what is the difference between a provocation and an invitation?

During our most recent #ReggioPLC twitter chat, participants were asked to suggest what we might discuss next. Many of us were compelled by this question:

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. During the summer of 2014, Tracy Pickard and Cheryl Emrich invited other FDK educators to open up their classrooms by sharing photographs that would inspire others to think critically and carefully about the choices they make while setting up their space. The video is inspiring and filled with invitations for the viewer to think critically about the power of a learning space to provoke learning:

Having reread the introductory paragraph to the video above, I am reminded that I have used the terms provocation and invitation in a way that suggests they might be utilized interchangeably. I know I am not alone in this habit. In an effort to think more reflectively about where these terms might “overlap” and “relate”, I took a quick peek in the dictionary (actually I googled the dictionary, but I don’t think I am alone here either)!

Invitation – something that encourages someone to do something or that makes something more likely to happen; written or spoken request for someone to go somewhere or do something.

Provocation – an action or occurrence that causes someone to begin to do something.

Right! So now I am thinking that the Full Day Kindergarten classrooms we just peeked into in the video are invitations. The thoughtful arrangement of furniture and selection of purposeful materials and loose parts encourages children to engage in playful inquiry. However, as educators I don’t think we can be certain of the children’s actions, choices or type of engagement. Tracy and Cheryl produced another video, Thoughtful Intentional Provocations filled with examples of what I often think of as invitations but now wonder if the more appropriate term is provocation. Enjoy!

Lovely! But when I finished and watched and then checked the definitions of provocation and invitation above, I noticed the second part of the invitation definition: “written request for someone to do something.” So here I think is the overlap between the two terms. I think the other overlap might be the sense of self determination, freedom and personal choice in the practical use of these terms in our teaching and pedagogical commitments.

And so in answer to Greg’s, @Mr_Marshal, question, are provocations and invitations distinct? I think they are. When we invite engagement as educators we think more holistically, and hope that our thoughtful, reflective and pedagogically sound arrangement of environments and materials will result in learning. When we provocate, I think that our actions and intent are far less transparent, and in many cases, a specific action is requested. There are many examples of questions that provoke action in the video above. Below are some of the question I created for the Canadian iteration of Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child:  The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins.

balance rocks

tall structure

I hadn’t looked at these provocations above for some time. They do clearly request a specific action. They might only be viewed as invitational because there is no requirement or demand attached, they were left for exhibit viewers to act upon or not. Similarly, in my visit to Anamaria Ralph‘s kindergarten class, I noticed many provocations displayed around the room, gently requesting a response.


I am still thinking about this question. I am not sure there is a “correct” answer, but I plan to continue my investigations before our next #ReggioPLC chat on Tues. Feb 2, 9pm EST. Please join us!


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