By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years: How Does Learning Happen (2014) is considered a pedagogical document. It suggests a number of pedagogical approaches to “nurture learning and development in the early years” that includes “using pedagogical documentation as a means to value, discuss and make learning visible” (p. 16). In my role as an educator of educators, I am often asked to do workshops about pedagogical documentation and I include opportunities to document to consider the design of the documentation and to have a concrete example from which to look for meaning. It is not pedagogical documentation. It is documentation, yet we are practicing the process of pedagogical documentation. No wonder, educators that I meet are confused. I am confused! It is not an easy process to understand. I have been working on understanding pedagogical documentation for close to two decades.
There are many facets to pedagogical documentation. It defies a simple definition that articulates the depth and breadth of what is meant by pedagogical documentation. It is complex and not easily understood. I feel like I have been in a continued search for meaning. At first I understood documentation as the recording of children’s learning that was displayed. Then I realized that documentation could be pedagogical if it influences the curriculum path. Yet, not all documentation is pedagogical. Is it still worthy? Yes, educators should just keep documenting and collecting data that can be analyzed and interpreted. Not all documentation will end up being pedagogical. Sometimes, the process stops at the collection and the display of documentation. Without interpretation and analysis, it is not pedagogical. It still is data collected from the practice of teaching and learning, and that’s okay.
If pedagogy is the study of teaching and learning, and documentation serves as a record, then pedagogical documentation is the recording of the teaching and learning in a way that influences future teaching and learning. It is not a straightforward listing of daily events, but rather a study of those events as they relate to teaching and learning. During visits to programs, I see documentation posted and displayed on the walls, yet the content is only a recording of a past event and mostly just photos. This is not pedagogical but it is an attempt to make learning visible. My colleague Cindy Green refers to this level of documentation as “scrapbooking”. Avoiding scrapbooking and finding depth is not easy. It will take time. Cindy would tell you to keep documenting! You also need to be beware of having too much text as this helpful guideline to creating documentation: The Anatomy of a Documentation Panel suggests.
To attain the right balance of text to photos takes practice.To attain the depth associated with pedagogical documentation, the idea is to interact with the collections of notes, video recordings, photos, children’s drawings and to encourage others to interact. The others would be educators, administrators, children and families. Documentation should make children’s learning experiences visible but it also needs to extend the learning process of both children and their teachers. According to Rinaldi (2006):
Documentation, therefore, is seen as visible listening, as the construction of traces (through notes, slides, videos, and so on) that not only testify to the children’s learning path and processes, but also make them possible because they are visible. For us this means making visible, and this possible, the relationships that are the building blocks of knowledge. (p. 68)
When documentation is embedded into practice, pedagogy and curriculum decisions can be based on the real meaningful experiences of children. To be pedagogical it has to involve interpretation. I would suggest that it is impossible to analyze every photo and every drawing of every child. This becomes more problematic when too much emphasis is placed on the recording of the obvious – for example, “we went to the park today” rather than trying to see the deeper meaning.
Collecting a critical mass of observations and photos through digital means and then sharing them via email, social media or a software app is documenting. Sharing the same by printing them out and posting on panels or bulletin boards is documenting. However, by sharing, there is ample opportunity for that documentation to become pedagogical but it takes time . I recently had an experience of viewing documentation that included a variety of photos of children interacting with loose parts and the recording of their responses to the materials. They had a number of different reactions to the experience including pretending they had made a birthday cake. I was asked whether the next steps would be to make cake with the children. There is nothing wrong with cake! However, for the documentation to be become pedagogical it needs further reflection for deeper meaning. Rather than decide so quickly what the next steps will be, I recommended that further documentation should be collected.
Pedagogical documentation can be viewed as a “process to explore all of our questions about children” (Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 21). Documentation becomes pedagogical when it is interpreted and analyzed by the educators and children who create the content and those that view it. Making the documentation accessible to others (children, families, other educators, community members) and inviting interpretations of what is seen provides multiple perspectives that forms foundational information that contributes to the creation of a curriculum path that is authentic to those involved. In the meantime, the documentation will support professional learning and reflection and will be an effective way to learn about learning. Not all documentation is pedagogical and that is okay. Keep documenting; sharing and looking for deeper meaning. Getting to the level of pedagogical documentation is a process that takes time and intention. It takes practice. Accept that all your attempts may not be pedagogical but as you document you will be learning about the learning processes of children and engaging in professional development and reflection.