Archive for May, 2014

The Fieldwork of Our Profession

Posted 09 May 2014 — by Jennifer
Category observation, role of teacher, Uncategorized


I watched carefully as a male catbird puffed up his chest, threw up his head, and crept closer to a female sitting on the telephone wire.  Puff up chest, side step to the right, puff up chest, side step to the right, until a second male came in for a challenge. Nonplussed, the female flew off, both males trailing her through the woods.

I surprised myself, being able to read the language of birds. After a one-semester class on animal behavior, I have learned how to look, how to observe, and how to figure out some of the culture and communication of animals. Before this class I would have noticed something going on with the catbirds, but I would not have understood the behavior. It took a mediator, the teacher and the other students in the class, and above all, field work–real time observation of animals with colleagues–in order for me to learn this language.

The same kind of mediation, or scaffolding, is helpful in learning how to observe in our classrooms, learning how to read and interpret what we notice, and also to notice more. I remember a story published in Innovations (V. 18, n.1, Winter 2011), called Francesco and the Paper Tube.  Francesco (about 6 months old), playing with large paper covering the floor, tears off a large piece. It rolls up on itself, and he picks up a marker and puts it into the paper tube. A common situation-which could have a common interpretation about cause and effect, or balance, or gravity. But the educators in Reggio saw something else in that episode, they saw the empathy with which Francesco held the paper tube to keep it intact, his sensitivity–he didn’t crush the paper tube, but was delicate, and careful with his touch.

Before reading the article, I never would have thought of empathy in that situation.  Making the documentation–the story and the interpretation–accessible to others helps me to see differently.  I have a new point of reference in my repertoire, a different sense of what could be, what is possible. The power of documentation is this incredible opportunity for us to see the world through more points of view, to offer additional perspectives. Reflecting together, analyzing and synthesizing collaboratively, “doing together,” is the field work of our profession.