What Can Gifted Education Learn From the Reggio Emilia Approach?

Presenter(s): Martina Brazzolotto , Connie Phelps , Joyce Miller

Gifted Education provides child-centered individualized learning experiences designed to advance abilities and talents of children and adolescents identified with advanced abilities. Specialized services often begin in the primary grades and extend through secondary schools. Adapted instruction often focuses on cognitive abilities based on individual goals and objectives with emphases on flexibility, complexity and independence. Children qualify for services based on high scores on intelligence tests, standardized achievement measures, and other evidence of advanced potential. Teachers with specialized training plan instruction that extends the general education curriculum, and they measure student progress at regular intervals. Loris Malaguzzi conceived the Reggio Emilia Approach for young children whom he considered active citizens and builders of knowledge. Instruction takes place based on their interests and curiosities from birth onward. Given essential commonalities, our study asked how curriculum based on the Reggio Emilia Approach compared with Gifted Education practices. We conducted our study with 12 hours of onsite visits in three locations: Midwest United States, Southwest United States, and North Italy. Our investigation compared eight dynamics considered essential in Gifted Education: differentiated content, process, and product; roles of the teacher, student, and parent, and strategic collaboration and assessment practices. Examples of curricula from the three locations illustrate Reggio Emilia Approach principles and practices. For example, young learners in in the Midwest school explored the digestive system by doing chemical experiments with different liquids, then drawing a human figure and studying parts of the human body. To satisfy the curiosities of the children, they discussed medical case study pathologies that could affect different body organs, and they proposed treatments for those conditions. Finally, they learned body parts in Spanish. In the Southwestern location, children observed a hawk on the school grounds that led to a study of bird nests, observation of wing bone structures, and principles of aviation. In North Italy, when four-year olds learned the age of their school building, they reflected on the birth and development of living things as well as inanimate things. Children explored life by drawing hearts and using balls of wool in the atelier. Children learned “life is like a thread that crosses and unites all things.” In this way, children explored scientific, poetic and philosophical concepts throughout their study. These examples typify the immediacy of learning in the Reggio Emilia Approach with its emphasis on process and child as a competent constructor of knowledge. Children collaboratively share their interests, and they cultivate talents in specific sections of human activities. Teachers serve as co-researchers and support the 100 Languages of learning through various materials in ateliers with conceptual stimuli so each child freely expresses their preferred language in order to develop their talents. These “provocations” emerge democratically based on interests of children, and teachers stimulate reflection throughout the learning process. The environment functions as a “third teacher” in the classroom, and children possess rights, respect, and dignity. Talent of children blossoms early in rich learning environments empowered by discovery. Implementing practices from the Reggio Emilia Approach could benefit Gifted Education.