Shadowing Preschool and Primary School (May 21 and 22)

May 21, 2013

Today we shadowed at Bergonzi Primary School. This has been my favorite day in the schools so far. I enjoyed seeing the children that I hope to teach one day (the preschools have been cool but repetitive and I don’t even want to teach preschool, so twice was more than enough for me…) in a school setting. When we came in, they were just finishing deciding a rubric for a paper as a class. That obviously gives the students some pride and purpose in their work. The students were working on what looked like a reading unit about some Greek mythology and Calipso. The teacher asked lots of questions about the reading and the comprehension to help the students make links and articulate their ideas. The students were called on to read – something that we are discouraged to do these days in the American classrooms.  The children were held to a higher maturity level than I find that many American students are. The teacher did not “baby” the students at all. If they were misbehaving or got too loud during group work, she would clap her hands quickly or even rap on her desk and the students would get right back to work. Other ways I saw the teacher augment student responsibility was allowing a few students to take turns working at her desk. It placed emphasis on the importance of their work. The students were not afraid to participate in class discussion. Both right and wrong answers were talked about and were open for interpretation by the teacher and the class.  This particular teacher preferred a project-based methodology. The students in her class do different projects throughout the year that help them to learn in a concrete way. The projects that the teacher showed us involved: first, creating a store to study different English words, a market economy, and math, among other skills and second, making up myths about the town’s historical symbols and making a book of their stories. What neat ideas! The projects are really intense and take the children at least two weeks of working everyday. I was so impressed at the work I saw. The students were so excited to show us everything they learned. It was obvious that this kind of learning solidifies ideas and concepts to the children. Also, I got to witness some really cool inclusion principles. Halfway through my observation, a boy came in with another teacher. Together, they sat at a desk in the back. The teacher assisted the student throughout the reading lesson. I saw her helping him spell, repeating what the teacher said in a different way, and things like that. This one-on-one instruction helped the student to be successful in a normal classroom. I really enjoyed shadowing at Bergonzi today. I made sure that I got the teacher’s contact information because she would be a great resource to have as I start teaching, especially if I want to implement some project based learning like this! Later on in the day, we went on a bike ride around Reggio. I love just wandering around, exploring everything. Biking is such a great way to get to know a city! I also mailed some post cards today! I hope they get home before I do! Oh, another thing. I had my first experience with a squatty potty today… Apparently they are supposed to be more sanitary because you don’t have to sit on a public toilet. I’m not buying it. The pee splashes. Ew.


4th grade classroom, Bergonzi Primary School


Awesome demonstration of inclusion

May 22, 2013

Today we visited L’Arca, an infant toddler center. It was so impressive. The documentation struck me the most. All around the center were posters and drawings and charts and just tons of documentation for the parents, teachers, and even some things at lower levels for the students. I made tons of notes and scribbled all over my notebook. I was just so, so, so impressed. Much of what I read in the articles before the trip finally started to make sense based on this one preschool visit. Here are some bullets from my notebook:

  • All of the preschool teachers at this particular center have a professional degree and participate in weekly professional development.
  • The meals for the children are prepared using herbs grown in the center’s garden, are cooked and served in house based on guidelines from a nutritionist. I thought that was really impressive.
  • The center has what they call an “Ambient Group” of parents and teachers that work to maintain the quality of the center.
  • The documentation is always changed and updated based on what the children are learning
  • The documentation helps teachers to observe how young children and babies can “talk” with materials (also a focus on the altierista)
  • Materials are changed as often as possible to help children develop more. Part of the Reggio approach is to emphasize change to augment the child’s adaptation and growth
  • Use natural and recycled materials everywhere. Materials are chosen specifically to help the children: for example, to amplify sounds that their bodies can make when moving
  • Artsy mobiles made of natural and recycled materials help children to look up and catch light
  • Even babies play with clay and their work is displayed to show that it was value

Unfortunately, the center would not let us take pictures but I wish I could have! I’m so worried I am going to forget some of the incredible things I saw. In my work with older grades, I think the documentation can be one of the aspects of the Reggio Approach that I try to emulate. Understanding the stages of children’s’ thoughts is crucial to help teacher’s to learn from the students and to figure out how to help the student when there is trouble learning.

Also, tonight we made an American breakfast for dinner! We made pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Our host mom said the pancakes were good, but heavy. I found that really interesting because I think the food that they eat is heavy! Anyways… cooking was interesting because the names for things are so different. My host family also didn’t have a measuring set. They just used regular cups and spoons for a cup and a spoon. Also, they don’t have the same kind of baking powder! They use one kind specifically for sweet things and have another kind they use for breads. Gio insisted we get the sweet one even though we tried to explain to him the pancake itself isn’t really sweet. Luckily, the pancakes turned out really good. We also found some really watery syrup at a supermarket. That was so funny to us! It was fun to explain to our host parents about some things about American culture!


Cinque Terra (May 19 and 20)

May 19, 2013

Today we got up early AGAIN to hike the Cinque Terra… and when I say early I mean five in the morning. The five little towns that make up Cinque Terra are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  We took the train and got off at the first little sea town, Riomaggiore. The lady at the travel office said that all of the trails were closed. Bummer! We thought we’d just take the little train from town to town and explore there instead of hiking. We were looking at the cute little lover’s locks on Riomaggiore when it started to rain! After a little sip of coffee in a cute little café to wait out the rainstorm, we continued exploring the first town. We started exploring a path that led up into a little vineyard. We went up… and up… and up… and up… and realized after about 45 minutes that we were probably on a trail. We met some other people hiking and they said it was probably another hour and half to the next town. Thus begins our accidental twelve mile hike on the expert trail. It turned out great. We probably hiked about ten miles because we ended up getting lost once in between the second and third towns and decided, once we found out way, that we should take a break from hiking and eat our packed lunches for a minute. We started hiking again at the fourth town, Vernazza, and got to Monterosso with just ten minutes left to catch the train back to Reggio. Whew! What a day! I can’t even explain the beauty of this rocky sea country. It was absolutely beautiful. Pictures can do better than my words, but even pictures can’t do this magnificent place justice. This was my favorite journey so far. I love being outside and exploring. We kept running into other Americans and lots of college kids because this is a big touristy spot, especially for Americans. I liked Vernazza the best. It was not as touristy as Monterosso and had a beautiful old church right on the edge of the water. I wish we had some extra time to explore the little towns because each one has some pretty unique things to offer. One is supposed to be the birth place of pesto. Monterosso is known for it’s lemons. Others are known for olive oil and wine. The terraced hills are really interesting. Along our hike we saw people working in their vineyards and we saw the old fashioned rails that the farmers use to transfer goods up and down the mountains. It was so picturesque and perfect. I really want to go back to that place again, only for a few days. It would be a great place to rest and relax and revel in the juxtaposition of the majestic mountains with the mighty sea.

Some pictures from Cinque Terra!

IMG_7063 IMG_7039 IMG_7059 IMG_7058 IMG_7056 IMG_7052 IMG_7065 IMG_7061 

May 20, 2013

After our amazing hike in Cinque Terra yesterday, I did NOT want to get up for language lessons today. I’m happy we are taking them because I do think it’s useful… BUT we’re only here for three weeks so nothing is really going to stick. Anyways, today we had language lessons in the morning and then went to visit Marco Gerra, a true Reggio Preschool. Marco Gerra was a famous artist from the area and donated a lot of time, money, and art to the education programs in Reggio. His influence clearly resonated through the school that bears his name. I loved the building! Everything was designed to represent movement to symbolize that schools are always changing. Later, my host mom and dad took us shoe shopping. That was cool because we got to see another part of town and see where the people of Reggio go to shop. On our walks, we’ve only seen the unique little stores in the city center so it was interesting to see the supermarkets, superstores, and malls that are a lot like what we have the U.S., just a littleeee smaller.  After that, we went to soccer practice with our Chiara’s women’s team. Giordano, the “dad,” is the team’s coach. How cute! I loved playing soccer with those girls. They were all so good! I am so thankful that I have some athletic ability! I love the way that smiles and sports can so easily cross language barriers. I had NO idea what the girls were saying, but I could share in the high fives and the groans.




Finally Seeing A Classroom in Action!


May 16, 2013

Today we went to Parma. Our group split up into a few different groups and visited different preschools. It was great to finally see the Reggio approach in action. Our teacher didn’t speak any English so we did a lot of nodding and ooing and ahhing. Some things I learned today:

  • Only about half of the teachers have University degrees because it only started being a requirement about seven years ago
  • It’s against the law for kids to bring their own food into the preschools, so the schools are responsible to meet the food needs of all the kids (even gluten allergies and stuff).
  • The classrooms and my preschool were mixed ages of 3, 4, and 5 and then they had separate rooms for the babies (the two year olds).
  • Again, educators here believe that the process is most important than the final product
  • From my observations it seems that the children are really well developed linguistically. Their language and social skills seemed more developed than American students of the same age. They were doing an art project with either clay or a rock and paper mâché and paint where they were supposed to recreate a statue. The students were able to choose their medium and then create their own representation of the statue. Of course, it was their own project and none of them really looked like the statue but it was really cool to see them create! When the students were finished, they would show the teacher and she would ask them things like, “How do the pieces go together” or  “Tell me a story about it” or “Why did you do this?” I was surprised that the students were able to tell her, but if you think about it, this points directly to what the lady was saying yesterday at the Malguzzi center. Children are much more competent than we give them credit for. Of course they child would be able to make up a story about their figure. Children are so imaginative and creative. I loved this example of higher level thinking.
  • Also, the sustainability in the classroom and center was great. They used real plates and dishes and stuff at meals and would obviously wash them for re-use. Also, lots of the art was made from recycled materials. They painted over cardboard and newspaper.  All of their art was really textured and simply magnificent. They really emphasize form instead of just drawing or coloring on a flat surface. That’s something that is really different from our U.S. preschools and art exploration in general. Also, of note… this preschool had toys, but it was just another way for children to play. For example, they had some dress up clothes and some fake food to pretend to grocery shop… stuff like that.
  • Dance. The did some really cute dances that (sounded like) they were scripts for the days of the week, rhyming verbs, and that kinda thing. The boys liked the dancing more than the girls because they got to move around! It would be great if we could take the “stigma” off of dance for boys because it is such a great way to learn to move and control one’s body in space.
  • Discipline. The teacher really tries to speak with the child to UNDERSTAND the child’s behavior. The teachers believe in controlling behavior by keeping an open dialogue with the students. This is neat! Their goal is to help the child to reflect on his or her behavior and become more mature. The teachers don’t believe in prizes or in punishment but instead focus on the root of the behavior issue and how they can help the child to solve the problem. The relationship between the teacher and the students creates a “group realization” of good behavior. I like the word “realization” that was translated instead of a saying something like “culture of a good behavior” because it emphasizes the growth and development of the child.
  • Again, lots of emphasis on Piaget’s research on children and the social cognitive theory.
  • One thing that the director of the schools in Parma said today was that they try to bring all children into the culture of the school, to envelop them in care, growth, and in love. This is one way that they help include children from different backgrounds and cultures. They include the child’s culture. I really like this when thinking about developing creative curriculum! Inviting the child or the child’s family into the school to share about their culture provides so many opportunities for curriculum development! The children could study a particular kind of food – like how corn is used across the world. Or they could study the food of that culture and the parents could come in and cook or bring things to taste. They could study differences in dress and play dress up or make costumes from that country. There are literally probably a million things to do with including various cultures in the curriculum.

Ciao Reggio!


May 13, 2013

So much has happened since I last blogged! Oh, where to START?! I’m now in Italy. It is so amazing to me how a one hour plane ride can literally put you in a completely new world. It’s so interesting how all of the European languages have lasted as separate and unique language entities. America is over the size of half of the whole European continenet and all of the people speak English (or some form of English anyways… I don’t know what to call the southern twang that sometimes comes out of my mouth). It’s crazy how the European languages haven’t meshed together more. Italian and Spanish and French are very similar, but then there’s German and English and all of the other languages mixed in an area that’s so small! It would be so interesting to study how language develops. What’s that called again? Etymology? Something like that? Anyways…  I’ll recap my first few experiences in Italy. First, I had to figure out how to get to the hotel BY MYSELF. I flew from Basel (where I was so very nicely picked up like a little package from the front of the airport and never ever had to go anywhere by myself) into Milan around 10 pm at night. Yeah. ME. Miss independent. Miss little do it by herself. An American GIRL who doesn’t speak Italian and who didn’t even MAKE THE HOTEL RESERVATION, but relied for once on a friend to do and therefore has no record of the correct hotel or a reservation confirmation or anything like that was ALONE at night in a very strange airport. I called the first two hotels on my google search with my .99 cent per minute stupid international plan and neither one of them had reservations for my friend’s last name. As you can imagine, my mind started to immediately switch to the possibility of sleeping alone in the airport and getting sold into sex trafficking (which is no laughing matter, but is understandably the first thing on my mind when I’m scared and alone in a foreign country). Anyways… I finally called the right hotel and they told me to wait for their shuttle at Gate number 16. THERE WASN’T A GATE 16. Uhm… So. More panic. I asked for directions. I didn’t understand anyone and no one else understood me. I finally overheard another English speaking (Australian. How exotic… I wonder what they thought of my English ahahaha) person asking for help too, so I just followed her and asked if she was looking for the gate too. Turns out, we braved the outside world and went outside the airport between gates 15 and 17, and LO! There! A Gate 16. Inside, it was all under construction. So. I made it safely to the hotel and took a LONG BATH and SLEPT. I took a taxi to meet my group at the airport and that was that. Now, I’m with my group safe and sound in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Our host parents are two cute, cute, cute young Italian people – a husband and wife. They probably aren’t even 30. Chira and Giordano. Her mother is also housing other people from the trip and has done it for several years, but this is their first time hosting any students.  It’s going to be a learning curve for both of Rachel (my roommate) and me and the cutie couple! For our first night, we had short, curly pasta with some spicy red sauce and wine. We had good conversation at dinner but it’s awkward! There’s only one bathroom. So, yeah. Today, we basically went on a tour of Reggio Emilia and walked around and got lost. It was fun. But my entire body hurts from all of the walking. I’ll have to find a better pair of sandals because we literally got so, so, so lost and I can’t feel my legs. We probably sat down for all of 3 hours in the whole day. Owie. But good owie. Who can complain when they’re in Italia?! We took some Italian language classes in the afternoon. I don’t know how much Italian I’m going to pick up in a few weeks, but we’ll see! It should be fun. Dinner with our host couple was so cute tonight. She tried to cook chicken and zucchini with Parmesan, but she burnt some of the meat so there wasn’t that much! I know that would be me trying to host some students as a young lady. I love it. She’s so sweet. We had watermelon for desert. I love that all of the fruit that we only eat in the summer time is ready here now. Alrighty, enough for now! I’m forgetting so much I know. Hopefully this will help me to remember the few things I’m able to get down for years to come. If I can remember only a portion of what I’ve seen and done and heard on this trip then I will still be much richer from the experience.


The Reggio Emilia Lions, Piazza San Prospero


So beautiful! Reggio Emilia, Italy. I LOVE all of the beautiful balconies like this one.


Our host mom, Chiara!

May 14, 2013

These days are great, but LONG! I can hardly remember anything that’s happened. It’s going to be hard to journal about everything because there’s so much and because I’m so tired by the time I have a second to write! This morning, we had some more Italian language classes. It’s so confusing because everything is similar to French, but very different at the same time. After the lesson, we had some more time to walk around Reggio. There was an open-air market in the piazzas today. Our hosts told us that the stuff wasn’t very good quality because there were a lot of immigrants. It’s really similar to an American flea market. According to our hosts, the open markets used to be really nice and lots of Italian shopkeepers would set up tents with stuff on sale but now the immigrants have taken away that nice atmosphere with their cheap goods. The Italians don’t like the immigrants because they sell things of such poor quality and take work away from the Italians. They really don’t like the Chinese people in Italy. There are a lot of Chinese because of the Chinese laws about not having more than one child. Apparently the illegal Chinese people are called “black Chinese,” not because of the color of their skin, but because they aren’t allowed to be here. They view the Chinese much like Americans view the Mexican people. In the States, we like Chinese people because they’re always hard-working and smart! I found that to be very interesting! After the markets and eating lunch, we met our host “mama” for gelato! OH MY GOSH. SO GOOOOD. I had nutella and some kind of vanilla with yummy butterfinger kinda sorta, cookie kinda sorta, caramel kinda sorta pieces inside. Delicious. We met back up with the group to go to the Bergonzi primary school. That was really interesting because we heard from a 5th grade teacher. I thought her English was very good, but she let Daniela translate since she was going to talk about on a deeper level about ideas, various didactic techniques, and that sort of thing. The meeting was very interesting! When the Bergonzi school was created (or “born” as Daniela so cutely translated) in 1973, they decided not to use textbooks. The translation was kind of rough, but basically the teachers and students learn through projects and create their own “textbooks” as they learn. Now, the teachers use textbooks and other audio/visual materials, but they want to use them only as a reference points to help the students. Previously, there were three teachers in each class but due to budget cuts and all of that there are not as many teachers. So, the teachers have to rely more and more on the textbook to help them teach because there aren’t as many teachers in the classrooms. The projects are done grade wide or classroom wide and are used to help the students to learn in a practical way. The students are at school for eight hours. Within those eight hours, there are workshops for the students to learn by doing – a hands on approach. Many of the projects that the Bergonzi school based on some core ideas: 1) working to raise money for the school 2) partnering with experts and 3) exploring the territory. These ideas help the school to be successful in the projects without having to break their very limited budget. For example, the students are involved in something similar to our “Box Tops for Education.” Area grocery stores partner with Bergonzi to give a portion of sales to the school. The example the teacher gave for the community partnership was a project the students recently did with a local mosaic expert, one of the few left in the country. He helped the students to make mosaics and then they went on a trip to see some famous Italian mosaics from the Roman period. Cool! I remember doing something similar in my art class in elementary school. We studied the iron work (history, famous artists, etc.) that is very famous in Charleston, SC and then we worked with a local blacksmith to make our own iron gate designs. That’s definitely a great example of integrated, creative curriculum! Another project example is the school’s “Club of Taste.” The lunch time is very different from our American schools. The students help to set the tables and they eat a long, leisurely, family style lunch. The “club of taste” is a small group of students that collaborate with their classmates and then give feedback on how the students like the lunches. The goal is to help all of the children learn to appreciate fresh, good food, help them learn to “eat well,” and help them to avoid waste. The children learn about who produces the food, how to grow it, and everything like that! The schools also partner with the parents to help them learn to eat good food! Community involvement is very important for the success of the schools. Three times a year (at least) the teachers meet with the parents to discuss their children. Further ways parents are involved in the school are similar to our PTA programs. The parents form committees to help the teacher and to help involve other parents as well. Also, the schools try to organize talks with experts like psychologists or doctors or other professionals. The psychologists come and the parents can ask questions about their own children for free. I thought that was really neat. It shows that the schools care about the development and well being of the child fully.  Of course, that’s the ideal. The teacher said that it’s hard to get all parents involved, but continuing to promote ties with the teacher and family regardless of failure is important because eventually there will be good response and community will be built. After the meeting we went out for aperitif with our host mama and her friend. We had a light drink at a “bar” in the city center. It’s cool because you pay for a drink and the bar puts out free appetizers! We met a friend of hers there. He was so funny. He had wild curly hair and looked SO Italian it wasn’t even funny! Yay! After drinks and snacks we went down to watch a few minutes of a pick up soccer match for the team he plays with sometimes. They play in this cute little square court between two beautiful old apartments. It’s like a basketball court but without a top. The surrounding buildings form a perfect court to play soccer like we would play “indoor,” there’s just no roof. It was so neat! I could have stayed there all night. I love it. I love Italy! I’ve literally been writing for an hour.  Bella notte!

May 15, 2013

I don’t know if it’s possible for my feet to hurt this much! I MUST buy some better sandals. So. Much. Walking. Today we went to the Malaguzzi center. It’s a museum and central location for the Reggio approach and is a tribute to the approach’s founder, Loris Malaguzzi. We listened to the pedagogista (like a curriculum specialist) tell us more about the approach and then we got to work with the alterista. She’s like an art teacher but there’s more that can’t exactly be translated because the approach is so unique. They help the students to learn freely, creatively, and guide them to make some really deep realizations and connections based on their exploration. The Malaguzzi center has a Ray of Light alteri (like an exploratory art room) where children can use light as a subject matter. It was really really cool. Lots of the exhibits were very similar to the kinds of things that the Children’s Museum has but all of the materials were REAL, many just recycled materials. There were no “toys” or anything like that. A big part of the Reggio Approach is the idea that children are more competent than we think them to be. The Reggio teachers don’t try to simplify language or pictures because they are already immersed in this world as a complex reality… there’s no need to simplify. Instead, teachers help include children in the complex world. In the Reggio approach, children and adults learn together in culture and humanity. Learning is not linear and is very unexpected. The Reggio approach is connected to the social constructivist theory. Documentation is important in the approach. We got to see some neat ways that the teachers, as researchers and observers of their students, document the process of student learning. Again, in the Reggio approach, the process of learning is more important than the final result. After the Malaguzzi center, we spent the afternoon in Bologna. It was fun to walk around and see a bigger Italian city. We had some real Italian pizza, finally! It was funny because we didn’t know how to order so we accidentally ordered two GIANT pizzas. But, oh. SO GOOD. The six of us girls nearly finished BOTH of the pizzas. I wish I was picking up more of the language. I think that instead of actually learning Italian, I’m only learning to speak English with an Italian accent!