Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Reggio Approach: A Choice for Childhood by Shelly Humphrey

The Reggio Approach: A Choice for Childhood
By Shelly Humphrey, Teacher, Clarkston Community Schools, Early Childhood Center

Early childhood is a beautiful moment of time in a young child’s life that encompasses
the years from birth to age 8. The amazing growth, the intriguing experiences, the exciting
discoveries, and the joyful, playful learning that is intrinsic to a child’s optimal early
development happens during the first eight years.

Unfortunately, this dynamic time of growth and learning is often compromised when
children begin traditional, formal education with a focus on the acquisition of academic skills in
developmentally inappropriate ways. The beauty, the wonder, the marvel, and the play of
childhood are lost. Our children suffer when they are deprived of this gift of time and the playful
learning that takes place during their early years. It is our unique and most important
responsibility as parents and teachers to value, protect, and enrich these early childhood years for
our children. We must choose wisely when we consider their educational opportunities.

The families and educators of Reggio Emilia, Italy have provided us with a rich example
of educational excellence. For more than 50 years the teachers of Reggio Emilia, guided by their
founder Loris Malaguzzi, have carefully researched and meticulously documented the education
of their children. Their goal was to understand how children learn and how best to promote and
extend this learning. Their approach is based on exhaustive studies of the work of Howard
Gardner, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner and others. A Newsweek story listed the schools of
Reggio Emilia as the best early childhood programs in the world (“The Ten Best Schools in the
World, and What We Can Learn from Them,” December 2, 1991). NAEYC (the National
Association for the Education of Young Children) revised their descriptions of developmentally
appropriate best practices to include examples from the Reggio Approach. This world-renowned
approach has garnered the schools of Reggio Emilia the respect and admiration of Harvard’s
Project Zero who partnered with them to extend their “Making Learning Visible” research. The
Reggio Approach is a true mark of excellence and quality. It is a constructivist theory of
educating the whole child based upon research, documentation, collaboration, and reflection.

The Reggio Approach begins with an affirming belief in the image of the child as rich,
strong, and powerful. Children are seen as competent, curious, full of potential, and capable of
constructing their own knowledge. Curriculum emerges out of the children’s interests and
children collaborate with each other in small groups on inquiry-based projects developed from
their own questionings and wonderings. Children learn reading, writing, and math concepts as
necessary skills to solve problems within their project work. The environment is considered a
“third teacher” with space and materials beautifully designed to provoke thinking and hands-on
learning. Time is valued as an opportunity for children to become deeply involved in their
learning. Children are encouraged to express their ideas and their learning is made visible in a
multitude of ways. Reggio educators refer to this as the “100 languages.” It includes writing,
drawing, music, dance, clay, wire, light, drama, and more. Teachers are co-learners; researchers
who observe, record, study, and document each child’s thinking and learning. Detailed
documentation guides and extends the work of the children. Family involvement is vital to the
success of the Reggio Approach. The underlying principle is one of relationships: relationships
between families, teachers, school, and the community; between the child and other children;
between children and the environment, the materials and their work. And most importantly, the
relationship between the children and the research-based knowledge we have of who they are
and how they learn and the importance of hands-on explorations, socialization, and play.

What makes the Reggio Approach the best and only choice for early childhood
education? Why use this approach for preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary grades? It is
an informed decision we make due to our uncompromising responsibility to immerse our
children in rich educational experiences of curiosity, inquiry, and investigation while
continuously protecting their right to learn as children do—through play and discovery. It is a
choice we must make.

Yet, one additional reason must be considered: It is what our children would choose. It is an educational approach that honors who they are as brilliant learners; yet, still values them as young children. It respects the sanctity of childhood while encouraging the amazing potential within each one of them. Most importantly, it provides our children a voice—an opportunity to express what interests them, to discover who they are as learners, how they are smart, and how best to demonstrate their understandings.

The Reggio Approach is exactly what the early childhood years should look, feel, and
sound like for our children. In the words of Malaguzzi: "What we want to do is activate within children the desire and will and great pleasure that come from being the authors of their own learning" (p.55).

Malaguzzi,L. (1994). Your image of the child: Where teaching begins. Child Care Information Exchange, 96, 53-57.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Superintendent's Thoughts to Students and the Community on the M-STEP

Thoughts on M-STEP, by Rod Rock, Superintendent of Schools

As your superintendent, I work each day to fulfill the mission of the Clarkston Community Schools: to cultivate thinkers, learners, and positive contributors to a global society. As I encounter requirements and circumstances that conflict with our mission, I am compelled to call them into question. With that in mind, I am sharing with you some opinions that I hold relative to the State’s M-Step assessment, which are my own and not necessarily those of the Clarkston Community Schools.

Immediately upon our return from Spring Break, the Clarkston Community Schools, along with every other school district in Michigan, will begin administration in our elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools of the state of Michigan’s M-Step Assessment .

For our students, I have three words to share with you regarding this test: Do your best. That’s all there is to it. There’s no reason to be stressed or to worry about this test. No matter what happens--if computers do not work perfectly, if you feel rushed, if you are unsure of answer--just do your best. You have worked hard in school. Your teachers have prepared you. You are ready. Do your best. That is it.

For us as a community of educators, parents, and citizens, I have one word for you: Why. This test, in my opinion, is not ready for our students. No matter how much time we have put into preparation, the state often cannot answer our questions relative to the assessment, regularly releases new software, and often issues new requirements. The test was supposed to be computer adaptive, adjusting according to how students answer questions, and it is not. The data were supposed to be available to us in a timely manner in order to affect our instruction, and they are not. Our principals and teachers have spent countless hours away from their classrooms preparing for a test that is not yet ready for kids. We will spend thousands of dollars in substitute teaching costs to proctor these tests. Our students in computer-related classes for the duration of the school year will have very limited access to course content due to the technological requirements of the assessments and the limited number of computers in our district. Our students who struggle most will lose invaluable support time due to the demands the tests placed upon our teachers. All of our students will lose out on content time due to the length of the tests.

It is not okay with me that our state is requiring us to disrupt school in this way in order to test our students. The State PTA recently passed an emergency resolution, as petitioned by the the Clarkston PTA Council, calling for the cessation of this test; that results not be used to limit financial resources to schools; and that future tests include flexible, localized options already in place. I am hopeful that parents will become aware of how much time, how many resources, and how much of a disruption this test will cause and will ask, Why?

Thank you for allowing me to share my opinion with you.