Many schools wonder if the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) and the Reggio Emilia philosophy can be combined to create a working hybrid model, and the answer is yes, absolutely! But before getting into the hows, let’s start with comparing some of the key elements behind each of their philosophies.
At the core of both of their philosophies, there are some major components that are the same – both are student-centered and inquiry-based, both believe that children are unique, and both believe in learning through exploration and share multiple overlapping values, such as communication, respect, responsibility, etc. However, as noted by italicized points above, there are some areas of contention – such as classroom setup, and differences in views on thematic vs. non-thematic approaches, but can these areas be addressed in such a way that the disparities are resolved? With some creative and outside-the-box thinking, of course!
Let’s start with the issue of classroom setup at your IB school. As we all know, the PYP has certain requirements as far as wall displays go, and the Reggio Emilia has certain guidelines that should be followed when setting up a classroom. Can the two be merged? Certainly! Instead of looking at your school’s classrooms as single-space entities, try viewing them as split-spaces – classroom spaces that are at eye-level and above, and spaces that are below eye-level. Any classroom wall space at or above eye-level can be used to meet the requirements of the PYP, and anything below eye-level such as shelving, tables, chairs, etc. can be arranged in such a way that environments can become the third teacher. The planner below has been designed as a guideline to help your staff achieve this hybrid look:
In the above planner, a simple 4-step process has been provided that can be adapted to suit your needs.
Step 1: Wall Space Checklist – The PYP checklist can be used to ensure that all requirements are displayed on the walls.
Step 2: Classroom Design Checklist – The Reggio Emilia checklist can serve as a reminder to create purposeful, organized, defined, provocative and beautiful spaces.
Step 3: Classroom Setup – Columns 1-5 of the table can be used as a tool for mapping out defined spaces. A teacher would start by listing subject areas and standards that could possibly be met, then brainstorming a list of provocations and materials needed, and lastly planning out in which area of their classroom they will be setting up their materials. Space has also been provided for a teacher to draw their classroom setup as they envision.
Step 4: Review and Redesign - The last column on the table is for teachers to make notes on how the students interacted with each of the available spaces. Based on this and the direction that class inquiries take, spaces in the classroom can be redesigned so that an existing Classroom Setup planner can easily be used to modify ideas, or so a teacher can start a new planner from scratch and repeat the same 4-step process.
Now that you have a way to transform classrooms at your school into hybrids models, the next issue that needs to be addressed is that of thematic vs. non-thematic approaches, and you can look at this in one of two ways:
Scenario 1: The Reggio Emilia philosophy is clearly against the use of a thematic approach, therefore if we are to implement it alongside the PYP we need a work-around solution that will remedy this conflict.
Scenario 2: We would like to keep our school’s Transdisciplinary Themes and routing in place and incorporate parts of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, such as elements of classroom setup and its play-based approach.
In either scenario, the same educational framework and planners can be used, only the approach taken by the school as a whole will vary. In a previous article, we introduced the Transdisciplinary Framework below as a means of connecting all subject areas together when unit planning.
The concept behind the above framework is a simple one, the Team Transdisciplinary Planner depicted by the individual planners in the 9-frame on the left dictates the individual Teacher Planners on the right. (For further details see The Transdisciplinary Framework). So, a team would brainstorm ideas together on the left, and then when teachers go to complete their personal planner (right side), they would start by referring to ideas noted during the brainstorming session. The Transdisciplinary Framework will work whether you have chosen Scenario 1 – non-thematic approach, or Scenario 2 – thematic approach, the only differences will be in routing, and how team members proceed during/after planning meetings:
Scenario 1: In the non-thematic scenario, your school would simply let go of pre-planning the route of your Transdisciplinary Themes. There’s nothing within the PYP that states every teacher must follow the same order in units, so you would use a backwards approach when implementing the PYP – instead of themes dictating inquiries, inquiries would dictate which Transdisciplinary Themes (if any) would be explored, in which class, when, and for how long. (For further information on this approach see An Emergent Curriculum and the IEYC: Can They Coexist? – similarly to the PYP, the International Primary Year’s Curriculum (IPC) is also thematic-based.) As for team meetings, they can still involve all members of the same year level; however, let’s say there are two Year 1 teachers in the meeting: each class can be exploring a different inquiry and each inquiry can be related to an entirely different theme – so specialists will need to plan accordingly. Using the above Team Transdisciplinary Planner (9-frame on the left of the diagram), this would mean either two copies of each planner within the 9-frame would be needed, or each box would need to be divided in order to reflect the two distinct inquiries being investigated.
Scenario 2: In this scenario, a school would pre-plan routing for the year, as normal, and any inquiries would tie into them. As for team meetings, all teachers, no matter the grade level, would be following a common Transdisciplinary Theme, making things easier planning-wise as the whole school would be moving in the same direction. That being said, you will be losing the non-thematic approach of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, however classroom setup and a play-based approach will still influence your school’s curriculums.
Classroom setup – resolved, and options to remedy the issue of thematic vs. non-thematic have been presented, which leaves us with the last two items that were highlighted as differences between the philosophies behind the PYP and the Reggio Emilia – transdisciplinary and play-based. The PYP is based on the idea of connecting learning across all subjects as much as possible; there is nothing within Reggio Emilia to suggest that this is against their philosophy so no problem there – a school would be free to implement a transdisciplinary framework based on the model we have suggested. Which brings us to the play-based aspect of the Reggio Emilia approach – and there is nothing within the PYP indicating that you couldn’t use a play-based approach when planning Provocations, but how would one go about doing so? By using a combination of the Classroom Setup Planner (presented earlier in this article) and the mainstream individual Transdisciplinary Teacher Planner we shared in a prior article below:
When completing the space for Provocation(s) in the above planner, a teacher could refer to ideas brainstormed on their Classroom Setup planner, thus ensuring that students would have opportunities to learn through exploration and play. Taking things one step further, the individual Transdisciplinary Teacher Planner forces teachers to always be thinking about their classroom setup and provocations at the end of every lesson, teachers would be required to indicate any Reflections and Student/Teacher Questions that transpired. These Reflections and Questions then serve to inform what is filled in the Student Driven-Inquiries & Supporting Student Agency box, which in turn influences the direction and depth Learning Experiences, Ongoing Assessments and new Provocations …. and so, the cycle repeats – a classroom’s setup continuously shifts to accommodate new inquiries and to further existing ones, and learners are constantly immersed in an engaging play-based and explorative environment. This cycle is highlighted in the planner below by the 4-step planning process for Language Arts on a Tuesday. The planning for Unit of Inquiry and Math would follow the same steps, and as each new day was added to the bottom of the planner, steps 1 & 4 would shift downwards accordingly.
In seeing that all the areas of contention between the philosophies behind the PYP and the Reggio Emilia have been addressed and resolved, there’s absolutely no reason why any IB school couldn’t consider a hybrid model and run both in parallel. And in doing so, schools would be merging two philosophies that already have much in common together to create a powerful, student-centered, inquiry-based programme in which not only the teacher would serve as a guide, but also the learning environment throughout the entire school!
Interested in exploring the possibility of a PYP/Reggio Emilia hybrid programme running at your IB school? Contact us, we can help you achieve your goals!
Where is the IB's Transdisciplinary Framework?
The Transdisciplinary Framework
How to Run Your IB Team Planning Meetings Like a Boss
The Transdisciplinary Planners
Creating Transdisciplinary Assessments and Rubrics
Planning an IB PYP Unit
Thoughts on ManageBac