learn from the learning of others”. (Rinaldi, 2004)

This quote has guided our thinking throughout this research project, from which several themes have emerged from the study.

The first theme is about relationships and the importance of having a friend. While educators often times notice and value learning that matches with their interpretation of the curriculum, young children value having a friend. They are intent on what they can accomplish together. This focus on the other, with the thought of having a friend, is made clear to us by what children say. Tara Thall from Princess Anne Public School shares this example:

After a long and difficult year of trying to be a member of the group, Max works with two of his peers on a project about the body that he has initiated. He says,

‘I dreamed of this’.

‘What Max?’ asked his teacher.

‘Of having a friend,’ says Max.

More often, however, we have observed the intuitive, nonverbal ways young children communicate this value of friendship through acts such as mimicking another, taking on another’s idea, maintaining close proximity, and moving in ways that allow them to be close yet still respecting another’s space.

The second theme relates to the dynamics of learning in groups and the roles that children play in a group. Children are tenacious in their commitment to be together despite the challenges this can present. Negotiating one’s place and one’s contribution within a group takes finesse. Many strategies are required as small groups form and reform in the context of play. We observe children taking on a variety of roles.

At times, they act as a helper, a player, an information provider, a material supplier, an observer, a supporter, a listener, a critic, or they scaffold learning for another. Personalities adapt to meet the situational demands – sometimes a leader may be what is required and, at another time, what is needed is someone to follow. At times, it appears that children may lose a sense of themselves, subjugating their ideas in order to accommodate another.

Angelina is playing a game with dice and shells. She rolls the dice and places the exact amount of shells as on the dice.

Lilah shows up and begins to place the same amount of shells as Angelina. Angelina rolls the dice and places her shells and Lilah then places her shells. The educator observes for a few minutes and then asks Lilah,

“What are you doing?”

Lilah responds: “ I am playing with Angelina.”

The educator asks: “What are you playing?”

Lilah says: “I am doing what Angelina is doing.”

In the dynamics of a group, the ability to be flexible is key. Children need to improvise, and to say yes to an idea or assume a role. Children are sensitive to each other and often place greater value on the contributions of their peers over the ideas of the adults.

The third theme is about ideas – how they catch hold and how they move. Once a sense of community has been established, there are many ideas that emerge in the context of play, but not every idea catches hold, or is endorsed by a group. When an idea does catch hold, the energy in the group changes, as members of the group rally around the idea.

Those ideas that catch hold are the ones that appear to be connected to the children’s life experiences, and there is a different energy for ideas that are composed or created versus those that are replicated or imitated.

The dialogue and exchange that occurs in small groups as children compose and create is both energetic and passionate as one proposition is added or debated by another, and as compromises are made, agreements reached, and roles delegated. The ideas are usually big ones with multiple entry points that are often discussed and negotiated by the group members. We have noticed that the ideas that catch hold and move engage many children in different ways and at different times. Some children get involved with an idea much later in the year, retracing a path that has been established by others before them.

The fourth theme is how children communicate in ways that scaffold learning for one another. Young children have ways of communicating with each other that is substantially different from the way adults communicate with them. Their communication is often more through the body – for example the gaze, a movement, or proximity – and less about the things that can be expressed through words. Young children are attuned to the nuances of this communication system. They have an intuitive and emotional sense of what another is communicating and understanding of how to respond to support the other. There appears to be a trust between the children in a group that allows them to ‘listen’ and respond to the other’s intentions. In the classroom, children have a sense of who knows what and who they can go to for support. They support each other’s intentions by scaffolding – providing information, making connections, demonstrating, explaining, critiquing and questioning.

The educator notes that Lilah is not looking at the dice at all, she is looking at Angelina’s shells so that she can mimic the number of shells.

The two girls do not speak to each other when they are playing. Angelina rolls and places and Lilah copies.

They play this game for about 10 minutes until Angelina notices what Lilah is doing and she shows her the dice and explains how she is playing her game.

They play a few times together, Angelina coaching Lilah as they play. Angelina leaves the table when she knows that Lilah has grasped the game.

Throughout this research, educators have been asking questions: “What is my role? When do I step in? What questions should I ask? When should I be silent? How do I approach the children in ways that supports their learning rather than thwarting their intentions?” We have all experienced those moments when the question or response from the educator disrupts whatever has been going on.

These questions are rooted in an understanding that children are themselves researchers engaged in their own research.

This is a child who is driven by curiosity and imagination, a capable child who is a researcher, a constant provider of tests, requests and intelligent research. (Malaguzzi, 1993)

These educators are taking their lead from the children and also learning how to improvise by saying ‘yes’ to the proposals and provocations that the children present. In response, they create space for learning. Sometimes this space is metaphorical and, at other times, physical, intellectual and emotional which has the effect of expanding the opportunities for children to explore those things that interest them. In turn, children invite others in, take more responsibility, delegate roles, and demonstrate empathy for one another.

Thought is the consequence of the provocation of an encounter….thought shooting in all directions, without beginning or end, but always being in between.’ (Deleuze and Guattari cited in Moss, 2005, p. 117)

Moss discusses Deleuze’s distinction between thinking that comes from an encounter to the memorization of facts and information. Facts and information, he says, are dry and, in essence, dead, reflective of the past. Thought and thinking, however, have energy and are propelled towards future understandings.

This provocative statement sums up some of what we have experienced in this research project. As children encounter another, someone different from themselves who offers up a different point of view, they are challenged to think and to respond…what now, what next? We have experienced the dynamics of thinking that occurs in groups, as young children negotiate collective understandings that build over the course of a year or two, and ultimately over the course of a lifetime. In the context of a group, as adults we are able to explore our own thinking as it bounces off and expands with the perspectives of another, causing us to be more reflective in our approach as we have come to better know and understand our own values.

One of the challenges of documenting learning in a group is capturing the interplay that occurs between individuals in a group over time. Learning in a group requires a wide-angle lens in order to view all the players and their intentions. It also requires the ability to zoom in to see the individual within the group. Group learning is definitely not linear, however, many of the systems we use for documentation are. So it is up to the documenters to see and capture the threads of learning.

‘Knowledge is like a tangle of spaghetti.’ (Malaguzzi cited in Moss, 2005, p. 117)

‘Learning does not proceed in a linear way, determined and deterministic, by progressive and predictable stages, but rather is constructed through advances, standstills, and “retreats” that take many directions. The construction of knowledge is a group process. Each individual is nurtured by the hypotheses and theories of others, and by conflicts with others, and advances by co-constructing pieces of knowledge with others through a process of confirmation and disagreement. Above all, conflict and disturbance force us to constantly revise our interpretive models and theories on reality, and this is true for both children and adults.’ (Rinaldi, 2012, p. 103)

A challenge yes – this journey through what often appears to be uncharted territory – but we would have it no other way because of the joy, delight, surprises and energy that comes out of learning together with young children.


Dahlberg, G and P. Moss (2005) Ethics and Politics in Early Childhood Education. Routledge-Falmer, New York, NY

Rinaldi, C. (2004) The Relationship Between Documentation and Assessment Innovations In Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange, 11 (1) .

Rinaldi, C. (2006). In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning, Routledge, New York, NY.

RAIUNO Italian Radio and Television broadcasting company. (April, 1993). Days of Childhood: Loris Malaguzzi. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pdaqmPovM0


Identity Masks Representing Our Own Identities

by Megan Cooney and Josephine Sherman from Richland Academy 


Protocols and Documentation: Structures for Transforming Teacher Listening

by Winnie Hunsburger and Kerri Embrey, The Bishop Strachan School

Listening through Documentation

We’ve been working with documentation for several years at BSS. It has been and continues to be a strategy for us to listen better to children. In documentation, unlike other kinds of assessment we do, we have a chance to consider the whole child, her emotions, questions, strengths, knowledge. As we take the time to reflect on photographs, video or scribed conversations we have an opportunity to step back and listen to how children perceive the world around them. Sometimes we become aware of nuances in interactions and events that we missed at the time of recording.

Documentation is also an opportunity for us to pause and listen to ourselves as individual teachers. Analyzing this work also involves listening to colleagues as we get each other’s perspectives and interpretation of the work, ideas and events of our classroom. For planning purposes it is very helpful to have ongoing input from a diverse group to help our work move forward, to help us get unstuck, to find inspiration and to make our interpretations of the students more ethical.

As we listen better to our colleagues, we can find new new points of view, different strengths or intelligences. Some people, for example, are very aware of the social, emotional reality of the children. Others are very tuned in to math and how children are using mathematical thinking that could be challenged further or developed. Others with artistic backgrounds bring awareness of how using materials could expand the children’s thinking or delight their senses. Listening to all these perspectives can bring greater complexity to our work with children, helping us plan and also understand our students in more nuanced, less goal driven ways.

Using Protocols to Support Listening

While documentation is a way to support listening in teachers we have also found that protocols have much to offer in enhancing listening by changing the way we have conversations, creating listening environments that are safe, open and collegial. In working groups there can be a tendency for people to talk over each other and for certain voices to dominate, and others to go unheard. At times it doesn’t feel safe to bring work that we are uncertain about or openly share ideas and questions.

Protocols have been designed for a variety of purposes such as to review and critique a project, unravel a dilemma, examine data and student work, or to make a plan better. They hinge on agreements made by the group ahead of time (such as confidentiality, candor, sensitivity to others) and require a facilitator who maintains the structure of the protocol by keeping the conversation focused, appropriate, equitable and efficient. Protocols set out clearly and firmly who will speak, when, for how long and about what. They encourage thinking before speaking, ensure opportunities for every voice to contribute and include moments of silence for reflection. They offer a way to provide critical feedback to peers that focuses on the issue and not the individual.

Protocols, as we understand and use them, are frameworks for structuring professional conversations that segment discussion into constituent components of presentation, questioning, discussion and reflection. Many of the protocols that we use in the Junior School were developed by organizations such as the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) and The Coalition of Essential Schools. Protocols are used by teachers to closely examine student work (as well as other examples of teacher practice such as lesson plans, testing data, etc.). These structured conversations encourage everyone to speak up as well as to listen. In discussing the results of a standardized test a Data Analysis Protocol helped us balance our understanding by bringing to light multiple interpretations of complex data. When there is an issue that we are all struggling with, such as how to make our meeting schedule work for everyone, or how to improve the culture of student civility in our hallways we have used protocols to help raise consciousness about the issue, to hear each other out and to come to more democratic decisions and solutions.

As lead teachers, we had been experimenting with protocols as a way to make the examination of student work safe and to draw on a range of perspectives, and as a way to sift through dilemmas and solicit each other’s help. We began using protocols more regularly with our teaching teams just over two years ago. Although we met with resistance from some teachers and all protocols were not equally successful, we felt that very often protocols helped discussions remain focused and efficient and that a wider range of perspectives were brought to bear on issues and planning. We felt there was a shift in the ways in which the members of our teaching teams related to each other both within protocol situations and as well as other times. We felt there was a shift away from unregulated, open discussions, often dominated by two or three strong voices, to more equitable, patient conversations that included and encouraged everyone. One colleague commented that he found himself listening differently to others in general because of his work with protocols.

One colleague commented on protocols by saying simply, “I don’t always enjoy protocols.” However, she readily admitted that despite this, she found them beneficial:

I know it’s very hard for me sometimes, I just get so excited and I feel like I have to say something. Really taking a moment to listen and hear how something has happened for somebody else or how whatever it is we are discussing has affected that person, sometimes it really surprises me because it is a totally different perspective, I would never have thought of that. It is nice to hear that instead of always hearing myself talk, because I am more than happy to talk about something and let other people know how I’m feeling so it is great to hear other people and especially things you didn’t think you would hear…. It broadens your perspective.

Another teacher talked about how she understood the structure of a protocol to be both limiting and freeing and how it changed her listening stance:

It’s mindfulness to me. I feel like it’s a structure, like we’re stopping, we’re being careful right now and we’re being deliberate. I think that this environment is really busy and chaotic and everyone plays into that…. When those walls [structure of the protocol] are set-up and those norms created, to contribute or to listen, I feel like people are just more intentional about it and they are just more mindful about how they listen. When we first started doing it, there was so much push back in terms of people saying ‘but I just want to talk right now, I just want to share, I just want a voice right now.’ I think it was really important for those voices to hold back and to stop talking and to actually listen. I think a protocol forces us to really listen and some people really struggle with that kind of participation, myself included.

I feel like it is managing your impulsivity. When you create a system where allowing it to be the norm to manage your impulsivity, you actually get really fantastic voices that don’t usually come out. It’s a structure that allows people permission to be mindful and gives people permission to step back and to listen.

Working with documentation is a careful process of observing, recording and collecting student work that aids listening by helping colleagues attend to the students, environment and content of study better as they take time to reflect on it. We have found that protocols are also a way to do documentation that enhances receptivity, by structuring listening and speaking. Protocols have begun to transform our practice and our relationships. We feel the keys are skillful facilitation, careful selection of the right protocol, agreements and repeated use so that habits of listening are engrained in our working relationships. Each time we use one, however, it is an opportunity to expand our listening. We find both structures help to bring multiple perspectives and greater complexity to our work with children, helping us plan and also understand children in more nuanced, less goal driven ways. Both structures help us develop listening as value and a practice.

Mathematics: “Making it Red”

by Paola Ciocio and her students at the Richland Academy


Provocation: How much blood does your heart pump in one day?

The Grade Four Announcement Team has been making announcements related to a Richland Academy initiative about Healthy Living. They have also been very interested in listening to their own heartbeats during our Physical Education Class. In mathematics, we have been working on using our knowledge of mathematical concepts in Problem Solving.

The Work Begins

As a class, we read the question. Highlighting important information allowed us to decide that first we needed to determine our class heart rate per minute. We decided this because the question told us that 80 mL of blood pumps through our heart for every beat.


We calculated a class heart rate average and it came to 83 beats per minute. Each group demonstrates their strategies and organization of information in different ways, however, they both opt for a tally chart.

In the end, we needed to re-evaluate our strategies. At first we filled a large tub of water, but for some it was too hard to visualize the amount of blood that circulates through the heart. They suggested using jars with red food colouring instead.

We calculated that in 1 day, the amount of blood that pumps and recirculates through our heart is 9 561 600 mL or 9 561.6 L.

Teacher Reflection and Learning

As at teacher who embraces an inquiry approach to teaching, it is still challenging at times to let go and allow the momentum of the children and what they are experiencing lead the learning. This project was the first true inquiry project of the school year for this class and it really took on a life of its own. Mathematics, health and science became real and important work.

It was not until after the project was completed that the evidence of learning became so completely obvious. It became a layering affect for the development of mathematical understandings. For example, exposure to the same concepts, such as multiplication, division, average and graphing became more defined for the students with each learning experience. Some of the experiences occurred during the lifespan of this project, others with projects that happened afterwards, and some through more formalized lessons. I believe it is the combination of a variety of experiences that support developing understanding.

I continue to teach math using a combination of math programs and do follow a defined guideline, but I now value the importance of stopping and taking the time to teach an idea or concept when it evolves naturally during an inquiry project. I recently heard Dr. Lillian Katz, professor, an international leader in early childhood education ,speak at a conference. “Curriculum,” Dr. Katz explained, “should help children make deeper and fuller understanding of their own experience.” I believe that this mindset is helpful for all teachers, whether they are at the primary, junior or intermediate level. I believe that the “Making Math Red” project became an experience for this Grade Four class that they can call their own.


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/winter.

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, Carol Anne Wien at cwien@edu.yorku.ca 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: Winter edition – November 15th, 2013

Download a PDF version of this journal.

ORA NOW Journal Summer 2013