Reggio Emilia classrooms are fascinating. They're built on a powerful fundamental principle: children have rights and should be taken seriously (not just in the future, when they're adults, but today).
In other words, we must believe in children as active, engaged, and fundamentally curious about the world around them. When given the opportunity, they are capable of remaining with questions and themes for several weeks at a time, and are able to work alongside peers and adults.
Children equally welcome opportunities to express themselves "in the many languages of understanding" This idea is particularly fascinating, particularly in how it influenced Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. I'm guessing there will be more on this idea further in the book.
In the meantime, the belief that children have fundamental rights has various immediate implications for the role of the teacher in the classroom.
First, Reggio teachers focus on the process of working through a problem rather than focusing on a “quick solution” to a question. Offering quick solutions closes dialogue and ignores the opportunity to give a child agency. This is kind of like a child-focused version of Appreciative Inquiry, the model for decision making and learning that values input from employees rather than focusing on top-down decisions from management. (NOTE: explore the dynamics of Appreciative Inquiry further!)
Second, Reggio Emilia teachers “aspire to be inspirational,” and see themselves not as experts, but rather as partners on a journey of discovery with each child. This is a powerful antidote to the common Platonic model of learning, where education is the structured dissemination of information in clearly- and culturally-defined hierarchy. In other words, Reggio teachers don't just try to "fill up" children with knowledge.
Third, the Reggio teachers don't focus on managing their schools and classrooms for complacency, orderliness, dependence, or superficiality. They place emphasis on problem-solving, persistence, openness, questioning and experimentation.
We can learn a lot from Loris Malaguzzi, who said "[A child is someone] who right from the moment of birth, is so engaged in developing a relationship with the world and intent on experiencing the world that he develops a complex system of abilities, learning strategies, and ways of organizing relationships.” It's no surprise that trusting students to have their own ideas and to direct their own educational journeys is a powerful way to teach them how to think well.
This resonates with the idea (from Your Brain At Work, by David Rock) regarding the importance of autonomy and how uncertainty and lack of control are interpreted as primary threats. If we treat children as deficient, not worthy of respect, and unable to make decisions for themselves, they will respond with fairly typical anxiety responses. This may involve shutting down (and giving up), doing the minimum to get by (and just muddling through), or rebelling against the present authority. In all circumstances, the experience of "learning" leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.
Works Referenced Casually:
Your Brain At Work, by David Rock.
Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Experience, by Kathy Hall and Maura Cunneen