Thoughts on George Foreman’s “The Use of Digital Media in Reggio Emilia”

Mr. Forman is an American scholar who has worked extensively with the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The essay is a chapter out of the book The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation. 

This essay gave me a lot of inspiration, and some affirmation. Forman’s writing gives a lot of hints into the process of decision making that Reggio educators make, and sets an example that I really hope Mint Leaf can strive for. It also gave me a lot of hope that we are on the right track in choosing to document our program via video in hopes of sharing our process so that we might learn from reflection, and from feedback we receive by making our own education project open to so many people.

Early in the essay, Forman talks about using digital technology to update the practice of giving students portfolios of their work upon graduation. “These CDs capture the actual process of an experience at school in ways not possible with the older practice of giving the children a portfolio filled with notes, photographs and drawings from the previous year.”

I have worked at Reggio Inspired schools in the past that keep an on-going portfolio of children’s work. It’s a great idea, but I agree that a physical book of paintings can be cumbersome. At the same time, people do like keeping photo albums, and physical media. Perhaps we can create a hybrid system, where we do give graduates a compact physical reflection, along with media files. The physical gift could be a book that includes photographs of children’s artwork and school days. The media files could be video and audio, things that you cannot put in a book. 

Later on he discusses introducing new technologies to the classroom, and then debate that is had between teachers on whether or not to include new technologies that can do basically the same thing as older technologies”

“But why would one want to do this?

No doubt the reasons were discussed in staff meetings. There was no assumption that new media was inherently better than old media. In Reggio, there has to be a reason that derives from their understanding of how children learn or what the media affords.”

My big takeaway here is that the educators introduce new technology for a specific reason, not simply because they can. As an educator, I think it’s always important to reflect on why things are done certain ways, or why certain materials are used or not used. It is also important to understand that older media and technology may still provide meaningful educational experiences for young children in ways that are different from new technology. 

Another key concept in this passage is the mention of staff meetings. Programs that give time for staff to discuss real issues about education will have more success in building a dynamic program that has lofty goals and standards. 

Here he describes an example of in-depth work being used to enhance a project:

“The images were not generic stock photographs but instead were the actual photographs the children had taken as they marked the itinerary with orange yarn. These personal photographs helped the children remember all of the emotions, conversations, and jokes that previously happened as they were laying out the yarn. The children both remembered and invented as they worked on the computer.

This strategy of putting the children’s real world into the virtual world has great merit. We have seen educators in Reggio use this strategy even before they had digital media, such as supporting children to “enter” the projection of an enlarged image of the park fountain, a photograph they had taken. The slide projector casts the fountain on the children who then pretend to be the fountain or drink from the fountain or dodge the fountain spray. The compression of the virtual and the real gives new meaning to both.”

It is really important that teachers understand the power of moving beyond clip art and stock photos. Using images from the children’s lives, and even images that the children produce has great power for education. As is shown here, it helps improve memory, and gives the children a sense of ownership of their education.

In terms of “putting the children’s real world into the virtual world,” it would be great to have Mint Leaf Teachers reflect on ways they can do that, or even on ways they have already done that. I know that there has been talk about setting up a green screen at the Nagano Mint Leaf school.

Below is another description of uses of multiple technologies in a classroom:

“children recorded the sounds of raindrops hitting car tops, puddles, and the open pavement and the sounds of cars swishing over wet roadways. They translated these sounds into marks, some rows of dots, some coiled swirls, depending on the quality and rhythm of the recorded sounds. These cross-modal representations have continued with digital media. Children speak into a computer and see representations of the loudness and frequency presented on the screen. From this real-time, machine-generated representation of their own voices, they create new classes of marks when they work with paper and pen.”

Here, we have an example of a really rich activity. It involves technology, recording sound, then another technology, drawing out representations of those sounds, then a higher technology, looking at the sound waves on a computer, then going back and drawing or revising the marks that they drew from the original recording. This is a really deep activity that takes a slow build approach to profound learning. It is an example of what I mean when I talk to teachers about focusing on “process.” It is also an example of early use of the scientific process, and revising one’s work. 

Lastly, Foreman talks about the potential of using video to explain complex experiences and stories in a more immediate way than through writing alone. “The index helps you remember the story, and the story opens you to a better application than would some decontextualized principle of practice or carefully worded standard of performance.”

This is where I feel like we are on the right path at Mint Leaf. We are already creating videos that document our principles of practice and standards of performance. Eventually, we will have an easy-to-navigate web page where teachers can access past videos on topics that relate to their teaching. 

In terms of using digital video in the classroom, next steps we could take could be getting more digital recording devices so that teachers could get more raw footage of the learning that goes on in their classrooms. Before that, though, or simultaneously with that, I think there is work to do to get teachers prepared to document their classrooms. Recently I have sensed some reservation from teachers who are new to having cameras in their classrooms. I think that time, and dialogue will get us to the point of teachers looking at cameras in the classroom as a positive tool to help their teaching. Does anybody have experience having their classrooms recorded, or with reflecting on videos of their classrooms? Please comment below so we can talk about this or any other education related topics. 

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