The teaching principle of co-construction is based on the premise that knowledge gains clarity through negotiated analysis rather than listening and observation alone. One of the most prominent centers of co-construction in childhood education is located in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where teachers seek to uncover children’s beliefs on the topics to be investigated (Forman & Fyfe, 1998). Children are encouraged to talk and express their ideas; parents and other teachers are also included in the learning process. As a result, an educational community emerges, where meanings are negotiated toward shared understanding (Forman & Fyfe, 1998). Overall, co-construction can be explained as a highly inclusive educational technique with a primary goal of finding the meaning of things during the learning process.
Co-constructive teaching largely depends on environmental context, particularly on social and individual space at school. According to Gandini (1993), children co-construct their knowledge of the world through shared activities, communication, cooperation, and even conflict. Therefore, environmental context should facilitate encounters, interactions, and communications among the children and educators. Co-construction is significantly more likely to occur when the space guarantees well-being and interaction between children and adults. Gandini (1993) offers an example of the Diana School, which is designed as a reflection of society. Children and adults often meet in the school’s piazza (the Italian word for city square) and interact in the atelier (a common studio) between classes, which facilitates social interactions and opportunities for co-construction.
In regard to strategies for developing co-construction in children, I would likely use the pedagogy of listening. The essence of co-construction lies in finding the shared interpretation, the meaning of the world around us. As such, I would try to create what Rinaldi (2001, p.3) called a “listening context.” Through the mutual exchange of emotions, words, and interpretations with children, I would ensure that their perspective is valued. Consequently, I would become able to enrich their interpretations with my own, thus developing a co-constructed understanding of concepts.
Gender-Related Issues in the Classroom
In my opinion, a teacher should be aware of the following three gender-related issues in the classroom. Firstly, children from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds may have a different understanding of gender and gender roles in society. Secondly, gender may manifest itself in behavioral and social differences — for instance, girls may be shyer and quieter in the classroom, whereas boys may be more aggressive and even unruly. Lastly, gender may affect motivation for learning, especially in early childhood education. Boys may lose motivation to learn and become bored more easily.
The first issue can be addressed with the strategies applicable to working with linguistically and culturally diverse children. A teacher’s work lies in preserving and protecting a child’s native language and culture, not replacing them with desirable construct. In this regard, Chumak-Horbatsch (2004) suggests making every child accepted and wanted, emphasizing similarities before differences, and modifying negative attitudes toward different cultures. For example, a boy with a strict Muslim upbringing may oppose the idea of being taught by a woman. Instead of criticizing him and claiming that his beliefs are unacceptable, a female teacher should explain that she shares her knowledge and wisdom, which is welcomed in Muslim culture as well.
The second issue can be resolved via de-policing of the educational environment. Wien (2004) provided an example of the educational center, which had 26 strict rules for outdoor play. The teachers had to spend an immense amount of energy enforcing these rules. However, when the number of rules was reduced to five basic ones, such as “riding toys are for riding”, the atmosphere in the center became much quieter. The number of injury incidents in the 12-children class had dropped from 42 to 25 in one year (Wien, 2004). Therefore, gender-related aggression and disobedience can be addressed by letting children generate their rules and creating a feeling of belonging.
Finally, the problem of gender-based weak motivation for learning can be solved if a teacher adheres to the three C’s framework. According to Kohn (1993), students’ motivation increases when they work in collaboration, study content worth knowing, and possess freedom of choice. Collaboration improves students’ opinions about themselves, each other, and the subject they are studying. Interesting content that is neither too easy nor too difficult provides students with the challenge and intrinsic motivation. Finally, autonomy manifested in the freedom of choice in the curriculum prevents students from feeling insignificant and becoming bored. Overall, the incorporation of the three C’s by the teacher should improve engagement in learning even among the most restless boys.
Co-Construction and Beliefs in Life and Death
In the presented case, a teacher has to be especially sensitive about the child’s culture. Kazakhstan is a big country populated by various peoples — Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians, and many others. In addition, there are significant differences in culture and mentality between the urban residents of Kazakhstan and people who live in the rural and steppe areas of the country. Therefore, my understanding of the matters of life and death may either be quite similar to those of the child or completely different. A blunt answer can disappoint or frighten the child, which is the reaction I would like to avoid.
The co-constructive approach would help in developing a shared understanding of what happened to a snail. In my perspective, a snail ceased to exist, and its body will decompose once we dispose of it. Even though a snail is a living, sentient creature, its death will not produce a significant impact. A snail is not sapient, and it will never go to special heaven for snails if you feel spiritual. However, the 4–7-year-old children are already capable learners who can be protagonists of their education (Wien, 2005). As such, the child’s perspective on death and life is equally valuable to mine. Given this notion, I would answer the child’s question with a question of my own. I would initiate a dialogue in order to elicit the child’s opinion and beliefs. By doing that, I would avoid cultural insensitivity on my part and offer the child an opportunity to present their interpretation of the snail’s death.
Listening connects our perspectives and facilitates the co-construction of shared understanding. According to Rinaldi (2001), listening should recognize the value of the other’s point of view and produce further questions, not answers. Instead of imposing my understanding of the situation on the child, I would encourage them to speak and listen, thus giving value to their perspective. Understanding and awareness are generated through sharing and dialogue (Rinaldi, 2001). In this regard, our conversation would serve to co-constructing the matters of life and death in the child’s mind without violating their psychological comfort and cultural imprints.
Chumak-Horbatsch, R. (2004). Linguistic diversity in early childhood education: Working with linguistically and culturally diverse children. Canadian Children, 20-24.
Forman, G., & Fyfe, B. (1998). Negotiated learning through design, documentation, and discourse. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini & G. Forman (Eds.), The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach — advanced reflections (pp. 239–260). Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Gandini, L. (1993). Educational and caring spaces. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini & G. Forman (Eds.), The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education (pp. 135–149). Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Kohn, A. (1993). Hooked on learning: The roots of motivation in the classroom. In A. Kohn (Ed.), Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Houghton Mifflin Company.
Rinaldi, C. (2001). The pedagogy of listening: The listening perspective from Reggio Emilia. Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange, 8(4), 1-4.
Wien, C. A. (2004). From policing to participation: Overturning the rules and creating amiable classrooms. YC Young Children, 59(1), 34-40.
Wien, C. A. (2005). Six short reasons why pedagogy matters in schools. Canadian Children, 30(1), 21-26.