Thursday, April 12, 2012

Interview with the Editors of The Hundred Languages of Children

Q: What prompted you to write The Hundred Languages of Children, 3rd Edition:  The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation?  What "message" do you want to communicate?

Carolyn Edwards: The last decade has been absolutely transformative for the city of Reggio Emilia, for its early childhood services, and for national and international outreach to educators around the world.  The city is connecting consolidated traditions with those that are new and unfamiliar. Considering that the educators in Reggio continue to evolve their theories and practices, the time has clearly arrived for a new and updated edition of our book—one that focuses on current practices, teaching roles, and public-private collaborations.  We want to show how the Reggio experience is organic and dynamic, responsive to historical forces and changing educational needs arising from new generations of parents and educators, as well as from the rapidly increasing racial and cultural diversity of the community.

George Forman:  I wanted the readers in the United States to have a book that covered the full complexity of the success of the preprimary schools in Reggio Emilia, a success not due some single process such as their progressive theory of teaching, but due to the existence of a large system of mutually supporting components: the history of social programs in Northern Italy, the personal involvement of the town mayor. the presence of visiting educators from all over the world, the charisma of articulate leaders, the amount of time parents give in partnership with the school, the commitment demonstrated by constant recording and revisiting the actions of the school day, and new strategies for dealing with changes in demographics and educational mandates.  Regarding the teaching process, I wanted our readers to appreciate how children can reach and reveal high-level thinking when presented with tools that help them reflect on their assumptions, theories, and predictions. 

Q: What was the highlight of your research? In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most? What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

Lella Gandini:  For me, the best part of preparing the book was conducting new interviews with the Reggio educators, as we revised some chapters and constructed new ones. It was a special learning experience to speak with senior educators-- those who had worked alongside the founder and first director, Loris Malaguzzi--as well as with teachers, pedagogical coordinators, and administrators of upcoming generations.  It was a way to come very close to the various players at all levels of the school system and to hear their thoughts in full, face to face.  I am a familiar presence, as I have been going to Reggio Emilia to observe and collect material from the schools since 1976, and I found everyone to be quite open, pleased about the interest increasing in the United States, eager to tell us about their recent work, and very thoughtful in analyzing the strength of their consolidated values in terms of the major changes in their context.

GF:  In addition, it was stupendous to join study tours to Reggio Emilia, experience the Loris Malaguzzi International Center, visit a wider range of centers and schools than we had before, and interview the educators and cultural mediators.  

CE:  We were surprised by the visible change in the demography of the city due to all the recent immigration from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, as well as by the transformation of the organization of the early childhood system.  Still, we saw continuity in underlying values and successful strategies to prepare a new generation of administrators, teachers, and parents to carry on the vision. Our perceptions were confirmed and extended when we worked with the authors from outside Italy:  Howard Gardner, Gunilla Dahlberg, Peter Moss , Brenda Fyfe, and Margie Cooper .

Q: How did your research change your outlook?

GF:  Reading the new chapters brought to the fore the value of making aesthetics an aim of education.  In working on this third edition I came to understand that aesthetics referred to more than visual beauty but more broadly to an attitude of empathy toward the medium and content of one's work, a slowing down to reflect on the relation between self and the work in process, a finding of both self and group in the act of creation. A creative work becomes aesthetic when it expresses a discernible relation between artist and subject.  Teaching children this sense of aesthetic becomes a foundation for positive social development beyond the preprimary years. 

LG:  I concur with George. Vea Vecchi has shared much with us concerning her newest reflections on creativity and aesthetics, and their complex potential for the learning of children and adults.  She was the first atelierista, or studio teacher, to work with Loris Malaguzzi, and she is now curator of publications and multimedia versions of the traveling exhibit, The Wonder of Learning: The HundredLanguages of Children.  She has always been very gifted and active in her beautiful work with children and teachers, and these days she is communicating with ever wider audiences, for example, through our book as well as her own new book.  

CE:  Working on the chapters on the transformation of the city, the role of the pedagogista, and the Loris Malaguzzi International Center,  helped us to learn the impressive scale of the municipality’s and the mayor’s commitment to welcoming immigrants and supporting their participation in the schools and other aspects of civic life.  It is a time of challenge and opportunity in Italy.  We all wonder, can they sustain the best of what they have already accomplished and build even more kinds of good programs and occasions that engage all the people and age groups in the city? 

Q: How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth? Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?

LG:  Since this new edition has been published—and it is really a short time—I have collected positive and enthusiastic reactions while doing professional development with audiences of teachers, higher education faculty, and advanced students in Arizona , California, Missouri, Ohio, and in Toyko, Japan.   Yes, indeed, the interest in the Reggio Emilia approach is increasing, and the questions I hear from teachers have become more pointed. The Interlude story in our Third Edition about Reggio teachers supporting the beginning of writing in new and surprising ways, is one example of topics from the book that attract much interest and curiosity.

CE:  I have used the book in my graduate course at the University of Nebraska this spring and received a wonderful response. The book has shown itself to be accessible to students of different educational and professional backgrounds, including international students. Every chapter I have assigned has proved illuminating to students. Some have posted favorite quotations on their webpages! 

Looking forward, I am seeking a way to publish original material from the videotaped interviews that Lella Gandini, John Nimmo, and I conducted with Malaguzzi at the Diana School in the 1990s, for the historical record, so that educators today can get a sense of what it was like to work with him, to probe deeply into difficult issues and consider respectfully different points of view, then reach a decision for a next step to take in the daily work with children.  I also want to continue my work with study groups (Reggio-inspired inquiry groups) in my own state of Nebraska.

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