This week I have been reflecting on the learning and teaching process and thinking about what it means to support children as they learn. This post is about what guided learning means to me. I will also describe the influence educators and learning philosophies have on my beliefs about learning and teaching.
I believe students construct their own knowledge and learning should be based on a learner’s interests and prior knowledge. The role of the teacher or parent in the learning process is crucial because we are responsible for creating the learning environment, setting the tone for learning and undertaking challenges, providing experiences and choosing how to convey knowledge. It is important to recognize that learners gain knowledge in different ways based on the discipline (subject), their age, and their ability to process new information.
When I am working with a child I observe, note and try to make sense of the learner’s thinking. The information I gain from observing helps me determine what questions to ask to gain a better understanding of the child’s thinking or to push their thinking further. It also helps me prepare an environment and provide materials that will help the child deepen their ideas about the concepts we are working with. It is a continuous cycle of observation, documentation, questioning, reflection and preparing a learning environment that reflects the child’s learning and interests.
I see my role as a guide in helping the child develop her potential.
My ideas about learning and teaching are influenced by the work of Dr. Maria Montessori and The Reggio Emilia Approach. Both Montessori and Reggio Emilia are approaches found in early childhood education and both are founded on the work of Paiget and Vygotsky. Children’s potential to learn is highly valued in both approaches. Dr. Maria Montessori demonstrated that children have the potential to learn at a time when children were seen as empty vessels having a fixed intelligence. She believed that
“education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in the virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child” (Montessori, 1967).
In a Reggio classroom, “both the children and the teachers seem equally involved in the progress of the work, the ideas being explored, the techniques and materials to be used, and the progress of the projects themselves” (Katz, 1998). Howard Gardner (1998) states, “in Reggio, the teachers know how to listen to children, how to allow them to take the initiative, and yet how to guide them in productive ways”. The child’s role in the learning process is as an apprentice rather than as a target of instruction.
“Always and everywhere children take an active role in the construction and acquisition of learning and understanding.” – Loris Malaguzzi
Wide-Ranging Learning Experiences
The needs of learners are varied and wide-ranging. Students with ADHD and/or dyslexia benefit from direct, explicit teaching, review, and practice (Barkley, 1997; Hudson, et al., 2007). Gifted children need little practice or review and learn quickly (Clark, 2013). Twice exceptional learners have the ability to understand complex ideas but are often placed in lower level classes because of their difficulty demonstrating proficiency with basic skills (Hughes, 2011). As educators we need to understand students’ specific instructional needs. All learners require the skills to become independent free thinkers such as, strong literacy, mathematical reasoning, critical thinking, and creative competence.
The Educators Role
An educator must be skilled, knowledgeable, thoughtful, reflective, flexible and open to seeing her students’ strengths. We need to recognize and accept that learners require varying levels of support and instruction to be successful. No matter our philosophy of teaching we must be flexible and adapt our instructional practices to meet the needs of the learners before us. It is our responsibility to help them make sense of content and to develop a sense of ownership about learning.
The Role of the Environment
I believe the environment is an important component of the learning process and I have come to believe that the environment both influences learner behavior and reflects learners’ interests. Brain structure is impacted by a child’s environment soon after birth and many basic brain structures are well established before a child enters school but the brain remains malleable once students enter school (NSCDC, 2007). Educators have the power to promote continuous brain development and growth (Zull, 2004). We can create a learning environment that engages learners and supports learning through meaningful experiences.
In Reggio Emilia classroom, the environment is referred to as the third teacher. The structure of the space the materials are carefully considered and placed with the purpose of inviting the children to explore and create. Emphasis is placed on creating a welcoming space and reflecting on how the environment aids or hinders communication, movement and learning between parents, teachers and children.
Reggio Emilia Blogs
Fairy Dust Teaching Blog has some beautiful examples of Reggio Emilia inspired classrooms and schools.
Joanna at TransformationED offers a variety of services and inspiration for creating a Reggio inspired studio.
Marla McLean is an Atelierista at School within a School.
How We Montessori inspiration and information about Montessori in the home environment and beyond.
Simone at The Montessori Notebook provides information for parents and about Montessori schools.
Keystone Montessori a charter school in Phoenix, AZ.
Barkley, R.A. (1997). Behavioral Inhibition, Sustained Attention, and Executive Functions: Constructing a Unifying Theory of ADHD. Psychological Bulletin. 121(1), 65-94.
Clark, B. (2013). Growing Up Gifted: Developing the Potential of Children at School and at Home (8th ed.).
Duckworth, E. (1996). “The Having of Wonderful Ideas”and other essays on teaching and learning. New York:Teachers College Press.
Gardner, H (1998). Foreword: Complementary Perspectives on Reggio Emilia. In The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach–Advanced Reflections. (pp. xv-xvii). Westport CT: Ablex Publishing Corp.
Hughes, C. (2011). Twice-Exceptional Children: Twice the Challenges, Twice the Joys. In J. A. Castellanos, Special Populations in Gifted Education Understanding our Most Able Students from Diverse Backgrounds (pp. 305-313). Waco, Tx: Prufrock Press Inc.
Katz, L.G. (1998). What Can We Learn form Reggio Emilia?. In The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach–Advanced Reflections. (pp. 27- 45). Westport CT: Ablex Publishing Corp.
Montessori, M (1967). The Absorbent Mind (1995 Ed.). New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2007). The Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Combine to Shape Brain Architecture: Working Paper #5. http://www.developingchild.net
Nova scienceNow. (2005). Mirror Neurons. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/mirror-neurons.html
Zull, J.E. (2004). The Art of the Changing Brain. Educational Leadership. 62(1), pp 68-72.