Invitations and Provocations: The First Steps in Agency
Invitations and Provocations Develop Agency
Two years ago I was given the opportunity to work within an Early Years classroom. The experience has brought a variety of new perspectives and wonderings to my teaching. I have reassessed many areas and one of which is the important role that invitations and provocations play in stimulating young minds and learning. In my reassessment of practice I view provocations and invitations with far greater importance. They are a gate way to learning, a stimulus for thinking and creativity. They can be the beginning of inquiry or the driving force. They can be a demonstration of understanding. They can be the first steps in developing our student's agency.
With my new found appreciation I now find myself spending more time reimagining my classroom through the eyes of the student. Placing greater importance in the role of the environment in the development of the children's curiosity and engagement. I have found myself letting go and allowing the environment to be the third teacher in the room. I have had to swallow my own pride as often have to take a backstage in my importance as I allow the learning environment do its thing, and rightly so. Children can learn much more through the independent exploration of their world than often my direction of learning. An important part of my role has become to nurture and develop this space. It is a role I enjoy as it allows for my own creativity to flourish.
Carefully arranged objects, artefacts and materials that support both guided and open-ended activities are placed both inside and outside the classroom with thoughtful, purposeful care. The time given to this careful arrangement of objects cannot be underestimated or forgotten especially as we now rightfully place so much emphasis and energy on the development of student's agency. The invitations and provocations are the first steps in developing our curious, independent learners. Opportunities to provide voice, choice and ownership to their learning.
'Environments are invitations for inquiry. These environments have the potential to promote learning processes where children engage with one another and with meaningful materials exploring, constructing and representing their understanding and theories' Louise Jupp, 2016.
Provocations play a pivotal role in the Reggio Emilia approach to child-centred learning. They are a stimulus to provoke thought, ideas, and action in young learners. They allow opportunities for children to experience the world for themselves without direct interference from the teacher. Opportunities to explore and create their own world of ideas and imagination. This help to support a comfortable and safe environment for the children to explore learning with a sense of ownership. Exploration and engagement can be done under the conditions that the child has no specific learning goal and therefore no fear of failure. The idea is to encourage children to think independently by encouraging their interests and exploration of ideas. Provocations provide the children with “something that must be responded to, that we cannot ignore” (Wein)
To be able to provide meaningful engagements and experiences for the students it is important to provide time for quality thinking in the development of our learning areas. Once you have imagined the engagement and have decided on the materials to use in creating your provocation it is important to take a step back and reflect on its purpose. Look at the provocation through the eyes of the students, to think about the items you have chosen and how they have been arranged. Ask yourself; How would you use the provocation? Would it inspire you to investigate as well? What questions and wonderings would you yourself have? Does it inspire? Are the materials and objects accessible?
Just as important as the construction of provocations it is equally, if not more so, to take the time to observe the children in their engagement of the provocation. Think about how they are using it, what inquiries they are following, what questions are they asking. Through careful observation we can develop and modify the materials to support and push forward the children's independent learning. To make it fresh again to support fresh ideas and new inquiries.
Unlike provocations, invitations have a more direct impact on the direction and focus of the children's learning. They are another common concept found in the Reggio Emilia approach to learning but are a more direct piece of encouragement for exploration to children. Unlike the open-ended engagement provocations supply, invitations can be used to invite students to explore a specific concept. The teacher invites students to think about or explore a concept. In Reggio Emilia, this is encouraged, but what is preferred in a child-focused learning environment is to encourage the child to begin "to do" in order to learn more about something through action or occurrence (Louise Jupp). It is this invitation to exploratory action that is the difference between provocations and invitations in childhood education.
'Do we create provocations and invitations to stimulate interest or do we create them in response to the children's interests?' I think there has to be room for both. They can be used to stimulate interest in either a direct or open-ended concept or they can support the children's interest and provide personalised challenges and development of learning. I have found both provocations and invitations to be invaluable first steps in developing and supporting children's agency.
The importance of provocation and invitations can never be underestimated. With the right environment added with a dash of curiosity the learning happens naturally.
Teachers endeavour to continually provoke children’s natural propensities to search for meanings, to pose questions of themselves and others, and to interpret the phenomena of their own lives. (Cooper, The Hundred Languages of Children, 2012).