THE EARLY YEARS FRAMEWORK
I had a vision when I created this framework: to design and document an emergent curriculum that follows the principles of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, is guided by the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) milestones, and uses the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for English as a Second Language (ESL) and Modern Foreign Language (MFL) benchmarks.
A number of factors played a role in the design of the above framework, the first of them being how I would document a seemingly elusive emerging curriculum in a way that allowed for deeper inquiry based learning while placing children’s interests at the center. The first table in the class planners middle section addresses this – it begins with Class Inquiry and then moves to the EYFS Milestones students might achieve during the inquiry. This column leaves the door open for teachers to brainstorm possible milestones, but allows for these to change during investigations. The next column is Reggio Inspired Provocations – this involves designing the space and preparing the materials for students to deepen their inquiries. Provocations can be books, pictures, creative mediums, objects from nature, an event, questions; a provocation is an activity intended to fuel ideas and creativity. When educators think about the possible milestones that students can reach, teachers can plan and prepare the necessary supplies. The next column is for Inquiry Language – it is a column where teachers can decide how to guide students, and which language teachers want students to learn; essentially, this column becomes a language curriculum that is constantly shifting through different inquiries. It is difficult to predict where inquiries may lead, which is why as the investigations deepen the column categories repeat, and the teacher can look back at the original milestone ideas and re-evaluate: Are there some milestones children have not demonstrated, and new ones to add? How does the environment need to change in order to further investigations? Will a class project develop? No time limit is set on this document – this row keeps extending until an inquiry fades and new ones evolve. This row is classified as “Class Inquiry,” but if individual students or groups of students have other inquiries they want to pursue the same process can be applied.
The next table in the class planners section is for Defined Spaces in the classroom, which addresses how to make the classroom environment the third teacher. It starts with children and class interests – the teacher can note everything they have observed about their class and then designate different areas in the classroom as defined spaces, where those interests can be fostered – for example, the water table, the sand table, etc. The next column is to brainstorm possible EYFS milestones that children may demonstrate – these could be related to math, communication, etc. The following column is for the provocations and materials – how will the materials be displayed and organized? Some children might interact with the environment in the way a teacher had hoped they would, in which case it would be easy for the teacher to document which milestones students demonstrated, but some students might not have interacted with the environment as the teacher anticipated, and that is all right. The planner has been designed to allow teachers to be proactive rather than reactive when students demonstrate their abilities. The Inquiry Language column is for brainstorming the vocabulary students need to use, and deciding which language a teacher may want to encourage children to speak as they guide students on their learning journeys. The last column is for general observations: how the spaces are functioning, when it is time to change a space or several spaces in the classroom, additional materials that could be added to a space to further learning, etc. Again, there is no time frame for this planner; spaces shift as interests and learning shift. It is also flexible as students may take materials from one space and move them to another; teachers can respond by noting observations and brainstorming new ideas.
The last table is for teacher-led activities related to language/literacy and math. It starts with possible EYFS milestones, moves to provocations and materials needed, and then to a column to brainstorm possible inquiry language that may develop during an activity.
For a community environment to be achieved within a school, it is important that all teachers, including specialists, are interconnected. Too often I have heard mainstream teachers say, “Our classrooms are Reggio-inspired, and then the children go to Music, P.E., etc. – a clear disconnect. The answer to this challenge is transparency; each teacher must be aware of inquiries occurring in all of the classrooms. You will notice that the P.E., Music, and Library planners all start with "Teacher Name". This space is for individual teachers to share inquiries with the specialists. From there the specialists can coordinate their planners – starting with class, topic of inquiry, and inquiry language. Then the teachers can consider attainable EYFS milestones, provocations and materials that could be used, and possible teacher-led activities. The above diagram shows two rows (Inquiry Language and the other beginning with EYFS Milestones) that would be repeated so that each class would have individualized plans. Again, there are no timelines – the specialist lessons would move and flow as the class inquiries changed. Perhaps a specialist may not connect to an inquiry happening in a classroom, but the purpose of the planner is simply awareness so that if an opportunity arises, different teachers can extend classroom learning. If not, the planner still allows for Reggio-inspired learning during specialist lessons. In order for the framework to work, classroom teachers would need to communicate when inquiries would be shifting.
The Outdoor Area planner is for all classroom teachers to collaborate and share inquiries happening in all the classrooms. With this knowledge, how could learning be extended outside the classroom? What materials could be set up outside the classrooms, and how could a whole school space become the third teacher?
There is a section for Modern Foreign Language (MFL) teachers as well. Too often I have seen foreign language lessons that are traditional, completely teacher-led, and not in line with the teaching philosophy of the rest of the school. What if the MFL teachers were aware of the investigations happening in each classroom? They could start by developing provocations/material relevant to those investigations in the language being taught, linking the language to EYFS milestones and CEFR outcomes, and setting up spaces where children could interact and use the language learned through play. For example, during teacher-led activities, the teacher would teach transportation related vocabulary associated with an investigation taking place in the classroom, and then have areas set up where children could demonstrate language learned through play and inquiry. The teacher would then guide the children as they demonstrated what they learned in another language. Again, the MFL teachers would be aware of investigations happening in other classrooms and could link their lessons and activities to these, or pursue other inquiries in their classrooms, but the teaching method and philosophy of the school would be cohesive and uniform.
The impact of the framework would be to create a cohesive staff and allow for the environment to become the third teacher in individual classrooms and throughout the school. Children and their interests would dictate learning in all subject areas, and an emergent curriculum could be clearly documented and handed over from year to year, as shown in the diagram below. The top row displays the detailed individual teacher planners and the bottom serves as a general inquiry tracker. Teachers would record inquiries investigated by the class throughout the year, and children’s interests would decide learning topics, as shown in the (example) diagram below, where children’s interests shifted from Buildings to Transport and then back to Buildings. The next year classroom teachers could look at the general overview, and should similar interests occur in the following year teachers can search the detailed planners to see where the inquiries led. From there teachers can plan to take the inquiry in a slightly different direction, or deepen the learnings from the previous year by building on individual learning outcomes already achieved. Students in classes often get mixed from year to year, so the teacher would be aware of which students had learned about a topic and which had not; this would be very useful information for a teacher to have while planning. Specialists could also be asked to do the same so that student learning is extended in their classes from year to year. Administrators and coordinators would have a bird’s eye view of all the learning taking place throughout the school, not only in mainstream classrooms, but also in specialist subject areas.
I believe that when this custom-designed framework is implemented it will have a huge impact on a school and its environment, transforming students, educators and administrators into a genuine Reggio-inspired community of learners at all levels and across all subject areas.
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