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Listening, Observing, Reflecting, and Reponding

When children feel they are not being listened to, they don’t have anything to say. 
-Sergio Spaggiari, Director, Reggio Emilia municipal preschools from a talk given at Reggio Emilia in 1994


content for this post was taken from: We Are All Explorers: Learning and Teaching with Reggio Principles in an Urban Setting.

Teachers listen to and observe children’s actions, intentions,conversations, statements, emotional expressions, and representations. They listen and observe in order to discover the children’s interests and ideas, curiosities, strengths, feelings, and meanings. They reflect on what they have heard or observed, and respond by providing learning opportunities, challenges, and facilitative structures to children.  (p.4)

Listening, observing, reflecting, and responding are aspects of a cyclical process that promotes DIALOGUE.  For example, the teacher responds through her understanding of what she has heard and observed, and the child responds to the teacher’s response and thus gives her the opportunity to listen to the child and/or observe the child further. The child’s meanings are not always expressed verbally; they may be implicit in actions, gestures, or facial expressions.  But the process is a dialogue nonetheless. (p.17)

Who’s Agenda?

Teachers have learning agendas for children that come from their own school and family experience, from their training in education, and from requirements of the school’s learning expectations. The agendas tend to be expressed as “shoulds.”  The crux of the agendas issue is that the teacher’s primary focus on her own agenda can seriously interfere with her being able to listen and respond to the child’s agenda (i.e., the child’s interests and learning motivations). Teachers are encouraged to set aside their own agendas when those agenda interfere with listening to the children. However, this is not to say that teachers should not have agendas.  Karen Haigh (director of Chicago Commons) speaks to this distinction:

There is nothing wrong with the teacher having an agenda. It’s just a matter of understanding that your agenda may not be the child’s agenda. To assume that it is, is going to leave the child not being very interested in pursuing anything. If teachers only follow their own agenda, the child can become disinterested in learning. The learning becomes too disconnected from the child and his life. We want to support children’s investment in learning, and there is a great danger in destroying motivation to learn when the interests being pursued are only the teacher’s and not the child’s. I want to say that this is much easier to talk about than it is to do. (p.18)

The key here is that it natural and appropriate for teachers to have learning agendas for children. The important thing, however, is that the teacher not assume that the child’s agenda is the same as hers and that the teacher not let her own agenda interfere with listening to the child. (p29)


“The importance of listening is the key. Listening gives value to the person who is speaking. Unfortunately few people listen to the children…To listen is to go through the adventure of research that leads us to a new road. We have to be willing to discover something new. We have to be ready to notice a signal, a change taking place. We have to be ready for the unpredictable. (Sergio Spagiari, director of program at Reggio Emilia) (p.144)

Listening is a reflective process…because when you are listening you ar asking questions and you are questioning yourself. The more you listen, the intrigued you get and the more questions you can ask….When you are asking questions you are getting into a dialogue…Listening gives value to the other person….Listening has a purpose. It’s going to be used somewhere within your classroom, or as a way to change or a way to grow. (p.144-145)

Documentation is listening. Listening legitimizes the other’s point of view. If we don’t listen, then we are only valuing our own point of view. (p. 147)