What are Common Worlds Pedagogies?

We approach our lives as situated and embedded in ‘common worlds’ (Latour, 2004). The notion of common worlds is an inclusive, more than human notion. It helps us to avoid the divisive distinction that is often drawn between human societies and natural environments. By re-situating our lives within indivisible common worlds, our pedagogy focuses upon the ways in which our past, present and future lives are entangled with those of other beings, non- living entities, technologies, elements, discourses, forces, landforms.

At Santana we recuperate relations with place and wonder what kinds of worldly relations we want to create and sustain. Drawing on an ethics of vulnerability, we highlight the relations and co-dependencies between humans and more than humans as a way to rethink the project of humanity and its current axiologies.

Common worlds pedagogies:

  • Take us beyond exclusively human, cultural or social framings
  • Acknowledge place as lively and generative and understand children’s place relations as mutually formative
  • Include Indigenous cosmologies of place, more than human geographies of place, and place as an assemblage of heterogeneous human and nonhuman actors
  • See place as an inherently pedagogical contact zone
  • Understand place as non-neutral, non-innocent

What is our pedagogical work committed to?

We understand pedagogy as a social science that studies educational practice. It proposes its aims, its reasons and responsibilities. Under this view, pedagogy proposes an educational practice that goes beyond the socialization and enculturalization of children. Therefore, Common Worlds pedagogies contests instrumental and functional understandings of education. Considering this, we consider education as a practice that creates and proposes particular ways of being and living in the world. In other words: particular subjectivities. Common Worlds pedagogies proposes an education that creates subjectivities that are capable of responding to and inheriting the complexities of current times. We believe that education is a project of future making. So then, what futures do we want to create?

At Santana our pedagogical work is committed to:

  • Nourishing intelligences of languages, mathematics, history, sciences and arts within contextual relations and with the histories and inheritances of the place that surrounds the educational protagonists. Through living inquiries with the world in motion, we create educational experiences that attend to the origins of knowledge and how these origins continue to matter today.
  • Maintaining a multidisciplinary approach that emerges from in-depth study of a shared idea, situation or concept. In this way, ‘subjects’ are not separate. Rather, they are inherently related and interdependent in learning.
  • Sustaining an attention to in-depth, multifaceted concepts, while maintaining the felt value of knowledge that is alive. In this way, children are not passive receivers, nor are educators transmitters of knowledge. Rather, both children and educators are active in collective research processes that emerge in living encounters and are maintained through rigorous and democratic decision making processes.
  • Grounding ourselves in a belief that children’s learning becomes rich when concepts are not extracted into memorisable fragments via recitation, and when knowledge is cultivated in an authentic engagement with the complicated, everyday worlds in which we live.
  • Highlighting pedagogical opportunities by actively listening to the children’s real-life inquiries and interests, and cultivating pedagogical opportunities from within these experiences.
  • Focusing not only on the acquisition of basic skills in reading and writing (in association with the ministry outcomes), but also on engaging with reading and writing as intimately recognized practices that are culturally situated and that are nurtured as modes of communication.

In this way, children’s interpretive and symbolic thinking is cultivated as a medium to read the world alive, and bring us closer to the places in which we live. These are practices that cannot be taught as if they are technical matters. They must be deeply connected to thinking with others, sharing ideas in the development of critical and creative thought, as well as processes that help us create complex logics and innovative rationalities. 

What is emergent curriculum?

At Santana, our curriculum is emergent and unfolds within children’s daily experiences and encounters. In a Common Worlds emergent curriculum, topics of study are inspired not only by the interests and experiences of children; educators make pedagogical decisions throughout the inquiry process to ensure collective research reflects the pedagogical commitments of our educational project discussed above.

Educators play a central role in cultivating ongoing emergence and holding attention to the concept of inquiry in long term projects throughout the year. Thus, in an emergent curriculum, subject-disciplines are inter-related and intimately situated within the specific topic of inquiry.

Who is the educator in Common Worlds pedagogies?

In an emergent curriculum, the role of the educator is of an attuned listener, co-researcher, and an intellectual, pedagogical decision-maker. She/he notices pedagogical opportunities (emerging ideas with children or moments of particular generativity) within these inquiries and organizes educational experiences that enhance the depth and academic attention of these moments. 

Educators complexify and deepen the educational value of these experiences through collective research practices with children. Educators working within this orientation have a deep understanding of the ministry curriculum expectations, and are skilled in situating these intellectual goals within the lived experience.

The educator is an artful thinker who is interested in curating pedagogical spaces and encounters that reference the social and cultural milieu surrounding the educational protagonist. At Santana, educators are deeply involved in ongoing dialogue about current literature not only in the field of education, but also in other disciplines such as the feminist environmental humanities and sciences, Indigenous ways of knowing, cultural geography, and anthropology. Educators actively reference community art, poetry, philosophy and local aesthetics to further enhance their pedagogical work with children. 

Educators foster ethical pedagogies by:

  • Articulating their own images of what it means to be a pedagogue, and critically reflecting upon the historical and geo-political locations of these images
  • Connecting these images to pedagogical intentions and decisions
  • Responding to multiple and situated images of education and care
  • Dialoguing about their response-abilities in the education and care of young children
  • Inquiring about pedagogical visions that are relevant to children’s common worlds
  • Negotiating tensions and contradictions that may arise between diverse pedagogical perspectives
  • Inquiring into, slowing down, and experimenting with pedagogies  

Who is the child in Common Worlds pedagogies?

Common Worlds pedagogies act in response to narratives of extraction, efficiency, management and regulation in education that pacify the collective, critical thinking children require in 21st century worlds. We aim to unsettle rationalities of individualism, accumulation and human-centrism that are upheld by developmental psychology and the image of the freely acting, autonomous, inherently creative child. In this way, we do not see the child as progressing through universal ages and stages toward individual success. Rather, the child becomes in multiple ways and trajectories that are nourished when pedagogy allows for this divergence in collective spaces. 

Our pedagogical work disrupts a commonly held notion in education that positions the child as innately creative, where children’s ideas are regurgitated from an intrinsic, inner place of imaginative purity. We challenge these discourses of children’s ‘natural’, inherent creativity, figured as a distinct and separate period in the span of life and untainted from the social and political milieu in which humans and others live.

Rather, we think about children as part of an ethos that is co-created with others through vibrant encounters. We understand children as being in relation with the world rather than mastering the world through ways of thinking that submit the world to pre-defined ideas. Therefore, we understand children not as knowldege consumers but knowledge creators in co-dependency with the world. This is why we are less focused about what the child thinks about the world (creating definitions and generalizations) and more interested in the child thinking with the world (creating intimate knowledge).

The potential of children’s innovative minds and creativity promises children as saviours of the earth and rescuers of human progress and expansion, a perspective which perpetuates the problems our educational project is in response to. At Santana, Common Worlds pedagogies aim to make visible the neoliberal rationalities that these human-centered logics maintain and to compose an image of the child that is porous, co-compositional, and situated within the uneven, contradictory worlds in which children inherit.

What does reading, writing and mathematics look like in an emergent curriculum?

Reading, writing and mathematics are taught within the context of long-term projects. In our classrooms, there is a strong focus on research, where children are able to use a variety of materials to make meaning of the problems/puzzles posed in their daily inquiries. In addition to technological mediums such as computers, projectors, microscopic document cameras, photo and video equipment, documentation walls are central areas where children think and study collectively through individual and shared notations, definitions, drawings, photos, short readings, etc. By regularly visiting these documentation walls together with educators, children share questions, curiosities and concerns around emerging themes, theories and concepts. These processes of documentation and dialogue ensure the longevity and depth of the inquiries throughout the year. 

In second grade, the morning hours are the most intense periods of collective research, while the afternoons offer a more focused study specifically constructed around key aspects emerging from the morning inquiries. In these afternoon sessions, educators tune in to more specific details of the inquiry to nourish strong intelligences in reading, writing, and mathematics.

For example, after a morning inquiry that investigates the pollution of the nearby river, the teacher introduces a river poem in the afternoon to enhance or draw closer attention to a form of literary art that (meeting Ministry’s curriculum expectations) enhances children’s vocabulary, engages them in reading processes, and supports awareness of the sounds and symbolic formations that communicate language. In this way, children learn how to read and write because they have a desire to interpret and communicate ideas that are meaningful to them. 

How will this method support the learning processes of my child?

Common Worlds pedagogies create the conditions for a child that has sensitivities and dispositions that are not based on concept of human supremacy where the human is separated from nature and knowledge-making. Moreover, this approach does not see the educational process as a way for the child to master the world or learn how to use the world’s resources (natural and cultural) to one’s own entrepreneurial interests. 

This is a child that is syntonic not only with what is beneficial for him/herself but it has a profound understanding of his/her co-dependencies. Some of the dispositions and sensitivities that Common Worlds pedagogies cultivate are:

  • Sustained attention, listening beyond the self
  • Divergent, creative thinking 
  • Passion for learning, what is learned matters to the child – it is experienced, and deeply felt
  • A collective sense, ability to share knowledge and generate group work with democratic attention
  • Assurance that their ideas are valuable, an active voice
  • An attitude of research 

How is this method in relation with the pedagogical work done in Reggio Emilia?

The Reggio Emilia philosophy emerged in Italy as a response to World War II, a socio-political action that aimed to rethink the kinds of subjectivities that were being produced in educational projects. The purpose of the pedagogical work taking place in Reggio Emilia is framed around a collective, democratic “…desire to bring change and create anew”, a commitment that we share here at Santana. In many areas of the world, Reggio Emilia has been taken as a model. Yet, pedagogies emerging from Reggio Emilia are specific to this particular place (their social, political and geographic context), pedagogies which we believe are not ‘approaches’ that can be redistributed elsewhere.

At Santana, while our Common Worlds pedagogies find inspiration from the educational projects of Reggio Emilia, there are key orientations to our work that are incommensurable. Common Worlds and Reggio Emilia pedagogies have both shared and differing orientations and commitments that shape the ways in which curricula is made. For example:

  • The pedagogical work in Reggio Emilia responds to a crisis of humanity and ethical turn after WWII. Common Worlds pedagogies respond to the Anthropocene, our current era of human-induced geo-biospheric precarity and climate catastrophe, and pushes for a new ethical turn.
  • Both pedagogical orientations have an interest in thinking curriculum as something that is not predetermined, rather it is emergent.
  • Both center the arts as significant and mediums for thinking. 
  • Both think education as more than social engineering.
  • Both understand education as a relational project. However, Reggio Emilia pedagogies think about relations as a process of meaning making that is based on children’s competencies. Curriculum unfolds by keeping the child as the main focus, where meaning making is a constructivist process. In other words, from a Reggio perspective, the world is seen as a human creation and the human is its order-wielding center. 

In a Common Worlds framework, education is a relational project where the child and her/his meaning making are not at the center of curriculum making. In this way, curriculum is relational by way of recovering relations that are not based on human supremacy. This then requires educators to experiment with multiple other ways of knowing and not only meaning making (particularly when we understand meaning making as a repetition of our own image reflected in the meaning we make, constructing the world in light of my own experiences). 

Common Worlds focuses particularly in ways of knowing that might help us undo self-centered, individualistic and autonomous ideals and recover ways of knowing that are more experimental, that complicate the simplicity of relations based on human supremacy, that are collectively in the making, that struggle to find intimate kinship and relations that often bring us closer to the uncommon, the difficult, the indiscernible.

  • Children’s participation is important for Reggio Emilia as a democratic experience with others in order to find a common understanding. Participation in a Common worlds frame differs in that it not only focuses on creating these kinds of democratic experiences with other humans; participation is understood as responsibility and agonistic ethical obligation. Here, participation is also seen as recovering unnoticed worlds with which we are already entangled but are not usually considered. Participation within Common Worlds orientation is also the space for contamination and recreation, the undoing of the egotistic ‘I’ through the recognition of every other source of contamination beyond the human.
  • While ‘Reggio’ has been taken up as a model to be implanted in many areas of the world, Common Worlds is not interested in becoming a model but in creating the conditions for new and multiple situated pedagogies to emerge.

What other places in the world are thinking with this pedagogical orientation?

Common Worlds pedagogical work can be found across the world in leading, innovative educational projects. This pedagogical orientation is not a ‘model’ or program that can be applied or implemented. Rather, Common Worlds pedagogies are grounded in particular theoretical orientations and pedagogical dispositions that act in dialogue with the specific milieu of the place in which they are situated. Thus, the numerous Common Worlds pedagogical projects across countries including Finland, Italy, England, Australia, Canada, and the United States share similar pedagogical commitments, yet the ways in which they take shape are incommensurable as each responds to the social, cultural, environmental and political context of the place. Empirical research funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada has supported leading scholars in the field of education in cultivating Common Worlds pedagogies at this highly recognized, international level. 

What is Documentation?

Documentation is a pedagogical practice that is central in emergent curriculum-making. Documentation is related to curriculum making because it has a retrospective character (it tell us what matters in what happened) and it has a prospective character (it invites to create future trajectories based on what is pedagogically significant). Documentation is a pedagogical practice that help us pay attention to what is significant for the educational experience of a group of children and at the same time it points out to the values and pedagogical orientations that matter to Santana as an educational project. In documentation educators make decisions based on this process of rendering something significant. Documentation is a site for dialogue with the educational processes that are being unfolded at the school. 

Documentation brings our work to a public forum. It traces what children and teachers have been engaging with and the different ways of inquiring that have been part of such engagements. This practice allows educators to re-configure curriculum in ways which respond to generative moments, and propose curriculum-making as a project that responds to what matters collectively. In making documentation, educators think not only through pedagogical content (ideas and materials being generated in the inquiry) but also pedagogical process (the use of these ideas and materials to reflect on/challenge thinking and make pedagogical decisions). At Santana, a pedagogical documentation:

  • is a means for capturing both “ordinary moments” and project inquiries
  • traces individual and collective thinking
  • uses a variety of documentation practices (e.g., narrative, photograph, video, children’s work/creations)
  • includes ongoing dialogues and multiple perspectives, knowledges and experiences  
  • responds to common worlds
  • as lively practices, rather than end points or products.