Reggio Reflections: Four Tools that Add Richness and Complexity to Our Studios and Makerspaces

This post is the second in a set of reflections upon returning from a study tour of Reggio Emilia schools. I’m linking all of the posts to this anchor page as they are published.

My tour of the Loris Malaguzzi Center and Reggio Emilia schools included the investigation of dozens of diverse ateliers, or studios. Many were outfitted with the kinds of loose parts I’ve grown accustomed to seeing and working with in my own travels throughout the United States, but there were a few things that distinguished them from the many of the studios I’m acquainted with and those I’ve designed myself.

What made these ateliers different from the stations I’d previously observed in makerspaces and studios? Specifically: their treatment of themes, their attention to aesthetic, and their sophisticated provocation of diverse points of view and perspectives. I’ll speak to each of these observations as I blog my way through this series of ten posts. Today, I’m tackling the last one.

How might perspective and point of view become far more powerful forces for learning?

And why does this matter, anyway? Many notice that when we seek diverse perspectives, we notice things we may not have, otherwise. We become less self and more other-centered in our understandings, too. They become nuanced, and we gain a deeper appreciation for subjectivity.

Seeking diverse perspectives and points of view makes us smarter, savvier people. It also makes us much more human, in my opinion.

After all, people bring their own perspectives to each learning experience. Perspective and reality aren’t one and the same, though. When we invite learners to notice and consider things they may not have initially, their thinking changes. This opens wider and far more complex realities.

At least, we hope so.

One of the things that impressed me most about the Reggio Emilia approach was its dedication to helping learners uncover diverse perspectives, rather than merely offering them to students. This began with their recognition of the 100 Languages of Children: a metaphor that reminds us all that print is just one medium and a limiting one at that.

When learners use diverse languages to gain knowledge and skills and communicate their understandings, we’re already helping them seek diverse perspectives. 

For instance, composing with clay helps us learn and share important things about our topic that print cannot. Making with mixed mediums, including loose parts, allows us to communicate things we may not fully understand or have words for. This inspires us to rely on symbolism, metaphor, simile, and personification when we explain our thinking and our work to others.

The effects of this were profound in Reggio Emilia, and the student work that emerged was striking: risky, rich, and delightful to read. It was evident that making gave students the courage to say things they wouldn’t attempt to otherwise. It served as an anchor and a scaffold that gave them greater reach.

It wasn’t just the act of making that elevated the complexity of student thinking and work, though.

These four tools were used with intention, in order to challenge learners’ perceptions, points of view, and perspectives: light, reflection, projection, and magnification. 

Offering these tools in most of the ateliers seemed like an intentional choice, and when my group had the opportunity to make and learn inside one of them for an entire afternoon, I understood why. When we tinker with light, magnification, projection, and reflection, the loose parts that we’re building with take on new form and meaning. Our viewpoints shift dramatically. Our builds become far more dynamic as well.

These tools allow us to stretch beyond the boundaries of our first understandings, our initial perspectives, and our words.

When we visited the schools, I noticed that each time learners used a mix of different languages to create and share new discoveries, there was a sense that we were “going out on a limb” with them. Stretching. Pushing. Challenging. Questioning.

It wasn’t just about making in order to define what we knew. It was about seeing, unseeing, and then, seeing differently. It was about growing and evolving points of view, perspectives, and perceptions.

I’m wondering how I might continue to enrich my own studio, makerspace, and workshop experiences by incorporating these four elements with intention.

This was one recent attempt.  I created four stations: light and shadow, black and white, Play Doh and print, mirrors and magnification. Teachers were given thirty minutes to make a meaningful argument about something that mattered in their world.

They worked in teams, and then, they shared the intentions behind their compositions. In the first example below, teachers are using loose parts from the black and white station to make an argument about teachers carrying guns in school. In the example that follows, teachers created an argument about how, when we attempt to understand ourselves using mirrors and magnifying glasses, our view is often obstructed. Small groups presented their compositions to the whole crowd, unpacking each build with careful intention and connecting the details they included to the finer elements of their argument.

I am continuing to reflect on the way themes are approached in the design of the atelier. This is also a bit different from what I observe in most makerspaces and studios and classrooms, and it will be the focus on my next post, one week from today.

What about you? I’d love to know how these ideas are resonating and challenging you. Come find me on Facebook or Twitter. I’d love to talk more.

2 Comments

  1. Linda Sykut says:

    Angela,
    My cousin’s daughter, Alison Bassett Maher, is the Education Director at Boulder Journey School (preschool) in Colorado. Reggio inspired. You might be interested in following them, or check out their website. Check out their video:
    What if the experiences from which we most desperately try to shelter our children are the very ones that will enable them to be successful, joyful, and capable citizens of our world? What if, rather than telling our children to be careful, we instead put aside our own anxieties and recognize that there can be no learning and no innovation without risk?
    This video was created by Graduate Teachers in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program.

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