Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Dangers of Documentation: Ensuring Equity in Your Work

Before I delve into this post, let me emphasize that although I'm referring to the "dangers of documentation", I am by no means against it. In fact, I firmly believe that documentation is a vital part of early learning and is absolutely crucial in capturing the authentic learning that is so very present in play. As educators, we have a responsibility to grab onto these moments, however fleeting they may seem - document, analyze, and share with an audience (be it the child, their family, other students, or other educators). We need to be advocates for the plethora of authentic learning moments that occur, even while others may just see "play". Without documentation, these brilliant moments pass by and are completely lost.

So, now that I've clarified that I am, in fact, an educator who sees the incredible value and importance in documenting, allow me for a moment to examine a pitfall I have unfortunately seen time and time again when documentation loses sight of itself. Like anything I point out on this blog, it's as much a reminder to myself as it is to other educators. I by no means have it "all figured out" and hope this post is a call to arms for all educators, including myself, as we are all still on our unique learning journeys. Anyone who knows me knows that playing Devil's Advocate is a very common thing for me, so this is in no way a critique of how others document, but rather a prompt to look at it from another perspective.

Take a moment and scan your latest few pieces of documentation. Perhaps it's some documentation panels you spent hours putting together, or perhaps it's your Twitter feed filled with daily updates of learning in your classroom. Both are incredible methods and should be present in a balanced program of documentation. As you look over your documentation, ask yourself - "What is being documented?" "Who is being documented?", and "Why is this being documented?".

In an era where we obsessively count our Twitter followers, Instagram likes, and Facebook comments, there's a very real chance that documentation is happening for all the wrong reasons. Again, I don't honestly believe this is the case for most educators, but it is a very real perspective that needs to be addressed.

Are you documenting the work of your scribblers just as much as you are the work of your student who can write full sentences? I would argue that it's our job to document all students equally. No, perhaps the scribbles don't look as "impressive" to other's eyes, but you as the educator know that child's unique journey - perhaps this is their first time gripping a pencil with the pincer grasp, or perhaps this is the first time they willingly choice to independently visit the writing centre. Regardless of the backstory, I think it's important to reflect on equity in our documentation, and remind ourselves that documentation is far more than just what "looks nice". It means documenting the learning of all students we work with. Let's make a pledge to document more - not just what looks the prettiest, may garner the most attention on social media, or looks like traditional "good student work".

On that same concept of equity in our documentation, are the same students showing up time and time again in your documentation? We all know students have a variety of personality traits and some certainly make themselves present more than others in learning experiences, but our job as teachers isn't to just document the students who raise their hands the most, ask the most insightful questions, or come to us to share their learning - it's to document for all. Yes, that means the quiet student who is afraid to speak in class. Yes, that means the child who struggles with the concept being discussed. Yes, that means the child who needs to hear instructions multiple times and still not follow them. We are the teacher for all the students in the room, and if we find ourselves only documenting those who naturally make their learning more visible, I'm not sure we should stop there. Real learning is happening with all students at this age, even if it's not immediately obvious - but look a little closer, dig a little deeper, and it will all become apparent.

Documentation should not be a pat on the back for a teacher. It shouldn't be a "look at all these amazing things in my classroom". It shouldn't be daily updates about only a handful of the "top students" in your class. Yes, there is an element of pride that is important, and we do want to share these awesome moments (and rightfully so!) - but if that's all that's happening, I would argue we may need to reassess why this documentation is happening in the first place and strive to find balance in our work. Documentation, when done thoughtfully, can allow us a thrilling peek into the mind of a child. I find this most interesting when documenting those aforementioned moments that aren't so pretty - the scribbles, the students who rarely speak, the challenging moments and I am trying harder to do this more often in my own practice. Recently I have stopped to remind myself that documentation is so much more than a collection of the greatest moments in your classroom. It's a collection of MANY moments. Varied moments. Great moments, yes, but also challenging moments.  It's something we owe to every child, regardless of where they are at developmentally. When documentation is completed with a lens of equity for all our students, it shows how truly we believe the mantra "all students are capable" - so yes, continue to document those "sentence writing, hand raising, and question asking" students...but also commit to equally documenting the shy ones, the defiant ones, the clumsy ones - you may be surprised what learning was present there all along one you stop to document it.