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A Wall within the Community Is the Subject for Visible Learning

A Constructivist Approach

Join us April 16-21, 2023, as we engage in a week-long early childhood constructivist retreat in Trento, Italy and witness first-hand this very powerful work in real life applications at the Federazione Provinciale Scuole Materne in Trento, Italy.

During one of my trips to Reggio Emilia, Italy to participate in an intensive study on early childhood constructivist teaching, it became crystal clear the powerful learning moments as noted in the book, Visible Learners Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in All Schools, written by a group of researchers from Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. These researchers brought to life how documentation of student learning is visible learning

While observing and studying early childhood pedagogy grounded in Lev Vygotsky’s work, it was further affirmed how student learning is supported with documentation of students’ and teachers’ transcripts, photos, video clips and authentic student work. Deep learning in these early childhood settings is a socio-constructivist and coherent process for teachers and students alike.

For example, an experienced teacher, Laura, and her co-teacher, whose roles are to connect learning with her students and connect students with other students in the learning process, become learners as well through dialogue, questioning and reflection. This fluid and rich collaboration and dialogue around student learning is what we can call collective teacher efficacy.

An example of a profound story of visible learning happened around a wall, a “secret wall’ that is, by a group of kindergarteners and their teachers. The school’s neighborhood became their classroom, a place of exploration, observation, accountable talk and thinking.

Prior to launching this twelve-day inquiry-based learning project, the teachers, students, and parents had conversations around the topics of ecology and the preservation of nature. Adults wanted to instill values of respect and care for nature and ecological preservation.

The project began with a group of students escorted on a field trip to the city park. The children walked on this “secret wall.” A wall no more than three feet high and one foot wide that surrounded a 1900’s university with renovated buildings around it- except for the “wall.” The wall had been forgotten by the people of the neighborhood, but the nature that grew in it and around it used it as their home. The wall was created as part of a private garden.

The children’s initial investigation was their close observations of the wall as a boundary. On one side of the wall there was nature with towering trees, colorful plantings and historical structures, and on the other side, a bustling street with traffic, lots of people and contemporary buildings. A few students talked about the perspective of the wall and how far and close it was to their school. Students tried to interpret the life of the wall with their own life.

For example, one student said, “You can use your finger as a brush and water paint the stone.”

Other students remarked, “The water has drained and has gone down to the bottom and has brought drinks to the plants so they can grow.”

Another student exclaimed, “But, it is possible. Plants can grow in walls. Then a person is born from a baby. It goes inside and is born in the wall.”

Students explored with tools such as magnifying glasses, rulers, tape, string, boxes, pencils, and paper to document their observations. Through their interactions and dialogue the students developed theories. Students became very attentive of the plants and began to name them based on their features. The tickling plant, the 100-leaf plant, the butterfly plant, and so on.

When they returned to school, they showed their classmates, through photos, what they had encountered.

The teacher posed questions and prodded their curiosity through higher order questioning. How can we make people understand interesting and wonderful things about the wall? Can you choose some of the most interesting things about the wall? Why? The teachers offered the students the opportunity to explore the wall as well as experiment how to communicate their observations to others about this mysterious and complex wall.

Teachers had students experiment by watering a brick to see if something grows from it. Students became curious about the plants and insects and asked a host of questions. They were developing theories through their questioning.

The children made clay creations in the form of insects, plants, and leaves to adhere to the wall in harmony with the environment.

In supporting their theories, an indoor garden at school was created, and the children explored the lifecycle of a plant through observation and experimentation of natural resources. Teachers posed questions and documented it through video, photography, artifacts, and transcripts.

Students developed communication, socialization, listening and questioning skills from this investigation. Students began to have other perspectives toward plants, knowing that the plants can exist in the wall and the indoor garden.

Parents viewed the documentations by the teachers and students. Parents collaborated in learning more about the wall and sharing their learning with the children and teachers. Answering these questions from the children. How did the wall come to be? Who built the wall? Why was the wall initially built? How was the wall built?

This powerful learning provided students the freedom, yes freedom without expectations, to explore, experience and examine. Luckily, youngsters learn without the influence of adults. Students are capable and able to carry out their exploration of the wall and increase their awareness and understanding of the indoor garden.

How do you foster inquiry-based learning among your PreK and K students? How do we become reflective practitioners of our students’ discoveries and questions? How can we integrate the community to support higher order thinking skills in an engaging process-oriented project?

Join us April 16-21, 2023 as we engage in a week-long early childhood constructivist retreat in Trento, Italy and witness first-hand this very powerful work in real life applications at the Federazione Provinciale Scuole Materne in Trento, Italy.

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Sandra Duncan
Sandra Duncan
Dec 06, 2022

I am ready to register for the event in April and want to do before I make hotel and flight arrangements. How do I do this?

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