My second grade teacher, Mrs. Smiley (what a great name for a teacher), saw I was bored in class.  So she assigned me a research project: to learn anything and everything I could about bats. Finishing the project included building a bat house with my dad (it's still hanging on the telephone pole in our back yard), and creating a paper mâché bat that I displayed during my presentation. Those two projects were real manifestations of my learning, and both things that would have been very different if they were planned in advance (or required for me to create).

Project work is unsurprisingly central to the Reggio Emilia experience. Teachers put in a fair amount of effort to make sure that endpoints of those projects are not decided in advance. Rather they try to predict and prepare for the variety of different and paths children may take, and so leave ample space for changes and unexpected moments of learning along the way. 

Many discussions about the importance of project-based learning gloss over the fact that projects often become reduced to a set of unimaginative, banal activities. Copy, paste, print, glue. The hardest part is often trying to get your parent to buy the poster board. This does not make for meaningful exploration or learning.

We see this "reduction to the banal" when we restrict children to specific outcomes, or even a specifically designed path towards the outcomes. Every specification or requirement added to the final outcome removes an opportunity for thoughtful exploration and learning, and whittles away any sense of agency the child may have.

Planning for the variety of possible outcomes that may emerge from exploration would be incredibly challenging, and I would love an opportunity to talk with more teachers who have experience in this regard. I think that teachers don't actually need to plan for all different potential outcomes. Teachers need to do something even more challenging: cultivate an open mind to adapt to the strengths and potential of their students projects and shape them into meaningful work. 

Children don't need (or even want) an expert to show them exactly how to do something. They want someone to show them how to use the drill, not exactly where to drill the hole. They need someone to show them how to fill that hole and adjust the project if they make a mistake. In short, they need their teachers to support and recognize the value inherent in whichever path of exploration they're currently seeing. Sometimes a smile and affirmative "let's see where this goes!" is all that is needed to dispel the uncertainty of exploration.