“Wait, I have another idea!”
A small group of children from Room 4 were in my office this week, investigating how to store their bowling alley (yes, they have been building a bowling alley!) over the summer months.
They came to me with their problem (“We don’t want it to get ruined!”) and, true to our pedagogical approach, rather than provide them with an answer, their teacher and I prodded them with a series of questions:
How do you store things at home to keep them out of reach of your younger siblings? Where in the JCC do we already store things? How have you been storing it in the classroom so far? What will happen if your store it in the office?
We danced around these questions, listening to their answers rather than providing our own. And then, again true to our training as Reggio-inspired educators, there was a lull in the conversation. A quiet moment.
It is in those quiet moments that learning and growth occur. It is in those quiet moments that our brains are working, churning through the conversation, and ideating novel solutions to the problem in front of us. It is in those quiet moments that we have our new ideas.
And so one of the students broke the silence with that most delicious phrase for educators to hear: “I have another idea.” This phrase, and the immense cognitive work that it takes to arrive at, are precisely what will drive this student through a life of learning, through their entire trajectory as a student. This notion of coming up with new ideas to solve problems is exactly what our students need: in nursery school, K-12, college, graduate school, and eventually (!) the workplace. We never stop needing new ideas; they never become less valuable.
The trick is, while you can “teach” discrete content – seasons, state capitals, how to spell your name – you can’t “teach” how to come up with new ideas. This is where our Reggio-inspired approach comes in. A Reggio approach emphasizes two crucial ingredients which led the Room 4 students to keep coming up with new ideas: metacognitive skill development and intrinsic motivation.
“Eager to Learn: Education Our Preschoolers,” a three-year study commissioned by the Department of Education, written by 17 experts serving as the Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy, and published by the National Research Council finds that:
Metacognitive skill development allows children to solve problems more effectively. Curricula that encourage children to reflect, predict, question, and hypothesize (examples: How many will there be after two numbers are added? What happens next in this story? Will it sink or float?) set them on course for effective, engaged learning.
Solving problems by looking at them, turning them around, and reflecting on multiple solutions: these metacognitive skills are exactly what our Reggio-inspired approach emphasizes for our students. You’ll note that this is written explicitly into our school’s Philosophy statement. It states that our school “strives to create inspired and cooperative learners…who can work collaboratively to solve problems with fortitude and tenacity.” I love that “tenacity” is included in there. This is what pushed the students in Room 4 to keep going, to keep ideating, to keep THINKING as they approached their problem. This is why you will hear your children’s teachers use, over and over again, phrases such as:
Why do you think that? What do you mean by that question? How do you know that? How else can you try it?
The other ingredient, intrinsic motivation, is what many of you heard me refer to on your admissions tour as our “secret weapon” when it comes to learning. The National Mental Health and Education Center puts it in black-and-white terms: “Children learn more” when intrinsically motivated:
A highly motivated child will stay involved for a long period of time, whereas an unmotivated child will give up very easily when not instantly successful. Children learn persistence when they are successful at a challenging task.
The students in Room 4 stuck with their problem because it wasn’t concocted for them by the teachers; they were not talking about an abstraction. They were talking about their bowling alley. They needed an answer because they needed an answer, not because their teachers had prepared an activity for them which they had to complete. It was theirs because the whole project arose from a stray student comment in October about a bowling trip from the previous weekend with his family; it was theirs because they had conquered each and every problem that arose over the past several months as they visited a bowling alley and then built their own.
So when we combine metacognitive skill development and intrinsic motivation, we get tenacious problem solvers who are able to not only learn discrete content-based information but apply that information as they go about solving problems. We get children who come up with ideas. We get students who are set up for a life filled with learning at every stage.
See here for the latest from Tovah Klein, on “saying goodbye and celebrating school endings.” I always find her insights crisp, clear, and productive in our relationships with young children.
“Wait, I have another idea!”