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Critically analyse two curriculum pedagogical approaches

The purpose of this essay is to critically analyse two curriculum pedagogical approaches. The two approaches that will be discussed in this essay are Reggio Emilia and Montessori. There will be an in-depth analysis of the two philosophies and how they are different or similar to each other. It will also include the differing views on the image of a child, role of the teacher and the inclusion of parents and family. There will also be some discussion on the critics of both approaches and the relevance to Te Whariki.

Reggio Emilia (RE) is a small city in the Emilia Romagna region of Northern Italy. After the Second World War the people of RE urgently needed to build their lives, not only materially, but also socially and morally. In this time there was a powerful force behind the development of early childhood services (Thornton and Brunton, 2005). The women wanted to build a preschool to provide a new form of education that the next generation would not tolerate inequality and injustice. “There was a strong sense of hope for the future arising from the adversity of the past” (Thornton, 2005, p4). The Reggio philosophy was developed and shaped by the social and cultural influences in the area. Loris Malaguzzi was the inspiration behind the educational experience in Reggio Emilia.

Maria Montessori was born in the year 1870 in Central Italy. According to Standing (1957, p45) Montessori was a “strong minded, vivacious and determined child, displaying the kind of independence so highly valued in Montessori schools to this day”. Montessori graduated as a doctor in 1896 and was the first woman in Italy to do so. In her early clinical experience she became a supporter of social reform, mainly as it related to the well being of women and children. She argued that enhancing the quality of the environment in which children lived was a way of eliminating poverty, inequality, illness, and criminality. This argument became the foundations of Montessori’s life’s work. In 1907 she opened a school for slum children. The school was called ‘Children’s House’. It was an environment in which in children from the slums were advancing rapidly in learning. She than decided to abandoned her medical/academic careers and devoted her life to promoting her educational method (Feez, 2010).

Malaguzzi was a social constructivist and was influenced by some of the most renown progressive educators and psychologist such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Montessori, Dewey (Edwards, 2003). Malaguzzi includes Vygotsky’s concept of ‘Zone of Proximal’ as crucial to the foundations of children teacher relationships. There is also a value for the operation of thought and language together in building symbolic representation of thoughts, ideas and feelings (Berk, 2007) Malaguzzi believed that children were ‘social’ from birth, full of intelligence and active explorers (Gandini, 1997).

Montessori was influenced by the work of Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Itard and Seguin. Montessori’s interest was more practical than theoretical, but her theoretical view was based on Rousseau’s work. Like Rousseau she argues that children think and learn differently then adults. Montessori education gives children freedom to explore the environment through their senses but they are given little external guidance on what to pay attention to and how to think about discoveries” (Feez, 2010). To find an approach that provided opportunities for freedom and at the same time helping children adapt to society, Montessori looked at the work of French doctor Itard and Seguin. It was Seguin method which Montessori used successfully to teach ‘deficient’ children in the 1980s, and when she used the same approach in 1907 to educate street children she was amazed at what unfolded.

The RE philosophy was influenced by Malaguzzi. Malaguzzi emphasises that the theory which provides the underpinnings for the Reggio approach requires ongoing communication and dialogue, teachers as co-researchers alongside children, and revisiting ideas, guides and practice. Children are seen as a ‘community of learners’. It recognises the importance of ways in which children learn and consider each child as gifted. Children with disabilities have the full participation into the structure and are spoken to as ‘children with special rights’ (Gandini, 1997). In the Reggio approach there is no predetermined curriculum. Short term and long term projects are developed from children’s interest, first hand experiences and their working theories about the world (Rinaldi, 2006).

Children are encouraged to grow in competence to represent and symbolise ideas, feelings through any of the hundred languages. The teacher follows the child’s interest and do not provide instructions for reading and writing, however they promote emergent literacy as children manipulate and communicate ideas and feelings. As children progress through the infant-toddler centre, or preschool, they stay with the same teachers. This provides opportunities for a strong relationship between the staff, children and their families to be nurtured over the long period.

The RE approach identifies the environment as a third teacher between children, parent and teachers. Malaguzzi describes the physical environment and the availability of resources “as the product of complex interactions, many of which can be realised only when the environment is a fully participating element (Thornton, 2005, p43). Teachers in a Reggio centre provide ‘amiable’ environments which encourages exploration, exchanges, and communication.

Montessori believed that her pedagogy was based on logical, scienctific inquiry. According to Montessori, from birth to three is the time of the ‘unconscious absorbent mind’ whereas age three to six is considered as time for the ‘conscious absorbent mind’. In both these times, the child seeks sensory input, regulation for movement, order and freedom to choose and explore deeply with interpretation in a carefully planned environment which encourages the child to choose well. In a Montessori classroom children are in mixed groups spanning from birth to three years and teachers move with the child through the three year cycle (Feez, 2010).

The exercises of practical life skills are an important part of the curriculum. It is based on ways people in the culture relate to each other socially, as well as ways in which they complete everyday tasks. Language also relates to the exercises of practical life, as children use it in different ways to interact and communicate with others. In a Montessori view any resource that is unrelated to the educational purpose of material has a potential to distract and confuse the child (Feez, 2010). Children have limited freedom to what they can and can not do in a Montessori classroom, for example to be disruptive, aggressive and disorderly.

The Montessori environment is planned ahead of time to ensure that children have as much freedom and independence as possible. The approach emphasises on real things in the environment which requires hands on interactions. A Montessori classroom allows opportunities for meaningful learning in self chosen activities, and purposeful activities which requires concentration (Feez, 2010).

The Reggio view of the child is central to its philosophy. The child is referred to as a ‘rich in potential, strong, powerful and competent’. “At the centre of the pedagogy is the child who is confident in building relationships; who holds his or her own values; who wants to be respected and valued for himself as well as holding a respect for others; who embodies a curiosity and open mindedness to all that is possible” (Thornton, 2005).

Children are encouraged to develop their own working theories of the world and to explore this in greater depth. Children ideas are respected so that children feel unafraid to make mistakes or reconstructing their ideas. Self confidence and self image is fostered through discussion which promotes creativity. The notion of ‘the hundred languages’ was Malaguzzi’s interpretation of recognising the value of all forms of expression and communication in which children interpret the world and represent their ideas and theories.

Montessori philosophy view children as intelligent, active, reality based self regulating and self righting. Montessori believed that in order for them to live a quality life, they need to be prepared as competent, responsible and adaptive citizens who are life long learners and problem solvers. Children’s free chosen activity is regarded as ‘work’. Through a Montessori lens children’s works is seen as orientation towards future achievements and play that involves purposeful effort and concentration. Montessori’s view on punishments and rewards to make children pay attention were regarded as ‘forced’ and ‘unnatural’. She saw it as a form of slavery from which children needed to be released (Feez, 2010).

The teachers in both approaches share a common goal in childrearing. They both regard themselves as nurtures, partners and guides to children. They depend on the environment as a pedagogical tool which is carefully prepared and aesthetically pleasing. Partnership with parents is highly valued in both approaches. However their contrasting view on a child’s learning has lead them act different roles in a classroom.

Reggio teachers are seen a learner, enthusiastically seeking new knowledge alongside children. Children and teachers are seen as co-researches in everyday process rather than a specialised activity. They provide tools, materials, resources and provide help when needed. Each class has two teachers who work collaboratively as a team. The teachers plan in collaboration with the pedagogista and the aterlierista. The pedagogista helps maintain high quality standards whereas the aterlierista promotes expression through different forms of media and symbol systems (Vecchi, 2010). Malaguzzi suggest that once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors and interventions, and to find the pleasure of inquiry, there motivation and interest will expand (Edwards, Gandini, Forman, 1998)

In a Montessori classroom teachers are considered as ‘directors’ which refers to someone who guides and draws others together. The role of the director is to provide a prepared environment and connect children with it. Montessori also emphasised the role of an educator as an observer rather than teacher. The method of observation still remains an important component of Montessori teacher training till this day (Torrence and Chattin-Mc Nicholas, 2009). The aim of the teacher is to help and encourage children to be independent, gain confidence and disciple so that there are minimal reasons for teachers to intervene (Feez, 2010). Teachers give children lessons (also called presentations) to show children how to use materials or how to act in the environment. Children are free to choose activities after they have had a lesson on how to do the activity. They intervene as little as possible to allow children to make good choices.

In both approaches parent/families play an important part in their child’s learning and development and are seen as partners alongside teachers. They are included in all decisions concerning their child and their input is highly valued. Parents receive extensive description about their children daily life and progress. Portfolios and other forms of children work maybe displayed and sent home as key intervals and transitions (Edwards, 1998).

Respecting relationships are considered one of the most essential components of the RE approach. The relationships established between parents, children and teachers are key elements in supports children’s learning and development. Relationships are built on reciprocal, requiring mutual trust and respect. The Reggio term ‘the pedagogy of listening’ emphasises listening as openness and wiliness to value the point of others.

The first preschools were founded by the parents as a symbolic of hope and desire of better futures for their children. Therefore parental participation has always been important part of the Reggio approach. At the time a child enters an infant-toddler centre/preschool, the parents are considered as active participants in the ongoing educational process. The programme is designed to make families feel at home and an important part of the structure. This gives educators the opportunity to get to know families and understand their unique perspective of their own child.

The Montessori approach includes parent/families in learning that concerns their child. Strong relationships are established between teachers and parents to follow the child’s progress in home and classroom. Regular dialogue and written feedback gives parents information about their child’s experiences and learning. Teachers provide suggestion on how parents can continue to use the Montessori approach at home. Parents are welcome to borrow resources and books and have many opportunities to learn about the Montessori philosophy and practice.

One criticism to the RE approach is regarding the role of teachers as co-researchers along side children. Malaguzzi called this open review method ‘a circle of idea’. The idea that children learn through interactions and exploration of ideas with educators is regarded as ‘thinking critically about difficult questions’ rather than ‘problem solving’.

Another criticism is placed on the importance of the environment in the Reggio approach. The environment is referred to as ‘the third teacher’. It is argued that if the Reggio focus is on children and interactions and the use of space further encourages and supports this interactions and that the curriculum is adaptable to the changing interest to the child, so too does the design and environment change. Therefore the environment is a ‘ship of motion’ rather than an ‘unchangeable landmark’ (Rinaldi, 2006).

It is argued that Montessori education does not allow children the opportunity for ‘learning to learn’. In a Montessori view a child had ‘learned’ when they correctly finished the activity. It is an end state reached when the task is mastered. According to Crain (2011) in the ‘real’ world children need to learn how to learn, to quickly adapt to changing environments and to create new environments. The Montessori approach does not allow for critical thinking or exploration it is rather a method of perfection.

Freedom for initiative and creativity is limited. Teachers have firm rules about how tasks are done, and a child finds a way to manipulate the material which they are happy with, the teacher would not consider this satisfactory. The teacher will then encourage the child to keep working on the same activity until is completed the way it should be. This hinders children imagination and creativity (Gardner, 1966).

Finally, both approaches make significant links Te Whariki. The principles of ‘Family and Community’ and ‘Relationships’ shows relevance to both approaches as parent/family are considered ‘partners’ in the learning of their children. The strand of well being and belonging is evident in both approaches, as teachers support each individual child learning and development. Well being (Goal 1) supports the Montessori practice of ‘practical skills’ where the children learn self help and self care skills (Ministry of Education, 1996).

The strand of Contribution supports RE practice to explore as groups or individuals. Each child has the opportunity to express their idea. Group projects encourage children to learn with and along side others. The strand of Communication relates more to Reggio Emilia, than it does to Montessori practice. Communication and dialogue is an important tool which teachers use to extend children’s learning. Teachers support and allow children to be creative and expressive. This goal of non verbal and verbal communication shows relevance to the ‘Hundred Languages’ (Edwards, 1998).

The strand of exploration is also more relevant to the Reggio Emilia approach than Montessori, as Montessori is more structured and tasks are demonstrated on how it ‘should be done’, therefore it does not really allow for exploration. Exploration is seen a vital concept in the Reggio approach as teacher recognise the important of spontaneous play and allow children to follow their interest in more depth. Teachers become co-researchers with children to develop working theories and make sense of the world (MOE, 1996)

In conclusion, RE and Montessori are both ‘child-centred’ approaches and have many similarities as well as differences. Both approaches were established to turn away from violence/war and to give children the opportunity to realise their full potential as creative, intelligent individuals. In both approaches children are viewed as active partners in their own development and learning. The environment serves as a pedagogical tool for teachers to provide an aesthetically pleasing environment which provides children with freedom and opportunities for exploration. The teacher plays an important part in both approaches; however their contrasting views on the nature of children and their learning lead them to act different roles. A Reggio Teacher regards themselves as ‘co-researchers’ alongside children, whereas a Montessori teacher sees themselves as a ‘director’ or ‘observer’. In both approaches parents are seen as equal partners in their child learning and development. Overall, the Reggio Emilia approach provides children with opportunities for open ended exploration, whereas the Montessori approach is more structured and aims to provide opportunities for children to chose freely and gain independence.

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