Using the Reggio exhibit to enrich teacher candidates' perceptions of how children construct and represent knowledge

Ede, A. R. and Da Ros-Voseles, D. A. (2010). Using the Reggio exhibit to enrich teacher candidates' perceptions of how children construct and represent knowledge. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 31:3, 222–231.

Abstract:

This study explored the changes in 37 early childhood teacher candidates' perceptions of how children construct and represent knowledge following repeated exposure to The Wonder of Learning: the Hundred Languages of Children exhibit. The exhibit, a Reggio Emilia initiative, presented aesthetically arranged and thematically curated groupings of the documentation of children’s long-term investigations—often visual artwork, poetry, videos of movement and dramatic play. Over the course of a 16-week semester, teacher candidates viewed the exhibit four times and wrote four one-minute reflections based on prompts given to them by the researchers. Analysis of the reflections over the four-month period showed that teacher candidates' understanding of the multiple modes in which children can express and make visible their learning had increased. Early interpretations that the art in the gallery is the product of learning transformed into deeper revelations about how the child engaged in a process of inquiry using the art form to represent their knowledge.

Key Findings:

Participants were given prompts to guide their reflections and were asked in the first and last visit to answer the question, “what are the ways that children represent their knowledge?” In early responses, participants had a more simplistic product orientation that evolved into more complex views where they recognized the art products as purposeful expressions that were made by children with specificity and meaning to reflect their knowledge and understanding. Participants also developed greater appreciation of the centrality of play in young children’s learning and they developed awareness of the many ways children represent what they learn, including children’s using different modes to create their own meaning and experimenting to develop mathematical and scientific knowledge.

Significance of the Findings:

The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education provides a vehicle for children to learn and express their knowledge through multiple forms and materials, often art-based. The Wonder of Learning exhibition became a laboratory for demonstrating to pre-service early childhood educators the vast potential the arts and play hold for active, deep, and meaningful learning. If pre-service early childhood educators can broaden their views on how knowledge is represented, the study suggests, they will be more effective at eliciting deep learning from young children.

Methodology:

The researchers collected and analyzed narrative responses from 37 study participants, who were students in their respective classes. The participants wrote responses to prompts provided before each of four visits to the Reggio Emilia The Wonder of Learning: the Hundred Languages of Children exhibit. Each researcher analyzed her data set for themes. Once emergent themes were identified, the researchers cross-compared results and developed a unified set of findings.

Limitations of the Research:

The study participants were students of the researchers and while the researchers worked to ensure students had the opportunity to view the gallery without their oversight or input, the power dynamic still may have colored the approaches students took in their written reflections.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How do pre-service teachers’ exposure to programs like Reggio Emilia impact their in-service teaching practice? Are there differences in the learning gains of students taught by teachers who appreciate multiple modes of representation versus those who do not?