Sunday, 29 September 2013

Documentation - a first peek...

Here comes a picture filled post about documentation - but it will only scratch the surface of what documentation is about. Here in Sweden there is a continuous discussion about the difference between documentation and pedagogical documentation and trying to define what that difference is so that there is better understanding for EVERYONE.
I can only write as I have understood - as I have used and practiced and evolved in my own journey to understand documentation...

For me documentation is not just about putting things up on the walls or in files (portfolios) - it is about a whole process of learning - the children and me. When I am documenting I need to have an idea of WHY I am documenting - is it so that the children can use the words and images to prompt their own memory and offer an opportunity to deepen their own understanding? Is it so that the parents can see what we have been up to and why? Is it so that I can see the patterns of the children's learning and my own understanding of what individuals and the group are interested in and understanding at the moment? Or...? Sometimes documentation can meet several of these critieria at the same time. But for me the main difference between documentation and pedagogical documentation is that the latter is created AND used with the aim to learn from and to support how the learning and development journey of the preschool/ers should/could continue! I also feel that this kind of documentation needs the support of colleagues for it to be able to truly develop...
The stuff that is produced to put up the walls is the publication of the pedagogical documentation, your reflections, the children's reflections, the analysis etc...

By taking the time to critique each other's work allows individuals to not only see and be inspired by colleagues methods of documentation but also receive feedback about how their own documentation is viewed. This means that there should be dialogues about the notes, observations, photos and films so that you can analyse the data... and also the publication needs support... how are you putting the images together with the text... is the message you want to share clear to others?

I have done a course in museum studies back in the nineties where I looked at how young children were using museums and how museums were including young children. I spent quite some time looking at the information signs and posters that documented the history/activities etc of what was being displayed/available. This has helped me understand HOW children look at such museums and documentation, what sort of time people have to read this information and that we need to break it down into a multi-layered source of information - where the image tells its story, the title/heading can enhance that, a short paragraph can deepen that and then more text is available for those who are really interested. My experience from this course and my experience with my son, who is a very reluctant reader, shows me how TOO MUCH text can sometimes put people off from even attempting to read and explore what you know they would be interested in...

At the moment our projects are shown visually on a digital screen, on the notice board with short explanations and in files with more detailed information including access to what the children are saying in the philosophical dialogues. This allows the parents to find out what their children are doing based on how much time they have... the children can see the first two easily but need to ask to see the latter as they are mostly words and they need an adult to read for them (especially as the dialogues are simply notetaking).
We also have weekly documentation of what we as teachers see in the group and how we can proceed to support the children... these we can return to to allow us to see the group's journey. We have just 30 minutes a week to do this together which is not a lot of time - but our priorities are the children and being with the children and as we work in a preschool that is open for more hours than any one individual works then we need to have shifts to cover the day. This means that finding the time when we are together and there are still enough staff to meet the needs of the children is a puzzle that not just my preschool tries to piece together, but every preschool I have ever worked at - and at most other preschools...
Fulltime work in Sweden is 40 hours a week - preschools are legally required to be open for 60 hours a week - and not all staff work fulltime either - so, as I wrote, finding time to document, reflect and plan is a puzzle. When I did my thesis for my masters in ECE I focussed on what preschool teachers believed quality is and how it can be achieved - this need for planning/reflecting/documenting was an important part of achieving this quality but there was a concern that this also came at a price that when teachers had child-free time to document, reflect and plan they were very aware that the teacher/child ratio was affected and also had its consequences. There was a slight jealousy that school teachers were afforded child free documenting/planning time knowing that other pedagogues were taking care of the children and that the teacher:child ratio had not been affected - and why were preschool teachers not afforded this same possibility? Of course this is a question that is much bigger than individual preschools - as it is something that needs funding...

But now for some images (some images have fuzzy areas - this has been done by me to protect the privacy of the children at the preschools - on the walls the images were with fully recognisable faces for the children to see and appreciate)

this wall of documentation not only shows the development and inspiration of the space project over the years but has also influenced the colour of the walls in this area of Boulder Journey School (BJS). The beauty of NOT taking down documentation at the end of the school year but to leave it in place to inspire children, to allow them to see and listen to the words and understandings of previous children at the preschool and for them to build upon this

here the teachers have used tape directly on the wall to make a child's drawing of a tree to become huge and more tree-like by its size. As you see there is lots of small text next to the tree to allow parents (and visiting teachers)  to read and understand the process. This was one of many parts of the documentations about trees and leaves that were bordered by this tree and another at the far side. BJS

a documentation showing the elements needed for creativity. This not only allows the parents to see how the school is working with the children and their processes, but also allows the teachers to focus their own thoughts. As all teachers well know, there must have been a lots of discussion and exploration of "what is creativity?" before being able to reach the conclusions that these are the elements that are necessary. This documentation allows new staff to be able to see the thought processes of what has been discussed, and also afforded the opportunity to build upon them - just as the documentation will also serve as a memory for those partaking in the discussions - a continual reminder of the complexity of planning activities and the need to be open ended and multi-layered.... (BJS)

more details could be read in files about what was going on in the classrooms and the learning and interactions and the teachers' reflections (BJS)

inside the files you can see the sort of reflection that was being documented supoorted by photographs (BJS)

here again the documentation is presented on a the wall in large format in a way that is not only interesting to the parents but also to the children. This was not at children's height... in fact a lot of the documentation at BJS was not at children's height... there can be a lot of discussion JUST about this. But my own feeling is that I personally do not want to have EVERYTHING at child height - I want to vary the height and the position of the documentation to encourage the children to look up and around them - and not to be simply fed with what we want them to see but to encourage them to discover...

this was a part of the tree display at BJS - and as you see there was information that is shorter and easier to read if you have just a few moments to spare - and not the mass of text that was on the previous photo that requires more time and concentration...

the teacher's reflections were created into books (BJS)

here the children are able to revisit the process of the art we made together - and also  how the different groups of children explored the spaghetti in the artmaking. The children frequently spent time looking at these images and talking with each other about who was doing what and also with a teacher who could ask more questions about what they remembered and felt about the process and the finished product. You can see the curled up edges of the paper after a lot of poking and inspecting of the photos, and also as the written text is read back to them like a story - and just as children like to be read, and re-read a favourite story so is the case with documentation on the wall. I tend to write this kind of documentation like a story, to appeal to the children and the adults - and also to illuminate the learning processes for both parents and children. I am a big believer in a sustainable preschool and can sometimes have a hard time in using a lot of paper. In retrospect I would have liked to have mounted the documentation on 3 big sheets of dark blue to make it more aesthetically pleasing, but the need to be kind to the planet sometimes gets in the way of that... there were also images to the left of the children looking at the documentation... (mine)

in May on National Preschool Day here in Sweden we set up a whole load of activities on the square that our preschool windows face out onto. So we used the windows to show what we had been up to since Christmas - the artwork, the projects and the documentation showing the processes and the learning.... this is quite busy, but it a selection of one group's interests over five months - in reality this work was spread out to give a more gallery-exhibtion feel rather than this quick "shout" of what we have been up to. BUT I have this image here to show the difference in purpose ... the purpose here was to give a quick and intense display of how busy the children had been and of all the learning that has been occurring. The purpose was to show how much the children had explored, just as an abstract covers the content and the richness of the paper to come in a few short words. This is, though, not how I would want to always display the children's work - I much prefer to let each story unfold in its own area - and sometimes that means bringing down one story and storing it in the children's files for later to allow new interests to replace them... and sometimes to allow work to remain knowing the children will be returning to it. To some extent it will depend on how much wall space you have that can be dedicated to documentation - and also to sense the boundary between inspiration and over-stimulation. (mine)

this school I visited several years ago is probably pretty typical for a British primary school in the sense that the walls are utilised to the max. There is no space left for the children to rest their gaze and just think as they are being bombarded with information. There is obvious pride in the way the children's work is displayed and I LOVED visiting the school and it' obvious dedication to the children, but all those words at the top of the room just make it feel TOO busy, even though I understand WHY they are there. AND it would be nice for the displays to have gaps between them instead of each display being snuggled up to each other, even when there is no connection except for the fact that it is the same children learning...
In this sense BJS was also quite busy, but they had managed to get the balance of a lot of documentation and the need for eye-resting space to work for them more harmoniously - especially in the classrooms - the corridors tended to be more busy (but this can also be to do with the fact that a lots of space was being filled for our (the visitors) benefit, in pretty much the same way that my window display was a "shout" about what we had been up to, BJS was also intensifying their documention presentation to meet the hungry needs of conference-goers wanting to consume as much inspiration in a short time as possible.
documentation does not need to be an image of the children with a description of what they have done... but a series of questions based on observations of the children - questions that can get colleagues and parents involved in the project. And the more actively involved the more possibilities and the more inspiration that can guide you in a project direction of discovery together with the children. By getting parents on board with questions can also open up the learning possibilities at home too. (BJS)

Capturing children's language - each week the children are documented at Täppan preschool in Stockholm. This allows the parents to see what the children are saying at preschool, it allows the teachers and parents to see the language development as these pieces of dialogue are collected over the child's preschool life once a week. It also allows the children to see that what they have to say is valued by the adults that surround them.

the children also document their learning at BJS - and these are collected into small books. Some of these books were in the reading areas in the classrooms and others were collected and stored in the preschool library for all children to access and appreciate just like real books.

areas of learning are simply documented with words and images to allow children and adults to see the learning in their play and to develop their vocabulary together. (BJS)

one of the documentations that I felt was put up for our (the conferenece visitors) sake at BJS

it can be important to think of allowing the parents to see how you  have been developing your skills as teachers, and how this knowledge is being shared too. If we are to value children's learning and to be great role-models for them too, then why not let the children see how you as an adult continue to learn?


the dragon skins were photocopied and then a dragon template was used to support the childrens' continued understanding that this proces art was to create dragon skins. By not labelling the dragons it also became a game - could the children locate which was their dragon by the skin markings? - or identify the others? It was quite tricky, but for those children who had chosen a colour VERY different from the others it was much easier of course. By displaying the children's art like this (and with images of the process next to it) the children have an opportunity to continue to interact with their art and to revisit their memory of the process. (mine)

another BJS documentation to show the connection of early mark making to writing and idea collecting. As teachers we are aware of the processes and the incredible importance of the little things as BIG contributers to skills that have high value in society - such as writing. These early steps should not be rushed, they should be valued as important steps for children to become comfortable with their budding skills and to understand them. It is not enough to just be able to do things to please parents, children need the time to comprehend what they are doing so that it can be applied with greater wisdom and a true passion rather than a "have to".


So this brings me to the end of this first peek at documentation. It would be great if you could share documentation on either my facebook page Interaction Imagination or ECE - Inteaction Imagination Group. It would be great if you could share strategies for creating time to document, reflect and plan ...
all inspiration and feedback warmly welcomed...

1 comment:

  1. What immediately came to mind was analyzing photos and words of children during play often reveals the unexpected. Looking at photographs of children in the block area and what they constructed led to a marvelous journey of ramp making in my SK class at Richland Academy. It led to an 'action' piece, where the children wanted the other children to have as much fun as they'd had! The result - a marble run designed and constructed by the children using a recycled blue metal classroom door stands in our piazza for all to enjoy. Documenting the children's work needs to be planned carefully as time to do this is precious. I decide on specific questions I may have/provocations I will make after looking at the previous days documentation. It is always a fascinating and surprising journey. Once an inquiry is happening I am strategic in the sense of visualizing what a 'finished' panel may look like, who it will be for/its' purpose and ensuring I have the necessary children's sketches, photos, artifacts that I might need. I often produce a 'rough' copy of a panel using Powerpoint and then leave time for my brain to mull things over. The first panel is rarely the one I put up, as I find reflecting alone and with others (who have different perspectives and ways of seeing things), plus time, makes visible again the unexpected. For those who are new to documentation panels, I often say "Just speak from the heart. What was powerful for you as you saw the children working with/discovering x etc. Like you, I also say "Less is more"!

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