A Conversation With Lella Gandini and Cathy Topal: The Gift of Discovery

I met Lella Gandini in 1996 when my husband and I were visiting Rome and staying at the American Academy . At the time, her husband, Lester Little, was the director of the Academy. On the plane trip I was reading The Hundred Languages of Children and I was so surprised when we reached the main desk of the Academy to check in and I saw Lella’s photo on a bulletin board above the receptionist’s desk. We have remained correspondents since that visit.

Amazingly, I had a second surprise visit connected with Lella. This one included Cathy. When my daughter was having a concert in Worchester, Massachusetts, I was introduced to the publisher, Wyatt Wade. He invited me, along with my daughter and son-in-law, to visit his newly restored office. When we arrived, Lella and Cathy were there waiting for me! After a tour of the office, we all went to Wyatt’s home for dinner. It was a visit that I’ll always remember.

When I came up with the idea for this new series of conversations, I immediately thought of these two inspiring women. I crossed my fingers when I invited them to participate and to my utter delight, they immediately accepted the invitation.

Lella serves as Reggio Emilia Liason in the United States for Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach. The Principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach include:

  • a deep respect for the ideas of children and teachers.
  • a belief that knowledge is constructed through social interchange.
  • the value of using materials and media to express and communicate feelings, thoughts and understandings.
  • the desire to document children’s and teacher’s processes to preserve memories and sustain in-depth work.
  • the joy and growth that comes from collaborating with other teachers and with children in the search for knowledge and understanding of relationships.

    Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini took some time the morning of November 17, 2020  to talk about Beautiful Stuff and the Gift of Discovery.

To see a more in-depth demonstration of the work that Cathy and Lella have done together with Susan MacDonald, this is a must-see PowerPoint presentation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Yd7y6MssD1_q7DoUcrB–xUQXONFBsXv/view

Here is a very apropros and  entertaining video of how the artist Hanoch Piven uses beautiful stuff in his art. You might want to share this with your children. They will love it! https://youtu.be/f7bZWbzuW_I



4 thoughts on “A Conversation With Lella Gandini and Cathy Topal: The Gift of Discovery

  1. Julie Diamond

    Fabulous conversation, thank you to all of you.
    I especially appreciated the importance you gave to close observation. Teachers often feel we have to jump in to “teach” – but when we do, it’s not possible to observe meaningfully..
    I also found the discussion of the purposes of documentation very useful: to document – capture – the process not the product. This, in turn, helps to notice and take into account a child’s distinctive path.
    I have two additional thoughts.. First, when we place children’s work at the center of classroom life, we strengthen a sense of “the group” – as children view and respond to each other’s work in a variety of ways.
    A second, related benefit, I think, is that the centrality of work can foster an ethics of participation, valuing, accounting for everyone’s contributions, etc. This is a moral dimension, a matter of values, and includes underlying ideas about giving children time, the role of trust, and the honoring of differences among children.

  2. Renee Post author

    Julie, thank you for your thoughtful and astute response. I’m particularly taken with the way that you point out how we create a sense of community and agency when we put children’s work at the center of classroom life.

  3. Cathy Topal

    Julie and Renee, Thank you for your comments. I think there is a special kind of valuing, respect and opening to new ideas and ways of working that happens as children’s work is held up, discussed and appreciated. I think this works best before children have totally finished working. Lella once looked at questions I was considering posing and she broke them down for me to questions about the thinking process, such as “what gave you the idea?” “Where did you begin?” “What do you think you will try next?” and questions about mechanics, such as “Can you show us how you painted that line,” or formed that shape, or mixed that color….” You can see examples of these questions in the Thinking & Creating with A Line website in this link: https://thinkingwithaline.com/teaching-learning/

    It is fascinating to me that the tone in the room changes when children look at and talk about one another’s work. They really love to see their work and their classmate’s work from a new vantage point and to hear about one another’s thinking. It is really powerful, and I do not think we do it enough.

    1. Renee Post author

      Cathy, this is such an important point that you’re making about questioning. Richard Lewis, Kristin Eno and I are considering a part two to our discussion, focusing on questioning. Perhaps you would like to join us. Let me know!
      Enjoy the holiday.


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