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!


12 Comments Add yours

  1. Deb Watters says:

    I wonder if it matters that we fully understand the difference between the two? Or is it more important that we think about why this learning for this child at this time? Provocations and invitations speak to an educator’s understanding that knowing our learners is at the heart of what we do.

    1. Louise Jupp says:

      Exactly! I wrote another post about provocations and invitations where this idea was addressed. https://reggioprofessionallearning.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/provocations-and-invitations-reflections-on-the-differences/ Knowing learners is at the heart of what we do and I also think, central to that process, is the demand for a heightened reflection of exactly what it is that we do. I think when we do not “fully understand” as teachers the door is open to rich dialogue and critical reflection, practices that make us better teachers.

  2. I had understood that a provocation is inspired by the children’s current interests, whereas an invitation to learning was something introduced by the teacher, unrelated to current interests to see if it will generate any interest and follow-up exploration on the part of the students. I may well be wrong, just putting it out there,,,

    1. Louise Jupp says:

      Honestly, I think that the terms provocation and invitation can and are used interchangeably. What I hope the post invites educators to do is to think critically about the differences in their practice and their decision making around their facilitation of curriculum and learning experiences. I do think on one hand we make a conscious decision to provoke learning (stimulate, excite, scaffold) knowing that at this moment with this child there is likely to be a reaction, a response, knowledge acquisition. These provocations are skillfully introduced by the teacher with the intent to create a spiral of learning where children construct knowledge. At other times we provide interesting materials, events, stories that invite the children to do something or go somewhere. This invitation can be accepted or ignored and we can use the children’s interaction with the invitation to inform our documentation as it provides insights into where the children are and where they might be going.

  3. Not trying to be contrary here, and I completely agree with you. It’s just my obsessive need to know one way or another! I shall just let go of that and be zen with providing challenging ideas and activities which I think will best address the interests of my students or stimulate thinking around new ideas 🙂

    1. Louise Jupp says:

      Not contrary at all! Makes for rich dialogue and thoughtful teaching. Love the idea of letting go and being zen!

  4. Belinda Bertozzi says:

    Wow..this has really made me reflect on how I use the terms and I must admit I have used them interchangeably but this dialogue has really challenged me to think more deeply about the terms and my pedagogy. This is what I am now wondering and I am using Loris Mataguzzi’s quote to inspire my thinking here… ” Stand aside for while and leave room for learning observe carefully what children do, and then of you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different than before” . Do we “invite” first, observing with open eyes, ears, thoughts and heart to “nudge” the children deeper into their thinking and inquiry and provoke deeper learning and thinking through “provocations”…thereby creating a spirally constructivist approach to learning? i am going to need to reflect on this further and would value your insight.

    1. Louise Jupp says:

      Yes! I think the most important piece, and the reason I wrote the blogs, was to invite (and clearly provoke) others to think about their pedagogy more deeply. I agree, the process of providing invitations (by definition something that can be accepted or declined, taken up or ignored) help us as educators to gather more research through observation, documentation, the pedagogy of listening. The result may be a “nudge” or more simply insight into the intricacies of learning that we need to figure out “what next?” Provocations I think poke at something more specific and defined. At this point in the “spirally constructivist approach to learning” (love this! It reminds me of Loris Malaguzzi’s metaphor of the brain as a tangle of spaghetti) we have figured some things out and we are consciously placing something into that identified trajectory of learning, inquiry, theory development. Since the constructivist approach involves co-construction, we often think in terms of a scaffold (something that provides a platform for the learning so the child or student can reach the next point or make sense of an idea or concept in their unique construction of knowledge). The joy of teaching is that the learning and reflection never end!

  5. The videos and the connections you’ve made to them, certainly help clarify the difference and also some commonalities. Thank you.

  6. Louise Jupp says:

    Most welcome.

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