Monday, 19 November 2018

Why we document .... part 3

How to get started...

what is it that you want to document?
What should you be filming or taking photos of or taking notes of?

I think this can be really daunting... as everything is of value... yet we do not have the time to document or process everything. it is simply overwhelming.

So why not start with a project for yourself?

I want to learn about....?

  • how the children are using their fine motor skills
  • how the children are developing their language
  • how the children are using the learning environment
  • how the children socially interact with each other
  • how the room supports the children's play
  • which activities interest the children, and why
  • do all the children feel safe
  • is there equal participation in the group, or do some children dominate, others appear invisible
There are of course a hundred more possibilities... 
Once you have chosen your own inquiry you have to work out how can I find out these things. What kind of information do I need to collect? And how should I collect it.

For example the first option... maybe you set up some fine-motor activities that are connected to the project/inquiry that the children are involved in...
After all it is like two parallel projects happening at the same time... the children and yours...
The children are learning and exploring about the world... you are learning more about the children.

I have always chosen a question that I have felt I, or my team, have needed to understand better to become better educators, and more responsive to the children.
Language, empathy, listening, the third teacher etc have been areas that I have explored parallel to the children doing their project about dinosaurs, designing a square, stories, Leonardo da Vinci/robots... 

it means that I have taken images and notes to help me understand what the children know, what they are interested in and also to make visible their process. But also taken notes, photos and films that have helped me understand more about the children's learning and development or environment's process/impact. If I make changes I have the before and after photos - and notes about what impact those changes had, short term and long term.

I also think that you need to set aside some time for dedicated documentation time... not the kind where you sit and create a document that gets published... but a time where you sit and really observe the children. I have always planned with my closest colleagues that I am going to spend 30-60 minutes observing and jotting down notes. So my colleague knows that s/he has the main responsibility for interacting with the children, while I try to make myself invisible. The children will often come up to me anyway, I do not want to hide away from the children, I simply do not want to be disturbing their play... and when the children ask what I am writing I will always show and explain... pointing out that they said this or that, or that they doing this, or were playing that over there and with these children... and explain that I do this so that I can learn more about them, so that when I plan activities, and excursions etc that it is based on what they like, what they feel is meaningful and that it is extending their learning rather than teaching them things they already know.
In this way I am open with the children that I am still a learner... and also that their actions, their play is a way of participating in the planning.

By writing who plays where and with whom, I get a good idea of the play constellations... I usually have a map/plan of the room where I put each child's initial in the place where they stand - I sometimes do this every ten minutes for an hour, just to see how the children are focussing on the play available in the room (sometimes with planned activities, and sometimes during free play) - and also to see if there is any child that is frequently on their own, and to explore why. Sometimes things can be easily missed.

I do the same thing outside... even in public parks, jot down where and with whom the children are playing every 10 minutes... is the play different outside that inside? if it is, why? and also what can I learn from these differences.
I quickly found that certain outdoor play spaces where better for social play than other ones... while others were great for developing hand strength...
This meant we started choosing our outdoor spaces not just on what play opportunities they offered but also based on the needs of the group... for groups that needed more support with holding pens etc then the places that encouraged climbing for most of the time was chosen... when we seemed to be going through a few petty squabbles in the group, then the spaces that encouraged social play were visited.

My observations and documentations meant we had a better understanding of how to use not only our own setting, but the local area too. This was information that could be shared with the rest of the setting and all children could take advantage of.

So I think if you want to get going in your documentation. Then choose a topic YOU want to learn more about the children... and practice gather information about that... collecting evidence of how they write, or how they climb stairs, or how complex their sentences are, or if there is equality in the group...
Use this evidence, documentation to build theories... why do you think it is like this? if you make a change what do you think would happen?
for instance, if you introduce different kinds of pens, or beads and wire, or clay... how will this impact the way they hold their pens? (I take a lots of photos of children holding pens to see how I can ergonomically support them in the drawing and writing process - and will set up activities from creating from the should, the elbow and the wrist with different sized projects so that they can feel themselves how it impacts their own bodies etc)
or if I discover that one child is not participating much, then I will endeavor to discover why - has it always been like this, is it just a temporary thing, is something happening at home, could it be due to language development and not being able to keep up, or shyness, or being excluded... why are they being excluded etc etc

I think this process can be a good one to start with... as it is documenting YOUR learning process. By doing this you can gain the experience of documenting learning processes that can be applied to documenting the children's learning processes.
at the same time you are learning about the children and how they learn... making it easier for you to understand what needs to be documented at this time. what can I process, what can I analyze, and how am I to analyze? 

This I will go into more in later posts...

below are some links connected to this post for further reading

Proggetazione - this post I wrote together with Debi, about how we felt that many educators are not understanding the true complexity of project work with children... that it is much more than just a fancy name for a project... it is also enabling your own understanding of learning processes, and not just making the children's learning visible.

Observations - easier said than done - this post was a reaction to the fact that I noticed that there was a gap between the usage of the phrase "observing children" and understanding what that actually entails. What is the difference between watching and observing children. What is documented of these observations? Why is it being observed, why documented?

Child perspective and Child's perspective - the post explores the difference... and how important it is that as educators we not only plan from a  child perspective but also the child's perspective... and this means being open to explore the children's ideas, reactions and understand their learning processes... as well as understanding theory of child development.

Scaffolding Inquiry - this post is about how we use our knowledge of the children to support their development and scaffold/facilitate their learning

documentation is a form of listening.

Friday, 16 November 2018

more from the Rain and Shine preschools... (I Ur och Skur)

As promised a few of those photos from my last post about rain and shine preschools (I Ur of Skur) but with with some descriptions.

The outdoor space had a lots of home-made equipment in a natural setting. The ground was flat, grassy, but also in places sloped (gently and steeply in different places) and with rocks too... so not only was there different equipment to play on there was also different surfaces to explore and challenge the body.
The equipment might have been mostly home-made, but it was well cared for and maintained... this means it allows for risky play, but does not present a danger to the children.

The space was also huge... and with many hidden areas. For a small school this meant that at times there were areas that were "shut" to ensure safety. This did not restrict the children, as most spaces were wide and offered many options... what it did was ensure the children were within sight - even if they could go into creep-ins to hide, the teacher knew where they were.

 There were several wind-shelters allowing for a year round outdoor meetings - play is much easier to keep warm during the cold months - as when you are moving and active you are keeping warm. Sitting to eat or meet and talk is a time when the body can start cooling down... so being in shelters that protect from the cold wind (wind chill is not a favourite of mine... or most that I know) and there were also shelters with an even more wrap around shelter with fire pits, to help with warming up on the really cold days.

again, as I mentioned last time... these preschools priority was to get the children to enjoy being outside, to be fascinated with nature and to encourage a life-long joy for outdoor activities... children that get too cold will not be enjoying themselves and are likely to develop a negative response to the outside... So being outside is great when there are spaces to warm up too... and to be outside for the right length of time to maximise on the fun and not turn it into torture.
If the children are uncomfortable they will not be able to learn either.

Getting the parents involved... this is a dry river bed during the cold months of the year... but during the warmer ones they switch on the circulating water system to create a great space for water play. The parents built this with the staff.
it is dry during the winter so that the minus degrees do not burst the pipes as the water expands...
all playgrounds in Sweden switch off water play areas to prevent damage during the many winter months.

another of the indoor spaces was a small workshop shed, where there was plenty of materials for teachers and parents, but also for the children to get creative. The workbenches etc was just behind me in this photo, as well as shelves with the children's work sitting proud on them

 Despite having all this space... probably four times the size of the largest preschool garden I have worked at in the centre of Stockholm, the children are often taking trips out into the forest and to the lake which is close by.

Next week I will share some of the images from their indoor facilities.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Outdoor Inspiration from I Ur och Skur preschools

In October I visited two I Ur och Skur preschools on Lidingö, just outside Stockholm City.
I Ur och Skur means directly in hour and shower (UR is an old word for clock, or a word outside, or original as urskog means virgin forest (original untouched forest) - it can also be translated as the saying Rain or Shine - as in come rain or shine = no matter what.

The preschools we visited were Stubben and Mulleborg... Mulleborg being the first ever I Ur och Skur preschool.

What I really liked about visiting, aside from the fantastic grounds, the usage of the local nature and the enthusiastic and respectful staff was the fact there was a healthy relationship with the outdoors and indoors. These were not places that MADE the children be outside everyday all day, these were places that made the outdoors an attractive place to be so the children wanted to be there...
there is a huge difference.
The indoor area was used just about every day, and in a way that supported the children's enthusiasm for being outside.
The outside, the connection with nature was the focus but not to an extent that the children had to be outside.
Of course the preschools were successful, the children loved being outside.
The preschools chose to not have large numbers of children... so both preschools had a huge space (especially their outdoor spaces) in relation to the number of children. They also had enough staff to be able to give the attention to detail that nature requires. This allowed them to go in different size groups into the forest to explore without compromising safety. This means it gives children the space and time to engage in risky play without it being dangerous.

This is NOT forest school... this is not about schoolifying nature... this is about supporting the children to have positive relationships with nature, to play and learn naturally there, as they would anywhere else (of course in nature there is more freedom... and it can be forest, a meadow or a lake... not confined to school in a forest..)

Don't get me wrong it is GREAT that schools are getting out into nature and discovering children can learn there... discovering there is more than one way to learn.
But in a way this is something children already know... maybe forest school is more about educating adults into understanding transdisciplinary learning, new perspectives on learning, and the 100 language of learning... not JUST in a classroom with workbooks and "set activities" - a kind of controlled play.
Forest Schools are important in many places because they are that first step for the school system to learn that traditional school is not the ONLY answer.

But what I saw in these preschools was play, learning happening and being supported through play, freedom, social interactions being supported allowing for socially competent children (they have the space to develop at their own space, and not being forced into social situations before they master the skills/confidence due to small indoor spaces).

I also saw staff that believed in what they are doing, and also had a great joy for the outdoors... which sadly is not always the case, even in most Swedish preschools where I have encountered at least one (often more) pedagogues at every preschool I have spent real time at, that have not liked going outside. And this infects the children.
Creating a joyful and good relationship with the outdoors and with nature is essential. On that learning can be built.
If the children are negative or do not feel safe or inspired, then the learning and the play is never going to be as deep or as profound. Or of the kind desired by the Swedish School Authority - "Life Long Learning"

So here are some photos of the outdoor spaces to get you thinking
I fully realise not all of you will be able to create the same thing... lack of space, or policies that restrict. BUT the images can still inspire you to think what you can do in your own context.

The images are in no specific order... and in this post there will be no comments.
Tomorrow I will share some of these photos again, with comments and reflections.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Why we Document series... part 2

I actually did not expect to write another in the series so soon, I was going to pace myself to one a week... but I have found myself in a situation where I feel compelled to write.

I visited the Natural History Museum in Stockholm today... to observe the museum as a learning space but also to observe how schools and preschools were using it...

I have pages of notes...

But what struck me was that several  preschools (as schools did not photo document at all, at least I did not see them) were taking extremely random photos. Like photos of the visit, rather than of any specific learning...

BUT what upset me the most was the fact that one educator told some children to lift up their magnifying glasses, that they had brought with them, to look at the enormous T-Rex replica skull which was too far away for the magnifying glass to be effective, and also the child held the magnifying glass in such a way that it would have been impossible for the skull to have been in focus.
The teacher did not ask the children about what they could see, or support them to hold the magnifying glass correctly so that it would enlarge and be in focus - instead she took some photos. I assume this was done because it looked like learning... she would print it out back at preschool, no doubt, to show colleagues, the owners and parents that learning had been happening...

But what learning?
if this fake learning? Does the educator believe this is learning and that it is real documentation. I child asked to pose for a photo... not a photo of a child exploring (which was happening in other places, but this teacher seemed so locked in her agenda that she seemed to be missing it)

I mean what does learning look like?  How can we support educators to use cameras to capture learning moments?
How can we support educators to think critically about the types of photos they are taking?
How do we support educators to reflect on their input... is this the child's learning, or adult down teaching... or posing? Is posing a bad thing... I mean if you miss a moment, is it OK to ask children to do it again so you can capture it? Is this fake learning, or just an attempt to record the original that occurred.

I observed several preschools as they moved around... and learned so much... but the range in quality was shocking...  from the fake learning photos, telling the children the WRONG information about the exhibition as they went around (and corrected the children when they tried to say what they saw, which was actually right) and constant usage of "don't" and "no" to the amazing calmness of a group fired by curiosity, talked to with enthusiasm, knowledge and respect... one child wandered off (just a short distance) and one of the educators quietly moved over and gently talked with the child, acknowledging what the child was looking at and encouraging them back to the group so they could listen to the next part of the story... It was clear this group of children felt secure, and they had more time and energy to focus on learning and participating in that learning. It was a joy to watch. And I had to go over to them to let them know how amazing they were... it is SO important with positive feedback.
I also saw that they seemed to have a pre-arranged their educator roles for the visit. One guided the children, told the stories and had the main interaction, another was there to back up and support the children in observing and listening and participating and the third was taking photos and films and also interacting to show her enthusiasm for what the visit. By the teachers knowing what their roles were made it easy for the children to feel security.
It would be really interesting to be able to see what documentation was created by this preschool... and the others that visited...

I could go on abut the visit... but I will not as the purpose of this post is the documentation.

So what happens when pieces of the learning mosaic are false? How can the teacher really understand the children on an individual and group basis if facts are closer to fiction?
This is something that I had not truly considered before.
And now will spend some time reflecting on... how can we support these teachers to be able to document the facts and to learn from them. That documentation is not about proving you are a good teacher, but a method of learning about the children and the processes of learning and play.

In pedagogical documentation, teachers imagine or theorize understanding, present evidence of what they think they see, and check it against others’ analysis and interpretation, all of which can inform their decisions about what to offer children, thus influencing the design of curriculum. Wien

Monday, 12 November 2018

Why we document.... the start of a series...

This is just a short post to start an exploration of why do we document the children? What is the purpose of the documentation? How much time does it take? Does it interfere with the children playing? Learning? How do we use these notes, films and photos, quotes, audio recordings etc?

How much time do YOU spend practicing the art of documentation? When do you practice? Is it a skill that can be learned through books and lessons or some that we need to do to learn? or both?

Can you be phronetic in documentation? That there is a practical wisdom of how to document that comes with experience. If so, how do you gain the experience you need?
What theory do you need to be able to document? What about pedagogical documentation? What skills, theory and experience do you need to be able to learn from and interpret all the documentation that is being accumulated?

Who is the documentation for? Do they really need it? How do they need it? How does it differ from other documentation? Do you document differently depending on whether it is for children, their parents, colleagues, the walls, the portfolio, the authorities etc. Do you analyse or present it differently?

Do you feel the documentation is useful in your work? How does it help you?

Do you have the time to document and analyse the documentation... on your own/together with others... who are these others?
Do you have a mentor?
Do you get to interact with your mentor enough?

The above film was taken using timelapse...
How often do you experiment with different photo, film etc methods of documenting. What do you learn from this?

I know that my instagram photo project #slowdown #lookclosely has had an impact on how I observe children. It has given me the chance to explore the world from a new perspective... to also see the children and their learning from a new perspective... and to be able to do this without a great deal of effort, as I practice in my daily life to see the small details and the whole.

what do you do to help you hone skills needed in your profession?

In future posts I will be exploring these questions and explaining my experiences and what I have learned... and what I still strive towards...
I will also explain more about the time-lapse, slow motion and other techniques that I have been using as a learning tool for myself and the children...

Documentation is like a mosaic for me... small details that we need to piece together to create a whole.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Learning Mosaics

(på svenska efter bilden)

Late yesterday I returned from my adventures in Palestine and Israel...
I have met many people, seen many things, experienced them with all my senses and have been making connections...

Connections between what I have seen and experienced to how I am as an educator and how I strive to be as an educator...

I have seen more ancient mosaics in the last few days than I have in the rest of my entire life... and it has left an impression...

Nona asked me if I was to bring one thing that represented me right now what would it be... after an initial panic and feeling of anxiety... what on earth could represent me right now... I realised that single piece of mosaic would be it... I have a clear image of the cube, mostly clay with a painted surface square.. a tiny part of a whole.
And that is how I feel... I feel like a tiny part of a whole... not in an insignificant way, but as an essential part of a learning mosaic. Like all educators are, and all learners.

I am collecting my pieces... from educators around the world, from books and articles, from research, from art therapists (like the amazing Nona - check out her blog - The Good Enough Studio), from nature, from experiences etc etc... and I am connecting them together to create a bigger picture...

On my instagram account I have been sharing images of the mosaics - and if you take the time to check them out you will see that the pieces can be put together in so many different ways to tell different stories, evoke different feelings and to aesthetically please a diverse audience...
and this is what i like... that in education we need to piece together our learning to create a pedagogy that works for us in our our own context... not copy-paste images, but to take the time to place the pieces to create a whole.

My mosaic will stand the test of time... that is my hope... just like the Roman mosaics I saw... and even got to stand upon (that blew my mind... to walk on such complex beauty, that feet centuries ago have walked upon), but at the same time I want my mosaic to be flexible... I have learned, as an educator, that what works in one place, or with one group of children, will not necessarily work in or with another... I need to be able to re-design my mosaic... to put aside the pieces that are no longer needed and add the ones that are... To document my original design, and why I designed it that way, and to save it just in case it will work another day... I do not have to re-invent every time.

So in the coming weeks the metaphor of the mosaic will be surfacing in my posts as I try to unpack it, and make sense of it, and learn.
The other word that is requiring me to take time to explore is "connections".

Sent igår återvände jag från mina äventyr i Palestina och Israel ...
Jag har träffat många människor, sett många saker, upplevt dem med alla mina sinnen och har sett samband

Samband mellan vad jag har sett och upplevt med hur jag är som pedagog och hur jag strävar efter att vara som pedagog ...

Jag har sett mer gamla mosaik under de senaste dagarna än jag under resten av hela mitt liv ... och det har lämnat ett intryck ...

Nona frågade mig, om jag skulle ta med en sak som representerade mig just nu vad skulle det vara ... efter en första panik och känsla av ångest ... vad i hela friden kunde representera mig just nu...? jag insåg att en enda mosaikdel skulle vara det ... Jag har en tydlig bild av kuben, mestadels lera med en målad yta. En liten del av en helhet.
Och det är så jag känner ... Jag känner mig som en liten del av en helhet ... inte på ett obetydligt sätt, men som en väsentlig del av en lärande mosaik. Som alla pedagoger och alla studenter.

Jag samlar in mina bitar ... från utbildare runt om i världen, från böcker och artiklar, från forskning, från konstterapeuter (som den fantastiska Nona - kolla in hennes blogg - The Good Enough Srudio), från naturen, från erfarenheter/upplevelser etc etc. .. och jag förbinder dem tillsammans för att skapa en större bild ...

På mitt Instagramkonto har jag delat bilder av mosaiken - och om du tar dig tid att kolla ut dem ser du att bitarna kan sättas samman på så många olika sätt att berätta olika historier, framkalla olika känslor och estetiskt tillfredställa en mångsidig publik ...
och det här är precis vad jag tycker om ... att vi i förskolan/skolan måste sammanfoga vår lärande för att skapa en pedagogik som fungerar för oss i vårt eget sammanhang ... inte kopiera-klistra in bilder, men att ta tid att placera bitarna för att skapa en helhet

Min mosaik kommer att stå tidstestet ... det är mitt hopp ... precis som de romerska mosaikerna som jag såg... och till och med fick stå på (det var helt otrolig att jag fick gå på en så komplex skönhet som fötter för århundraden sedan har gått på), men samtidigt vill jag att min mosaik ska vara flexibel ... Jag har, som lärare, lärt mig att det som fungerar på ett ställe eller med en grupp barn, inte nödvändigtvis kommer att fungera i eller med en annan... Jag måste kunna omskapa min mosaik ... för att lägga undan bitarna som inte längre behövs och lägga till de som nu behövs... Att dokumentera min ursprungliga design och varför jag designade den på det sättet,  för att spara det ifall det kommer att fungera igen en dag ... Jag behöver inte uppfinna varje gång.

Så under de närmaste veckorna kommer mosaikens metafor att dyka upp i mina inlägg, eftersom jag försöker packa upp det och förstå det och lära mig.
Det andra ordet som kräver att jag tar tid att utforska är "samband/anslutningar".

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Return to West Asia

Next Tuesday I will be returning to West Asia to spend time in Palestine and Israel - meeting educators and holding workshops and presentations while I am there... also some time to do some tourist things, which I have never had time to do previously... so I am really looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful part of the world.

I will of course be sharing my adventures here on my blog, as usual.
This time my daughter will be coming with me, not only to experience West Asia, but also to work on her school project, finding out more about the education system in Palestine and Israel by asking a few of the local teenagers we meet.

For those of you wondering why I am calling it West Asia rather than the middle east, then it is due to the fact the latter has a colonial ring to it rather than describing the geographical location...
if you are interested in finding out more about West Asia as a term and why Middle East is maybe a name we should leave behind in history with British colonialism (and the many atrocities that happened under it) then check out this article about why West Asia... and how middle east does not accurately describe the area.

Below are a few photos from the area...

the refugee camp is the close compact area with the black water containers on the roof - the city of Jenin has been built with more space and bigger roads - the hills beyond are on the other side of the barricade keeping Israelis and Palestinians separated from each other.