My visit to Reggio reminded me that learning is a social construct. It’s not an accumulation of knowledge, but a construction of meaning that emerges from learners’ interpretation of the world. Materials matter, which is why several of my previous posts in this series focused on their thoughtful use. 

As I listened and learned more throughout my tour, it was increasingly evident that the way we construct the learning environment matters as well. In fact, it was the careful construction of the classroom environment that enabled teachers to rely on implicit rather than explicit questioning.

“Here, we hang questions in the air, rather than interrogating children from the front of a room,” our pedagogistas, Paolo and Marina, told us. 

And this made me catch my breath.

Reggio-inspired teachers take care to create learning environments with careful intention, in order to inspire interpretation. When children fail to engage with the environment, teachers reflect and iterate on the design.

This struck me.

I wondered: How often have I used questions as a cattle prod, forcing learners to engage with materials that don’t matter inside of an environment that disinterests them?

And: How might we construct learning environments that are so worthy of interpretation that students will want to search for the questions tucked inside of them?

Of course, there are no answers, but as I reflect on all of the notes and photos that I took, I’m creating questions that can guide this work.

The Five W’s: Hooks that Help Us Hang Implicit Questions in the Air

  1. Who are the learners that we are serving, and what do we know of their interests, strengths, and needs? How will we construct a learning environment that engages them while aligning to our standards as well?
  2. Why would these children want to engage in this particular learning environment at this particular moment?
  3. What materials, texts, and experiences will we offer, and how will they work together to inspire interpretation?
  4. When will we offer these materials, texts, and experiences, and how will this timing influence their interpretation?
  5. Where will learners encounter productive struggle, and how will this inform and/or change their interpretation?

The Critical Nature of Cognitive Knots

Reggio-inspired educators know that cognitive knots are questions, dilemmas, and issues that emerge organically during quality learning experiences. They create a just-right level of cognitive dissonance that motivates learners, provokes questioning, and moves everyone forward. Knots can be frustrating to encounter and tricky to navigate. They’re also a critical component of the kind of rich and very complex learning that happens in Reggio Emilia schools.

I’ve used the Five W’s to craft cognitive knots with intention, but the best ones are discovered through inquiry, investigation, and experimentation.

It all goes back to the environment and the materials we fill it with.

More to come.

In the mean time, if you’re interested in chatting about this more, come find me on Facebook or Twitter.







  1. Jennifer Laffin Reply

    “Hang questions in the air.” There is so much beauty and potential in these words. What a wonderful idea to explore!

    • I thought so, too. Still reflecting on it, all of these weeks later. Thanks, Jennifer!

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