At the beginning of the year, K1 students are asked a question: “What is your world?” This question, both broad and provocative, gives children the opportunity to describe what is meaningful to them as they start their first year of school at UWCSEA. They then reflect on this question at home and at school, collecting evidence of their understanding using photographs, drawings and words.
The question launches the Reggio-inspired metaproject, a year-long study where children’s interests and questions guide the year’s learning programme. Instead of organising the curriculum into units that all four K1 classes explore at the same time, the metaproject gives teachers the ability to be flexible and responsive to children’s inquiries. Big ideas emerge from play and tinkering, allowing students to build curiosity, research skills and a love of learning. In the metaproject, the UWCSEA curriculum and student interests merge to create a unique study tailored to each class. Grade level benchmarks and essential understandings are taught using student questions as an entry point.
Why does K1 use a metaproject approach?
When young children encounter new materials and explore them with their peers, ideas start flowing. One child’s thoughts about the world are rapidly expanded by other children in the class. Individual sharing soon becomes collective investigation; a group of friends decides to find out more and answer their questions.
The metaproject harnesses this natural curiosity to engage students in deep, meaningful learning. By being sensitive to the ideas children bring to the classroom, teachers can provide ‘just right’ teaching, identifying concepts and skills that are appropriate as next learning steps. Because next steps emerge from student questions and comments, students are motivated and inspired to learn more. This curricular approach values the experiences young children bring to the classroom, giving them an authentic space to share their voice. At the centre of this approach is validating each child as a capable and competent learner.
How do teachers tap into student ideas for the metaproject?
As Forman and Fyfe (2012) describe the Reggio Emilia approach, “The curriculum is child-originated and teacher-framed.” Within the K1 metaproject, teachers play a vital role in constructing an environment that allows student interests and questions to emerge. This environment allows teachers to act as researchers, looking for momentary learning encounters that can lead to long-term investigations.
Using children’s initial thoughts from their “What is your world?” mind maps, teachers set up provocations and play-based activities to invite children to talk, create and think about particular concepts. At the beginning of the school year, children’s interests in maps and geographic features of the world are evident in Discovery Time activities. As the year progresses, these learning engagements change frequently to reflect the growing thinking of each class.
In addition to listening to students as they work with others, teachers utilise student investigation notebooks to take class inquiries further. These notebooks document student thinking as well as develop metacognitive strategies. Each week, students add to their notebooks with drawings (and later words) to describe memorable experiences they had during Discovery Time. Teachers analyse these entries to identify areas to develop in future sessions.
The K1 metaproject puts students at the heart of the curriculum; their questions and thoughts drive each individual class investigation. By introducing children to the idea of school in this way, students recognise their ability to be self-directed learners and develop the qualities and mindset of a researcher.
Forman, G. and Fyfe, B. (2012) Negotiated learning through design, documentation and discourse. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini and G. Forman (Eds) The Hundred Languages of Children (Third edn). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.