Thursday, 14 April 2016

Documenting our Documentation

Documentation, the act of making learning visible in an early childhood setting, is a crucial element of any play based learning program. It allows us as educators to highlight, analyze, and share moments of learning that occur through play. In many ways, I look at it as a form of advocacy for play based learning - showing naysayers the very real moments of learning that occur in what some may initially see as "just playing". It is for very good reason that the concept documentation is at the forefront of current educational discourse.

That being said, there's more to documentation that simply "doing it". It's a delicate balancing act, especially given the large class sizes that we tend to see in the reality of our Full Day Kindergarten classrooms today. I've been a long time believer that as documenters, we each bring our own unique set of biases that directly impact our practice. These biases, while normal, need to be openly highlighted and confronted to allow us to document in a way that is more equitable for all of our unique students. My biggest fear is that I will have parents and families who feel like their child is not represented in our documentation and tweets (and the unspoken message that may send about what/who we value as educators). As I explained in a previous post (The Dangers of Documentation: Ensuring Equity in Your Work) there can be a very real possibility that we only tend to document the students who make their learning more obvious, typically those who are more advanced writers, readers, etc., when in fact our responsibility is to document the learning of ALL students who pass through our community, regardless of ability. Having this idea in the back of my head has informed my documentation practice, but I couldn't help but feel like I needed to make it more explicit so that I knew I was being as effective of a documenter as I could be. I was fascinated by the concept of tracking and uncovering not only who I was documenting, but what I was documenting, how I was documenting, and most importantly, WHY I was documenting - and collecting data to inform my future practice.

Which leads us to this...

The above image is a tracking sheet I developed to keep track of tweets sent out from our classroom - with specific focus on the students being documented in each tweet, what sort of learning was present, and the form the documentation took. I am so thankful for my teaching partner Shelagh who shares my beliefs about trying to be as equitable as possible in ensuring ALL students are present in our documentation. She wholeheartedly and excitedly jumped on board with this new tracking method as an indicator to see where we were currently at. 

Down one side of our tracking sheet are the student names, and across the top are different areas of our learning (Art, Writing, Fine Motor, Reading, Dramatic Play, Science, Gross Motor, Math, Self Regulation, and Building). We then developed our own legend to identify the form the documentation took: photograph, video clip, or student voice (either a scribed quote or student typing). We decided on a small time period to use for our first trial period of documenting our documentation. Shelagh and I agreed to not let this method change how we documented, as we wanted to truly uncover an authentic picture of who/what/how we documented to then be able to determine how we could improve our practice based on what we discovered. In many ways, this was a research project into our inherent biases and what we tend to favour as educators who document. Biases come naturally, and without recognizing them, they become impossible to move past. 

With each tweet sent out from our classroom by either Shelagh or myself during this time period, we put a tally in the appropriate column. Originally we only wanted to see who we were documenting more or less, but by adding the type of learning documented and the form it took, we were able to get a more three dimensional view of our documentation. When the time period ended, we sat down to analyze the data we collected. We are still in the process of working through what we uncovered and how that can impact us moving forward, but a few themes have already emerged. To my surprise (and relief!) we did a pretty good job of having all students receive some form of documented learning during this trial period of the tracking sheet. What was interesting is that students who tended to have less documented learning were English Language Learners, which has inspired me to look for ways to document that do not always involve verbal language (I've also been experimenting with using the Google Translate app to open up more channels of communication with these students). I wasn't surprised to see that Art and Science tended to be documented more than other areas as these are often areas of focus for me, and I hope to make an effort to supplement other areas as a I continue on my journey as a teacher who documents. I was pleased to see a fair balance between teacher voice and student voice, and hope to keep this up as well. I do think I can do more using video to provide a deeper look at learning.

Nobody in this field has everything figured out. There's a high value in being able to recognize this, look critically at your own practice, and identify areas for growth as a life long learner always seeking to do better.  Shelagh and I have agreed to continue documenting our documentation in this fashion as our year progresses in an effort to ensure we are thinking critically about who, what, how, and why we are documenting as learning in our community. I hope to share further glimpses of our journey as it unfolds, and to uncover more that can ensure I am being as equitable as I can be with my documentation. 


  1. You guys are an inspiration for me. This is going to be my goal next to do the documentation in different ways.

  2. Love this post! I have often wondered why I tend to document certain areas/play and particular students. Thanks for reminding me to be more aware of this.
    -Melissa Oosman

  3. We use a big ledger-sized sheet of paper broken into the different learning areas (literacy, numeracy, gross motor, etc.); when we meet to share our observations and documentation we jot our combined notes into these blocks. It can be interesting to see the gaps...boxes/areas of learning that are completely empty, or one child who has no new notes. It gives us a heads up to pay more attention to those areas in our planning, and to those children in their play. Similarly, many of my observations are related to literacy and numeracy whereas my partner (ECE) sees more in the actual play. Fascinating stuff! Great post!
    ~Stephanie Keon-Pinkerton