I had the privilege of joining to the teachers at the World Bank Children's Centers for a professional development day on August 28. I gave a talk about teacher-research and told some stories from my work, but things really got going when the topic of the teacher's role in an emergent curriculum came up.
It's a tricky question, for sure. It is easy to assume that the adult's role is a passive one in a school based on the child's interests. It is really quite the opposite, though, and many of the teachers at the World Bank gave examples of ways they manage to listen and respect children's choices while at the same time creating an atmosphere where children are challenged and feel safe to try new things. As someone said when I visited Reggio Emilia long ago, "We want the children to confront that which is uncomfortable" for them, as well as things that they are at ease with.
There is often a concern about coverage of academic information in this type of curriculum. But of course we all want the children to learn, and we want the ideas they engage with to provide rigor and relevance. That's one reason the teacher's role is so involved - we have to research and be prepared for all of the avenues an investigation might take. It is all of the work we do up front that makes the classroom seem so loose and free in the moment.
We talked about some of the tools that we have available to use. Teachers can manipulate the classroom environment to create spaces that invite children's research. We can set out objects, activities and materials that will provoke children's interests, and we can learn to ask just the right questions - ones that inspire children to want to learn more. We can also observe and come to know the child well, so that we can see those 'teachable moments' that are opportunities to go further with an idea.
One teacher talked about a moment in her classroom when a very young child who felt uncomfortable touching a sticky material the other children were using, went and got a block and joined in by "taking photographs" of the other children's work with it. Another told how she incorporates children's stories and story acting which help children take on each other's interests.
I really enjoyed meeting these teachers and learning a little about their school. I hope some of them will be inspired to try a bit of teacher-research. They certainly got me thinking!