The Progression towards Pedagogical Documentation

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Pedagogical documentation can be viewed as a “process to explore all of our questions about children” (Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 21). It is a slow process that requires time but above all it needs to become a mindset – a habit of practice. 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 my last blog post, I shared a framework that could support the progression towards pedagogical documentation. The comments offered by others point to the complexity of the process of pedagogical documentation. In an effort to learn and understand more deeply about how to support those just beginning to embark on the pedagogical journey I find the five aspects identified by Wein (2011) of an educator’s progression towards pedagogical documentation helpful.

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Considering these aspects as strategies could these serve as a beginning point for the process of pedagogical documentation. I would love to hear your feedback on the strategies, please share in the comment section of this blog post!

Strategy Number One: Habits of Documenting – To continue to develop and progress to creating documentation that is pedagogical you should develop habits of documenting. Have the tools for documenting handy and recognize that there are many worthy moments to document that can occur at all times of the day.

Strategy Number Two: Become Comfortable – At first your documentation might be very descriptive in that it recounts the experiences of the children but the more you share and open yourself up to the interpretations of others you will develop your potential and capacity to go deeper. Develop your comfort level by going public with your documentation.

Strategy Number Three: Visual Literacy Skills – Considering the white space that surrounds your photos and collections of artifacts. Avoiding visual clutter will help you recognize how components of your documentation interact with each other creating an aesthetically pleasing visual for the human eye to view.

Strategy Number Four: Making Your Learning Visible – When you see documentation not only as a way to make the learning of children visible but seeing it as a way to grow and develop as an educator will help you conceptualize documentation as teacher research and professional learning. First attempts at documentation are placeholders in your progression towards pedagogical documentation as you work to study, interpret, plan and carry forward.

Strategy Number Five: Sharing Visible Theories with Others – When you move towards pedagogical documentation it is a process. You take time to interpret and theorize about children’s learning and make this visible by sharing your theories and opening yourself up to the interpretations of others. Your documentation reveals a greater depth of meaning.

Documentation can be intimidating if you haven’t done it before. Trying to let go of “am I doing it right” and just do it, is an important step. You learn as you go. Increasingly I am discovering that the more I learn about documentation, the more I don’t know. I am comfortable in this place of not knowing and I turn to others who practice documentation as part of their practice in my continued quest for understanding. I learn so much from my friends and colleagues at the Seneca College Newnham Labschool especially two amazing educators, Laura Salau and Tanya Farzaneh whose collaborative approach to documentation is inspirational. While working in two separate rooms down the hall from each other, they find the time and are in the habit of documenting, sharing, and collaborating. They recognize the importance of time in their own professional practice and in the work they do with children.

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Recognizing that pedagogical documentation is a process helps early learning teachers understand that their first attempts may not be pedagogical. To begin, documentation needs to be created and collected. The more documentation that is created and reflected upon, the more the process of documentation will take on deeper meaning. Meaningful documentation becomes a form of advocacy. It speaks to the importance of early learning and the professionalism of those who document – that is the power of pedagogical documentation!

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When you document you are making learning visible but you are also making teaching visible. Pedagogical documentation becomes a way to show your professionalism and commitment to teaching and learning. Begin at the beginning – document, document and document. Make it a habit.

7 thoughts on “The Progression towards Pedagogical Documentation

  1. Hi Diane. Yes, for sure …. understanding and engaging in the documentation process does require time, thinking and collaboration. We have been thinking about and studying documentation together and independently for many many years and we are still trying to figure out how to support educators in their journey of creating, interpreting and deciding upon next steps of curriculum possibilities. I am thinking a lot about the question “am I doing it right”? Educators frequently ask me this. Let that question go would be my recommendation as well and just do it. Practise, practise and more practise will help educators reach their own conclusions. Yes Carol Ann Wein, documentation needs to become a habit in one’s practice. With each piece, whether it becomes published or not, the process becomes easier and more reflective. Deep analysis of what the children might be thinking and wondering about will position educators to design and plan for what could happen next to invite deeper and continued learning for the children and themselves.

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  2. As an RECE in the kindergarten program it became very evident as we started to prepare report cards for this term just how valuable our documentation had become. Not only does it give me insight on a daily basis to each child’s learning as well as emotional state, but it does indeed steer what comes next as well as give me insight to their interests. In preparing reports, we are able to draw from the many months of documentation to put together a parent/guardian friendly picture of how their child has progressed. What I have learned through this process is that I need to ‘name the learning’ immediately with each documentation photo taken. Sometimes a picture doesn’t speak a thousand words. I will also utilize recording children’s words more often as I document their learning. It is a habit that one has to develop. I have an iPad under my arm most of the day, at the ready to capture the learning as it happens and also to record notes. In this way the children also realize that this in an “ah ha” moment.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this post, Diane, and for continuing to pursue serious consideration of pedagogical documentation. I want to direct you to two recent posts from Opal School that I think you (and your readers) might appreciate as attempts to take this challenge seriously: The Secrets of Wire: Play, Reflection, and Relationship with Risk from Beginning School teacher Caroline Wolfe (https://opalschool.org/secrets-wire-play-reflection-relationships-risk/) and Finding a Path to Productive Disagreement: Reflecting on our Response to Uncertainty and Confusion from Grade Three teacher Hannah Chandler (https://opalschool.org/finding-path-productive-disagreement-reflecting-response-uncertainty-confusion/).
    You mention the importance of sharing documentation for feedback from others. I know that they’d love to hear your impressions!

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  4. Diane,

    I love this post as well as your previous one. Here is Surrey Schools (BC) we are in the midst of a huge transformation in terms of curriculum and communicating student learning. The genesis of the shift is the notion that traditional forms of reporting were inadequate in capturing and communicating learning – the growth over time – and in activating student voice. Much of what you mention in your post is reflected in the journey of our teachers, so your words mean a lot. Words like, “am I doing this right?” and “When you see documentation not only as a way to make the learning of children visible but seeing it as a way to grow and develop as an educator.” Your post encourages vulnerability for certainly when documentation takes place, it makes everything visible to parents.

    Half of our K-7 teachers in Surrey are documenting learning digitally. Gradually, we are hearing student voice more and more and seeing ownership of learning. Gradually as well, we are seeing parents begin to understand this new form of communication as well as their new role … to interact with learning artifacts, comment, question, stretch thinking. Equally as important, documentation mirrors practice back to teachers, making self-reflection almost inevitable. Teachers are working together around big questions such as, “Where is the learning?” “What does this artifact actually show?” “Why is this artifact posted?”

    Thank you for continued excellent work in this area. It is certainly noticed!

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    • Thank you Antonio! I’m going to Surrey in February. I will doing a workshop on documentation for the City and another one on sticks and stones for the Child Care Options organization. I will also be presenting two workshops one on nature and the other on loose parts and documentation for the Children at the Heart of the Matter conference! It is amazing that the habit of documentation is trickling up to the higher grades 😊

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