Ann Lewin-Benham Photo
Ann lecturing at podium with slide on huge screen beside her

Lecture Topics

Revised April 2010


Basic Reggio Practices
Essential Practices in the Reggio Approach: Infant/Toddlers to 3-Year-Olds
Nine essential characteristics of the Reggio Approach described in images of infants and toddlers; the presentation concludes with the story of a project in an infant center.

Essential Practices in the Reggio Approach: 3- to 6-Year-Olds
Nine essential characteristics of the Reggio Approach described in images of 3 to 6-year-olds; the presentation concludes with the story of a project in a preschool.

Learning Playfully!  Shadow Play in the Preschools of Reggio Emilia
How, beginning in the infant/toddler centers, children’s innate interest in shadows is used over six years to foster the development of increasingly sophisticated thinking and expression.


Basic Preschool Practices
Alice in Wonderless Land: Alternatives to the Rote Preschool Curriculum
Asks questions about how we frame our practices; provides examples of innovative uses of familiar materials, and focuses on a new role for teachers.

A Possible School:  The Model Early Learning Center
Background, location, and practices of the Model Early Learning Center, the school in inner city Washington, DC which is the subject of Lewin-Benham’s books Possible Schools ( 2006) and Powerful Children (2008).

A Preschool Curriculum: Learning To Think
Basic principles of the Reggio Approach and how they were adapted in the Model Early Learning Center.

Beyond Blocks: Young Children’s Romance with Materials
A look at the kinds of things children can produce when they are engaged in creative, original, and complex activity as well as what they can learn from such activity -- including blocks used in unusual ways.

Deepening Relationships between Schools and Families: An Urban Success Story
At the Model Early Learning Center (MELC), the preschool enrolling Head Start-eligible families, virtually 100% of the parents became involved as did grandparents, aunts, and other members of extended families. The lecture documents how the parent program at the MELC began and developed.

The Easter Dove, the Cuckoo Bird, and the Nest: The Role of the Teacher Revealed in the Story of a Project
The story of a project in the Model Early Learning Center (MELC) that began in April of one school year and extended through February of the following year, and an analysis of the role of the teacher as reflected in the project.  The project is described in Lewin-Benham’s book Powerful Children: Understanding How to Teach and Learn Using the Reggio Approach  (2008, New York: Columbia University Teachers College Press).

Inspired Environments: Design Elements of Excellent Early Childhood Classrooms
Key elements of the physical environment in Reggio infant/toddler and preschool classrooms.  The images are of common spaces, special infant spaces, intentional design, the studio, and more.  The presentation concludes by showing how Reggio design principles inspired the design of the Model Early Learning Center in Washington, DC.

Learning to Think: What Early Education Could  Be (1/2 hour)
What good practices for preschool children look like and five practices which build on young children’s natural drive to learn.

Theory at the Model Early Learning Center
How key aspects of the Reggio Approach reflect underlying theories and how theories look in practice.  Examples are from both Reggio schools and the Model Early Learning Center.


Current Issues in Early Childhood Education

Authentic Assessment

The question: How to track young children's progress and assure everyone - administrators, parents, and the public - that children are going to be "ready" for Kindergarten without using standardized testing.

The issue: The pace of young children's development is so dramatically different one from another that standardized testing is all but meaningless. A quick perusal of various state standards for early education reveals either such vapid measures as to be meaningless or so many objectives as to be ridiculous. In the meantime, grade school work is being pushed from elementary school to Kindergarten and from Kindergarten to 3 and 4 year olds and everyone is in a twit about readiness.

The presentationon that I call "Authentic Assessment" shows a dozen different systems to keep track of children's progress in demonstrable ways that are a natural part of daily life in school. They reveal far more about a child's development than any test can possibly show. Authentic assessment affirms teachers' professionalism. Most teachers can tell you in far more detail than any test how a child is progressing.



The issue: Play is being squeezed into ever smaller amounts of time in favor of direct teaching, often to the entire class at once, to make sure children are "ready" for Kindergarten.

The problem: While everyone knows that play is important, most find it difficult to articulate why. The presentation that I call "Complex Play" shows a multitude of classroom scenarios that demonstrate the relevance of play to children's sound development -- for examples, how play develops procedural memory (the memory for complex routines such as getting dressed, cooking, and the myriad others that make up daily life); how play fosters language development, collaboration among children, and the gradual sorting out of fantasy and reality; and how play spurs the development of gross and fine motor skills. Research from the neurosciences is providing sound evidence that movement is at the basis of virtually every kind of thinking. Play builds the movement skills on which thinking is based.



The issue: How early young children master literacy skills has become the yardstick for their ultimate success. Yes, we live in a society where literacy is highly prized. Yes, we want children to be literate. But, what is defined as literacy in many schools is a mighty thin representation of a truly literate person. The emphasis tends to be on "decoding letters and words" -- in other words, reading -- to the exclusion of using language for self-expression, of deriving meaning from reading, and of using what one reads to build relationships among ideas.

The presentation that I call "Building Literacy" shows examples of a score of activities that gradually build a basis for true literacy -- the abilities to listen, to focus on a topic, to sustain interest in a topic, to follow a train of thought, to respond in a conversation with a remark that builds logically on prior remarks. Other activities show children engaged in a host of different activities involving the use of symbols --drawing pictures of actual objects and living things,using symbols to represent actual things, and recognizing abstract symbols that stand for concepts - the flag that stands for a nation, the arrow that represents direction.

Children build the capacity to use symbols through mark-making, another area of preschool activity all but foresaken in favor of writing letters of the alphabet. Here too, research shows that symbol formation is easier when children learn by using symbols in activities that have meaning for them personally -- making messages for friends or chalk drawings on a sidewalk. "Building Literacy" shows numerous examples of children's mark-making.

The presentation shows what I call Big experiences, happenings outside the realm of standardized lessons that make a big impact on children, spark their imagination, and remain in their memory (explicit memory for people, places and things, not procedural memory). Big experiences generate conversation, provide substance for mark-making, and form the basis for children to create their own stories.

Finally, the presentation shows legitimate ways to lay the foundation for the skills of reading and writing -- recognizing individual sounds in words, recognizing letters, making words from letters (writing). There are ways to do this other than through the drill/kill or "letter of the week" methods that deaden children's interest because they go on too long, quickly become boring, and preclude movement, an essential part of young childlren's learning.

Conversing, mark-making, and provocative experiences provide a "rich" literacy surround -- the kind of experiences that build understanding so that, ultimately as they learn the skills of writing and reading, children will take meaning and make relationships based on the written word.


General School Practices

Changing the Culture and Climate of School"(1/2 hour version)
A shorter version of the hour-long talk described under Workshops, suitable for non-educators, living room talks, civic organizations, and the like.

Development, Environments, and Experience: How We Learn (1 1/2 - 2 hours)
Images portray key processes of development in humans' movement, visual, and linguistic systems and  numerous environments and experiences that promote development of these systems.  Images are supported by quotes from world-class thinkers Reuven Feuerstein (cognitive psychologist), Howard Gardner (psychologist), David Hawkins (physicist/philosopher), Loris Malaguzzi (founder, Reggio infant/toddler centers and preschools), Steven Pinker (psycholinguist), and Frank Wilson (neurophysiologist).  The presentation concludes with 18 specific examples of how children learn.

Parent/School Partnership (25 minutes)
A short look at a few aspects of the parent program at the Model Early Learning Center (MELC), an explanation of the MELC’s Book Sharing Program, some warnings about television, and emphasis on the importance of reading books to children. 

Pearls from David and Frances Hawkins: What It Means To Learn
Quotations from the brilliant historian of science, physicist, and philosopher, and his wife, preschool educator and author of the classic book The Logic of Action (1969), a chronicle of Frances’ work with profoundly hearing impaired preschoolers.  The quotations are liberally illustrated with classroom images of children engaged in original and complex activities.

* Ann works with organizations to tailor or create presentations for their particular needs. See Contact.

• Presentations typically include about 100 images.  Unless otherwise noted, allow from one to one-and-a-half hours for a presentation with Q & A.
• Presentations are on flash drives and are compatible with any equipment that can run Power Point.  Please assure that your machine runs power point and has a port for a flash drive.
• The more powerful the projector and the darker the room, the better the color in the images.
• Presentations draw on over 3,000 images from infant, pre-K, early, elementary, junior high school, and museum education settings.  Images portray educational philosophy, school change, classroom design, school structure, curricular activities, rich student work, and innovative hands-on exhibits. 
 • All images in the “Essential Practices” shows are different; one includes images from infant/toddler centers, the other from preschools.

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