EI Talk: A Blog for Early
Childhood Professionals

Universal Design for Learning: The Case for UDL Lesson on Knowledge Production around 9/11

Jinseul Jun (SFS ’20) February 04, 2020

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

UDL is a framework that “guides the shift from designing learning environments and lessons with potential barriers to designing barrier-free, instructionally rich learning environments and lessons that provide access to all students.” Ronald Mace, an architect, wheelchair user, and the founder of the Center coined the phrase, Universal Design, for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Mace and the Center for Universal Design developed seven elements of Universal Design. Universal Design is applied to the built environment.

According to Mace a universally designed environment is:

    1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
    2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
    3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
    4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
    5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
    6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
    7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

    From: Rossetti, R. (2006). The Seven Principles of Universal Design. Action Magazine. Available at: https://www.udll.com/media-roo...

    Based on the elements of universal design, UDL is used in educational settings and is based on three main principles:

    • Engagement: multiple ways to prime the students to learn and sustain their interest.
    • Action and Expression: multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned beyond a pencil-and-paper test.
    • Representation: multiple ways to offer information including text, audio, video and hands-on learning materials.

    Why use UDL as opposed to other teaching frameworks?

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is considered a framework as opposed to curriculum thus teachers are in full control of designing the learning environment and lessons accessible to all students. UDL is an invitation for educators to get “creative” with their teaching and learning approaches within existing systems. Inherent to designing lessons that are universally accessible is a commitment to flexibility. Flexibility encompasses flexible goals, methods, materials, assessments and evaluations. Educational lessons and materials designed with UDL assist all learners (disabled or not) to access learning activities, educational products, and environments. Creating learning that considers all learners requires us to consider all characteristics such as those related to gender, race and ethnicity, age, stature, disability, and learning styles. Children with and without disabilities benefit from applying the Universal Design for Learning in education curriculum as UDL seeks to meet the needs of all students.

    UDL is increasingly incorporated into the classroom. The application of UDL in a classroom entails ensuring a space that is welcoming, comfortable, accessible, and functional to all students. A universally designed classroom furniture, for example, should be adjustable in height and can be easily arranged to accommodate different learning styles, activities, and groupings. A simple yet important example would be the type of door handle. An accessible door should feature a level door handle, rather than a doorknob, as the latter requires tight grasping and turning to operate – which may be inaccessible to some students. In addition to such features, the following aspects should also be considered for a UDL-applied classroom: class climate, interaction (not just between students, but also between students, instructors, and staff), information resources and technology, feedback, and delivery methods.

    9/11: A Case for Implementing a UDL Framework

    9/11 is perceived as one of the seminal moments in history to have affected both U.S. domestic and foreign policy, but teaching the events and aftermath of 9/11 may be challenging in a traditional classroom. Teachers often face a dilemma as 1) what to do when the anniversary of 9/11 comes around every year and 2) how to address the 9/11 events in a classroom in a meaningful way for all students. In addition, teachers do not have a set curriculum mandated by the Department of Education; and a majority of states’ standards do not mention 9/11 in their high school standards. To complicate matters even further, the events of 9/11 continue to be compounded with more issues, adding more complexities to the existing issues at hand. In other words, our knowledge of 9/11 evolves with time and space. So, how can we meaningfully make sense of 9/11 and its subsequent events and sustain engagement in classrooms? How can students, with or without disabilities, make sense of this?

    In response to this challenge, there is a plethora of resources related to 9/11 both in print and on the web for educators to use to discuss this complex subject. The Department of Education has a selected list of lesson plans including Positive School Climate and 9/11 and 9/11 and the Constitution. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum also provides lesson plans for grades 9-12 on a wide range of topics such as The Women of 9/11, The Dogs of 9/11, and musical tributes. If all these resources are already available, then why use UDL?

    Universal Design for Learning is not to replace the curriculum nor disregard newly developed materials. The call for UDL lessons is to encourage educators to recognize and understand that these resources are part of the larger knowledge production processes and continue to think about the ways in which we intentionally and effectively engage all students with various learning styles on the topic of 9/11. It is an open invitation for educators to explore options and opportunities available to design their environment and lesson on this topic so all students have access to learning. UDL is a framework that allows for the time and space for both educators and students to intentionally and comprehensively engage with knowledge that continuously gets produced regarding complex issues like 9/11.

    Much of discussion on 9/11 in- and outside the classrooms falls into two categories: 1) public service and remembrance and 2) global terrorism. And much of discussion about 9/11 is obscured by the failure to distinguish between the events of 9/11 and the produced knowledge about the events. What is important, then, is to remember that the event itself is not controversial. What is at the center of debate is not the events that took place on 9/11, but rather the subsequent events, policies implemented by centralized government institutions, and the effect these had on different groups in our society. By applying UDL in a lesson, shifting our attention from what to teach to both how and what to engage, educators can go beyond teaching about the facts of 9/11 and can address the ways in which we produce knowledge about this particular event.

    Applying UDL in a classroom is in no way to serve as a panacea to addressing challenges involved in teaching complex issues, but is rather an approach that welcomes teachers to utilize principles of flexibility and choice embedded in UDL to engage with difficult topics such as 9/11 in a meaningful way. In applying the UDL framework to a classroom, educators partake in the knowledge production processes by 1) understanding how structure of the class (e.g. physical space and curriculum) impacts the ways in which students interact with idea(s) and 2) designing a curriculum unit accordingly. Incorporating a creative twist to traditional course content and foregoing a strict commitment to chronological frames may be helpful in classroom discussions.

    The goal of UDL based curriculum unit is not to reach a sound conclusion about this complex topic that students can walk away with by the end of the lesson. It is rather to welcome students to realize that there is no one “right” way to make sense of the events of 9/11, and to recognize that not every perspective on 9/11 has an equal value!


    About UDL. CAST. Available from: castprofessionallearning.org/about-udl/.

    Balakit, M, et al. (2006). Teaching 9/11: To Them, It's History, Just like Pearl Harbor. USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network. Available from: www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/09/08/how-schools-teach-911/89675850/.

    Hartley, M. (2015). Shifting the conversation: Improving Access with Universal Design. Exhibitionist, 34(2), 42-45.

    Hulette, E. (2011). Teaching 9/11: Attacks Prominent in History Textbooks. Pilot. Available from: pilotonline.com/news/local/education/article_9dafb332-7f5c-5582-b435-336a010b6106.html.

    Robelen, E. (2019). Majority of States' Standards Don't Mention 9/11. Education Week, 21 Feb. Available from: www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/08/31/02sept11_ep.h31.html.

    The Traditional Classroom Works so Why Change It? ESchool News, 22 Feb. 2017. Available from: www.eschoolnews.com/2017/02/23...

    United in Remembrance, Divided over Policies. (2018). Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 24 Sept. 2018, Available from: www.people-press.org/2011/09/01/united-in-remembrance-divided-over-policies/

    Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications. Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications | DO-I. Available from: www.washington.edu/doit/universal-design-education-principles-and-applications.



    Your UDL Lesson Planner by Patti Ralabate

    Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning by Loui Lord Nelson

    UDL Now! by Katie Novak

    A wide selection of books are found at CAST Publishing

    Free Resources:

    UDL in 15 Minutes: A podcast where educators are interviewed about their implementation of UDL. There is a straight podcast or you can use YouTube and hear the same information with pictures (www.theudlapproach.com/media)

    Go to www.understood.org and use the search feature (the magnifying glass in the upper right hand corner) to search for UDL. There are some great pieces in there. Two of them include a comparison table about traditional classrooms and classrooms implementing UDL and a video of a teacher about his use of the framework and why he uses it.

    CAST designed resources can be obtained at www.castprofressionallearning....

    www.learningdesigned.org: A platform built by the UDL-IRN (affiliated with CAST) where people in the field submit resources for dissemination.

    Jinseul Jun (GU Global Health Fellow, SFS ’20)

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    Ready or Not? Early Childhood Teachers and Children with Disabilities

    Seher Emmez (GUCEI ’18) September 30, 2019

    As an Early Childhood Teacher in my native Turkey and here in the United States, I did not feel I had enough knowledge about working with infants, toddlers, and young children with disabilities to include them in programming or be an effective teacher. For example, I did not know what the common developmental delays and disabilities were; how to support children with developmental delays and disabilities in a classroom; nor the significant role the family plays in this process. I had five years of teaching experience in Turkey but did not think that I had worked with children with developmental delays or disabilities. However, now that I have more knowledge about disabilities, I think I probably did. I just did not notice that some of my students had a delay or a disability because I lacked the knowledge about developmental delays and disabilities. It was a difficult realization because I believe in the significant role of early childhood educators have in identifying and developing appropriate interventions for the ultimate learning and development of children with delays and disabilities.

    As I entered my second year in graduate school in the United States, I added specialized training in early intervention through the Georgetown University Graduate Certificate in Early Intervention program as an opportunity to learn more about infants, toddlers and young children with disabilities. I learned many things but most of all, I learned four things all early childhood teachers should know to feel prepared to teach ALL children:

    1. Knowledge about specific disabilities or developmental delays is not enough;
    2. We need strategies to ensure all children are included in our classrooms;
    3. Families are key for all children; and
    4. We need more information about the culture and language diversity of the students we teach.

    Knowledge about developmental delays and disabilities is not enough. We also need to understand what to do to assess a young child’s needs and know where to get help. As I have gotten experience as a substitute teacher, I have seen several children with developmental delays or disabilities in regular education classrooms with classroom teachers. Some teachers were able to support those children and some were not. When I questioned myself on my ability to confidently and competently teach the children, my answer was a resounding, “not sure”. Given that I had no experience at American public schools and limited education about inclusion, I could not say that “Yes! I can do it!” when I looked into this a bit more, I found that it was not just me. Content about educating children with developmental delays or disabilities is not required (Horm, Hyson & Winton, 2013) in forty percent of all early childhood teacher preparation programs. Although, inclusion has been found to be one of the best practices for ALL children (Devarakonda, 2013), early childhood teacher preparation programs do not require training working in this area few teachers feel prepared to support children with disabilities..

    Early childhood teachers need to know there are already sets of strategies that can help. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one of them. “UDL is a philosophy and a variety of multiple approaches to make learning accessible to a wide range of students” (Basham, et al., 2010 as cited in Carnahan, Crowley, Holness, 2016, p. 11). Through a responsive and flexible curriculum, UDL provides options for presenting information, responding, and showing students’ skills and knowledge and the engagement of students in learning (Ralabate, 2011). For example, brain-breaks, graffiti boards or problem-solving checklists are some of the UDL-aligned strategies to improve engagement, representation, and expression. For more information please visit http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl. Early childhood technical assistance center-ectacenter.org/topics/atech/udl.asp

    Key to successful inclusion is partnering with families and other service providers. . We sometimes take for granted families of children in our classrooms, although families are one of the important pillars of child development. In philosophy, both Early Interventionists and Early Childhood Educators emphasize the importance of family engagement. However, in practice, Early Childhood Educators fail to engage families in their children’s development and education.

    Since from the beginning of the Georgetown University Graduate Certificate in Early Intervention program, we are taught how we should meet the families’ needs, value their priorities, and embrace their differences because the child is also a member of the family and family has a great impact on child’s development (Keilty, 2010). At the end of the program, I had the chance of learning how it looks in practice through practicing a coaching session and watching my colleagues’ coaching sessions. It was amazing to see how early interventionists respected families’ differences, shared decision makings or let families do the activities. Those were interactive relationships. I also had lots of experiences through long-term and short-term substitute teaching at several public schools across Fairfax County in Virginia. Unfortunately, when compared to the early interventionists, early childhood teachers have limited relationships with children’s families especially families who are more diverse or have multiple and varied challenges, concerns, and priorities and limited resources.

    Given to the increasing diversity in the United States, not having strong relationships with children’s families might be a big problem for the development and academic well-being of growing generations. Therefore, early childhood educators have an important role to remove challenges and augment family engagement. Integrating different cultures into curriculum and classroom is an effective way to have families feel welcomed. Moreover, asking parents their opinions and sharing decisions help them feel heard and engaged.

    Through the Georgetown University Graduate Certificate in Early Intervention program I improved my knowledge about infants, toddlers and young children’s development, characteristics of common disabilities, how to support children with developmental delays and disabilities, the role of families in children’s development and the importance of collaboration with other team members. As a prospective early childhood teacher, I hope to learn more about innovations in supporting children with disabilities.


    Carnahan, C. D., Crowley, K. & Holness, P. (2016). Implementing Universal Design for Learning. Global Education, 2016(4). 10-19.

    Devarakonda, C. (2013). Diversity and inclusion in early childhood: An introduction. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Horm, D. M., Hyson, Marilou & Winton, P. J. (2013). Research on Early Childhood Teacher Education: Evidence from Three Domains and Recommendations for Moving Forward. Early Childhood Teacher Education, 34(1). 95-112.

    Ralabate, P. K. (2011). Universal Design for Learning: Meeting the Needs of All Students. Retrieved from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/universal-design-learning-meeting-needs-all-students

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    Facilitating Attuned Interactions (FAN) and Its Relevance to EI Services

    Latay Benson March 08, 2019

    Working with families in early intervention is a rewarding area of service provision. Working in collaboration with families requires service providers to develop meaningful relationships which can be smooth or not so smooth. Oftentimes, the unique challenges of families require us to be sensitive to changing needs. In these moments, it is imperative for the provider to be able to self-reflect as well as reflecting on the emotional status of the family, and how those emotions are affecting the current situation.

    The Fussy Baby Network (FBN) has developed a model called the "FAN" or Facilitating Attuned Interactions, which helps providers to become more attuned to the concerns, needs, and feelings of the families they serve to improve provider-parent relationships and promote reflective practice (Gilkerson, 2015). The overall goal of the FAN is to increase parent capacity and self-efficacy by supporting parents, rather than by doing for the parents. The FAN also aims to teach providers how to notice, understand, and regulate their own responses to challenging situations (Spielberger, Burkhardt, Winje, Gouvea, & Barisik, 2016).

    The FAN is implemented in EI through the use of five core processes:

    • Mindful Self-Regulation,
    • Empathic Inquiry,
    • Collaborative Exploration,
    • Capacity Building, and
    • Integration.

    These core processes work together with the FAN’s Arc of Engagement (AOE), a set of reflective questions to help a provider structure their home visits for optimal results (Gilkerson & Imberger, 2016; Heffron et al., 2016).

    Mindful self-regulation requires the provider to be aware of their own mental state and responses before and during a family encounter, and to use techniques such as breathing, self-talk, and imagery to keep themselves be balanced and present in the moment. (The AOE recommends asking, “How am I?” prior to starting an encounter).

    Providers use Empathic inquiry when parents are visibly shaken and upset. The provider listens without judgment as the parent expresses frustration, concerns, anxiety, etc. During empathic inquiry, the provider actively listens, without attempting to “jump in” with immediate solutions. This helps the parent to feel heard, and establishes rapport with the provider.

    During collaborative exploration the provider and caregiver work together to find solutions giving the parent more control, and helping them feel acknowledged, valued, and respected.

    When a plan of action is decided upon, the provider and family then move into the process of capacity building. During this stage, the provider can give the family more information about how to best support their child. FBN recommends using an “offer and explore” method (Heffron et al., 2016), which entails the provider giving a “drop” of information to the parent, and then exploring what that information means to them. Questions like, “Does this make sense?” and “How does that fit with what you know about your child?” ensure that the parent is able to process and correctly use the information.

    Finally, the process of integration involves the parent reflecting on the session, and what they want to remember about what they’ve learned/talked about that day. Throughout this process, the AOE gives providers time to stop and reflect, so that they can check-in with the parents regarding the session. Reflection and collaboration are at the core of the FAN, which with proper use, can help build strong, lasting relationships between providers and families.

    The FAN method is well suited for early childhood intervention especially when coaching families. To be most effective in coaching providers must

    • Be mindful of the situation: Mindful Self-Regulation
    • Listen: Empathetic Inquiry
    • Collaborate: Collaborative Exploration
    • Share: Capacity Building
    • Integrate: Integration


    Gilkerson, L. Facilitating attuned interactions: using the FAN approach to family engagement. Zero to Three. Jan 2015; 46-48.

    Spielberger, J, Burkhardt T, Winje C, Gouvea M, Barisik E. Evaluation of the fussy baby network advanced training: final report. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. 2016; 1-163.

    Gilkerson L, Imberger J. Strengthening reflective capacity in skilled home visitors. Zero to Three. Nov 2016; 46-53.

    Heffron MC, Gilkerson L, Cosgrove K, Heller SS, Imberger J, Leviton A… Wasserman K. Using the FAN approach to deepen trauma-informed care for infants, toddlers, and families. Zero to Three. July 2016; 27-35.

    Latay Benson (GU Certificate in Early Intervention ’19; GWU, DPT ’19)

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    Italian Early Childhood Education Approaches: Montessori and Reggio Emilia

    Ilaria Navarra January 17, 2019

    Europe has been a rich source of many influential educational ideas. In elementary and early childhood education, two of the best-known approaches with European origins are Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Both are seen as strong educational alternatives to traditional education and as sources of inspiration for progressive educational reform.

    These two approaches to early childhood education were born in Italy: the first one conceived by Maria Montessori (1870-1952), a brilliant figure who was Italy's first woman physician, and the second one by Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994) a primary school visionary teacher who in 1950 qualified as an educational psychologist and founded Reggio Emilia’s municipal Psycho-Pedagogical Medical Centre.

    Dr. Montessori first developed her educational approach while working with a preschool population, in particular, children with disabilities. She gradually extended her approach to children and youth of all ages and abilities. Today, some Montessori schools provide all levels of learning, from infant & toddler through the secondary (high school) level. The Reggio approach however, is a birth to age 6 early childhood program.

    The programs have several key areas of similarity and contrast. Both are child-centered approaches in which children are viewed as active participants in their own development, strongly influenced by natural, dynamic, self-correcting forces within themselves, opening the way toward growth and learning. The teachers of both approaches are considered nurturers, partners, and guides to the children. The teachers depend on carefully prepared, aesthetically pleasing environments as a pedagogical tool. Partnering with parents is also highly valued in both approaches.

    Core Principles



    • Mixed age classrooms: 2½ or 3 to 6 years old are most common
    • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
    • Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours.
    • Constructivist or self-discovery model rather than direct instruction
    • Specialized educational materials often made out of natural, aesthetic materials such as wood, rather than plastic
    • Environment organized to promote choice, easy access, and are appropriate in size
    • Freedom to move within the classroom
    • A trained teacher who follows the child’s lead and promote a child’s innate talents and abilities
    • Child-centered in which children have control over their learning
    • Individual differences are recognized and celebrated allowing endless ways and opportunities for children to express themselves Relationship based
    • Constructivist model: learning is active requiring child participation using all senses
    • Collaborative, project-based learning allowing exploration

    However, there are also areas of difference, some at the level of principle and others at the level of strategy. Reggio Emilia is not a formal model like Montessori, with defined methods, teacher certification standards, and accreditation processes. Instead, educators in Reggio Emilia speak of their evolving "experience" and see themselves as a “provocation” and reference point, a way of engaging in dialogue starting from a strong and rich vision of the child.

    Montessori Method

    Italian 1000 Lire banknote (approx. 0.52 €) representing Maria Montessori.

    Dr. Montessori started her Casa dei Bambini (Children's House) in 1907, in the slums of Rome for children ages 4 through 7. Her movement later on spread to other countries, especially after the Fascist regime denounced Montessori methods of education and she left Italy. In the United States, there was strong but brief interest from 1910 to 1920. Although the method flourished in Europe and India, it fell out of favor in the United States. The Montessori education movement experienced a resurgence in the US during the 1950s increasing its popularity. Launched in 2013 the USA Montessori Census is a collaboration among the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS), the Center for Research on Developmental Education, and some other Montessori organizations. Currently, the Census maintains information on 514 public programs and 2,075 private schools in the U.S.

    The American Montessori Society’s essential components are derived from the core principles described in the table:

    1. Properly trained Montessori teachers,
    2. Multi-age classrooms,
    3. Use of Montessori materials,
    4. Child-directed work, and
    5. Uninterrupted work periods.

    Montessori emphasizes independent learning, letting children grow into lifelong learners and responsible citizens of the world. In Montessori education, children usually are grouped into multiage classrooms spanning three years, promoting adult-child continuity and close peer relationships. Montessori classrooms provide carefully prepared, orderly, pleasing environments and materials where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work individually or in small groups. The children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities. The school community as a whole, including the parents, work together to open the children to the integration of body, mind, emotions, and spirit that is the basis of holistic peace education. The Montessori teacher plays the role of unobtrusive director in the classroom as children individually or in small groups engage in self-directed activity. The teacher's goal is to help and encourage the children, allowing them to develop confidence and inner discipline so that there is less and less need to intervene as the child develops.

    Montessori developed a set of manipulative objects designed to support children’s learning of sensory concepts such as dimension, color, shape and texture, and academic concepts of mathematics, literacy, science, geography and history. They are given the freedom to choose what they work on, where they work, with whom they work, and for how long they work on any particular activity, all within the limits of the class rules. No competition is set up between children, and there is no system of extrinsic rewards or punishments. These two aspects—the learning materials themselves, and the nature of the learning—make Montessori classrooms look strikingly different to conventional classrooms (Marshall, 2017).

    Reggio Approach

    Loris Malaguzzi, 1980s © Scuole e Nidi d’infanzia – Istituzione del Comune di Reggio Emilia

    In post-World War II Italy, teacher and educational psychologist Loris Malaguzzi teamed with a group of local parents and children to build an innovative network of municipal infant-toddler centers (ages 0 to 3) and preschools (ages 3 to 6) in and around the city of Reggio Emilia, in Northern Italy. The system evolved from a parent cooperative movement into a city-run system that exercises a leadership role in Italy, throughout Europe, and now increasingly in Asia, Australia, North America, and other parts of the world.

    Legend has it that the first school was financed by selling an abandoned German tank, as well as a bunch of horses and two military trucks

    The approach is based on a vision of a child being an individual with rights and potential. At the center of the Reggio Emilia approach is Malaguzzi’s belief that “the child has a hundred languages” meaning young children have a hundred different ways of thinking, learning and expressing themselves. Each one of these “languages” should be celebrated, nurtured and developed. Programs in Reggio are family centered and serve children at infant-toddler and preschool levels, with first priority given to children with disabilities or social service needs. His vision of an "education based on relationships" focuses on each child in relation to others supporting children's reciprocal relationships with other children, family, teachers, society, and the environment. Teachers follow the children's interests and do not provide direct instruction in reading and writing. Literacy is promoted through communication. Long-term, open-ended projects are created promoting collaboration Teachers organize the classroom environment with materials that “provoke” and “invite” children to explore and problem solve, often in small groups. Teachers collect data and record observations of child preferences to create environments that promote individualized learning activities.

    According to the supporters of both Montessori and Reggio Approach the benefits to children are many and varied. The most valuable advantage of these early learning approaches is that they ignite a love of learning. The supporters claim that benefits include resilience, responsibility, self-confidence, teamwork, problem-solving skills as well as creative and scientific thinking. As they are both based on constructivist teaching, they place more emphasis on sensory input. Children are actively involved in the learning process, using all of their senses, not just their eyes and ears. Active learning approaches emphasize the role of the teacher as a guide. All of these ideas combined, form a modern version of educational constructivism, which states that learning best happens when children get to construct and form their own knowledge. Instead of being told how to think or what to memorize, children are encouraged to create their own understanding of the world.

    Other contemporaries of Montessori and Malaguzzi shared similar ideas about constructivism. The American educator, John Dewey, first began to posit ideas that would form a basis for constructivism. He believed that school should promote problem solving through active participation rather than rote memorization and note-taking notes. Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist also believed that learning doesn’t merely happen from someone talking at a child, but rather, the learning process is an active and dynamic one. Lev Vygotsky, from Russia, thought that children’s experiences happen in a socially constructed way, and then again, on an individual level. Bruner, a pioneer of cognitive psychology in the United States, thought that different processes were used by learners in problem solving, that these vary from person to person and that social interaction lay at the root of good learning. He builds on the Socratic tradition of learning through dialogue, encouraging the learner to come to enlighten themselves through reflection.

    Benefits of the Approaches

    The 2017 review of the benefits of the Montessori education system indicates that there is evidence in support of certain elements of the Montessori method (e.g. teaching early literacy through a phonic approach embedded in a rich language context, and providing a sensorial foundation for mathematics education). This review also indicates that while some evidence exist that children may benefit cognitively and socially from Montessori education that implements the original principles, it is less clear whether modern adapted forms of Montessori education are as effective.

    The Evaluation of the Reggio Approach to Early Education (Biroli, et al, 2017) indicates that the Reggio Approach is positively associated with outcomes related to employment, socio-emotional skills, high school graduation, election participation, and obesity. But they state that their research about the effectiveness of the Reggio Approach is provisional and needs more detailed study.


    During the mid-20th century there was a surge of interest in how children learn, especially after WWII. Montessori and Malaguzzi, like their American, Swiss, and Russian contemporaries emphasized active learning, problem-solving, and self-discovery as critical components of early childhood development.

    Ilaria Navarra (Fulbright Scholar 2018-2019)


    Biroli, P., Del Boca, D., Heckman, J.J., Heckman, L., Koh, K.Y., Kuperman, S., Moktan, S., Pronzato, C. & Ziff,A. (2017). Working Paper Evaluation of the Reggio Approach to Early Education. IZA Discussion Papers, No. 10742, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), Bonn. Available from: https://www.econstor.eu/handle/10419/161365.

    Biroli, P., Del Boca, D., Heckman, J.J., Heckman, L., Koh, K.Y., Kuperman, S., Moktan, S., Pronzato, C. & Ziff,A. (2017). Evaluation of the Reggio Approach to Early Education. National Bureau of Economic Researc. A vailable from: https://www.nber.org/papers/w23390.pdf

    Edwards, C.P. (2002). Three approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Early Childhood Research and Practice 4:1–13. Available fromhttp://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/edwards.html.

    Honebein, P.C. (1996). Seven goals for the design of constructivist learning environments. Available from: https://scinapse.io/papers/100238786.

    Marshall, C. (2017). Montessori education: a review of the evidence base. npj Science of Learning(2), id. 11.

    Montessori, Maria (1912) 1964. The Montessori Method.

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