The Friday of Easter Long Weekend, 2011.
I remember the ‘date’ clearly. A few days prior, I had read an article titled “Consider the Walls” by Patricia Tarr (2004) where she suggested “classroom environments are public statements about the educational values of the institution and the teacher” (p. 2). For some reason, this statement resonated with me deeply. Over the course of the week I began to take a look at my classroom and ask myself – what values did it reflect? The ‘word wall’ (bought from the local educational shop) was written in large typed font bearing no resemblance to the handwriting of any of the children in my classroom, the ‘number line’ (also brought from the same shop) offered little meaning except for its neatly spaced numbers in perfect sequential order, our bulletin boards were filled with neatly selected uniform artwork, our ‘centers’ were a series of predetermined activities with materials selected for young children by the teacher – the list went on. I realized that the classroom was more mine than theirs – this made me uncomfortable.
This was also the first time I learned about the Reggio Emilia philosophy. It intrigued me. That Friday, I requested several garbage bins from our custodian, stayed late after school, and took down everything. The walls were bare. I wondered what the children would think when they came into the classroom and ‘everything was gone’ – what would I tell them? After a few minutes of standing in our empty classroom, I realized that the answer was quite simple – the classroom belonged to them. They would decide what went on our walls, and more importantly, they would create what went on our walls. . This was also the first time I learned about the Reggio Emilia philosophy. It intrigued me. I wondered, how could I find a way to use the Reggio Emilia philosophy to complement the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program?
As I reflect on the start of a new school year and think about how I will continue to refine my teaching practice, a few things strike me about our ‘walls’ from the past, that I’d like to share:
As I head into school this week, I am thinking lots about how the ‘walls’ in our classroom can express the unique identities and experiences of young children and their families. Perhaps this will mean making more of our dialogue visible and documenting more of our processes rather than displaying ‘final’ works of art.
It is interesting to note the difference between a ‘display’ and ‘documentation’ on our walls, and the purpose served by each:
Documentation differs from display in that it includes explanatory text and children’s own words, helping the viewer understand children’s thinking and their processes rather than just end products. Documentation is ongoing and part of planning and assessment. It encourages children to revisit an experience and to share a memory together. It can provide opportunities for further exploration or new directions. Tarr, 2004, p. 3
In contrast, a display can be considered decorative; leaving the voices of children ‘invisible’, a display becomes a product that is unable to be revisited as sites of learning among educators, young children and their families (Tarr, 2004).
In an effort to ‘consider the walls’, I am going to ask more questions:
- Is it a display or documentation?
- Who is the documentation for? Other Educators? Children? Families?
- What learning is visible? Are children’s ideas clearly communicated?
- Do the children have a say where the documentation is placed?
- What purpose does the documentation serve? Is it decorative or educational?
I think it is important to remember while studies have shown that a neutral classroom environment can be beneficial for young children (Rinaldi, 2006; Tarr, 2004), it does not necessarily mean that the diverse cultures and identities of young children, families and communities are automatically represented in the learning space (Tarr, 2004), therefore, to further extend democratic participation in our learning environments, educators must reflect on how to include issues of gender, identity, ethnicity and culture into the classroom (Rinaldi, 2006; Robinson, & Jones-Diaz, 2005; Tarr, 2004).
As a starting point for the new school year, I am going to focus more on ensuring the identities of young children are visible on our walls, after all, the classroom belongs to them.
The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people – Author Unknown
Rinaldi, C. (2006). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, researching and learning. Psychology Press.
Robinson, K., & Jones Diaz, C. (2005). Diversity And Difference In Early Childhood Education: Issues For Theory And Practice: n/a. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
Tarr, P. (2004). Consider the walls. Young Children, 59(3), 88-92.