The Importance of Documentation

Documentation: The Driving Force of Teaching and Learning

I have always been a bit obsessive with my documentation of both teaching and learning but it is something that is important to me. I believe that I owe it to the students to document their learning journey as much as possible. Also, providing meaningful documentation has many benefits to both the teaching and learning in the early childhood classroom. 

Documentation is not only a way to track students’ learning and thinking but also a resource that should have an effect over future planning. When done correctly, documentation should take the viewer on a journey through the children’s learning journey highlighting their development and the challenges they faced on the way. A documentation of their thinking process as well as their learning experiences.  

When children can visually see that their thinking and work is valued so much that it is documented and displayed proudly, they take pride and ownership over it. Visible documentation may also serve to generate new ideas and areas of learning.

Documentation should have a purpose that helps to support the teaching and learning. This may include documenting students’ achievements, highlighting areas of support, driving future learning or  reflecting on practice. Whatever the purpose, I believe that it should be the driving force of both the teaching and the learning. Detailed documentation is important for teachers to be able to track students’ ‘learning and thinking’ in order to plan next steps, how to scaffold children’s learning experiences and how to personalise learning experiences.

Even for the visitors to our classrooms, documentation provides an insight into the learning. The learning taking place and the process by which it is achieved should be clearly visible. They should be able to see what the children are interested in and learning about, the thinking that has taken place and the journey they have been on without having to ask. It should provide a showcase of personalisation of the children in our class. A focus point for observation and discussion.

The Importance of Documentation

Children’s Learning Made Visible:

At the front of my classroom our inquiry board has been transformed into a visible journey of learning and thinking. The board is littered with post-it notes showing the development of the children’s ideas and thinking through our inquiry. In the Early Years, I try to include as many visuals as possible so that the children can easily make connections and access the learning. Although the children are unable to read the notes themselves they take delight in their ideas being recorded. It gives value to their participation and thinking. I also use the notes to reflect back on past learning, reminding the children of their ideas and then developing them further. This approach has been a real driving force in our inquiries. The visual documentation provides information about children’s learning and progress within an inquiry. The focus is on how children make meaning and how they came to understand. 

While teachers often gain important information and insight from their own first-hand observations of children, documentation of the children’s work, thinking and contributions to learning in a wide variety of media provides compelling public evidence of the intellectual capability and competence of young children. Documentation uncovers the learning process as it highlights children’s theories, interests and relationships. The documentation of the children’s conversations or thinking is used to present children’s words as serious attempts to understand concepts and ideas.

On another class inquiry board this evidence of ideas and progression in thinking is made more evident. The children’s questions and ideas about a topic have been displayed. The board has been added to each time the children progressed and developed in their thinking and learning. String was attached to various ideas when we began to make connections between the ideas or topics. As an observer of the board you could quite easily begin at a question and follow the pattern of thinking and learning all the way to its conclusion. 

As I work within an inquiry-based curriculum I find it extremely helpful, both for myself and the children, when I document and make visible our learning journey throughout each of our inquiries. For each inquiry, I document each stage of our learning journey using an adaption of Kath Murdoch’s inquiry-cycle. I have found this very useful as it provides the children with a visual documentation of activities, learning and ideas throughout our inquiry. It also helps me with keeping track of our learning and next steps in lesson planning.

Something that takes pride of place on our inquiry-cycle is the documentation of Actions taken by the children. The children take pride in the accomplishments as their photos or samples of learning are placed upon the board. The celebration and documentation of achievements encourage other children in the class to take Action. ‘Taking action is an integral conclusion to the learning that incorporates students making connections to what they have learned, applying a variety of real life skills’ (IBPYP). Even our youngest learners are capable of meaningful Action and this needs to be made clearly visible within our classrooms as documentation of achievement and celebration and also as encouragement to others. This is one of the most important parts of the learning journey that should be documented and celebrated.

Children’s Learning is Enhanced:

Allowing your classroom to become an environment of visible displays of thinking and learning you provide stimulus for the children to independently reflect and make sense of their learning journey. The displays create an environment that celebrates work, thinking and learning. It gives value to the children’s contributions to learning. Making them a visible part of the process. Children become even more curious, interested, and confident when they are able to think about the meaning of what they have done. A display documenting the work of one child or of a group often encourages other children to become involved in a new topic and to adopt a new method of doing something. Children also learn from and are stimulated by each other’s work in ways made visible through the documents displayed. They provide stimulus for fresh ideas and encouragement to more reluctant learners that begin to see value in the thoughts and ideas displayed. The processes of preparing and displaying examples of the children’s experience and effort provides a kind of debriefing or revisiting where new understandings can be clarified, deepened, and strengthened.

Ideas and work are taken seriously:

The careful effort that we place in the creation of displays demonstrates to the children that their efforts, intentions and ideas are taken seriously. What may not seem valuable to you is extremely valuable to the children. We must ensure that we treat each piece of work or idea as a masterpiece. Doing otherwise would only discourage the child from making further contributions or effort in the future. I have been fortunate to work with some fabulous art teachers during my career who have highlighted how the most obscure piece of work can be enhanced and valued by the time we take to display it correctly. What might seem like a random mixture of colours and blobs is the demonstration of the children’s independent thoughts, effort and reflection of learning. The painting on the right is a reflection of child’s learning into the problems of plastic in our oceans. “It’s plastic in the ocean,” said a confident child to the art teacher. It is not just a random mash of colour and blobs. It is a representation of a child’s thoughts, thinking and learning and must be treated and valued as such. Displays should not be intended to serve for decorative purposes but purposeful documentation encourages children to approach their work responsibly, with energy and commitment. This allows for the children to show delight and satisfaction in both the process and the results.

Teacher’s Plan with the Children in Mind:

Through careful examination of the children’s work and the documentation of it a teacher is able to fully understand the children’s development and learning. Without this clear picture of the children’s journey, including successes, challenges and failures, how can it be possible to personalise support for our little individuals? Each of their journeys will be different. Each will face individual challenges whether they be academic or social. We owe it to them to record meaningful and purposeful documentation that will provide a basis for developing teaching strategies to provide individual support. Through this documentation we will gain a deeper awareness of each child’s progress and pitfalls. We need to know where and how to support. Using this information, we are able to make informed decisions about appropriate ways to support each child’s development and learning. Detailed documentation highlights both issues and successes of our young learners.

In the modern world of technology we have a wide variety of tools at our disposal to be able to document learning as it happens. A particular tool that I have found useful this year has been the use of the online portfolio Seesaw. This provides invaluable opportunities to document authentic learning moments and the learning journey of each individual child. This year I have been using the skills function as a formative record of the children’s learning. This has provided me with instant access to the children’s learning across the curriculum. Having such a visual record has allowed me to personalise the learning for each individual child.

With an extensive yet purposeful documentation of children’s learning I am able to plan accordingly based on the evaluation of the learning as it progresses. It allows me to make informed decisions that has the ability to change my planning so that it best supports the children’s needs. I am a big believer in having flexibility in my teaching so that I can change and adapt to meet specific learning needs. Planning decisions can be made on the basis of what individuals or groups of children have found interesting, stimulating, puzzling or challenging. Documentation provides me with the ability to place personalised learning at the heart of my teaching practice. Most experiences and activities should not be planned too far in advance so that new aspects of learning can emerge based on the children’s interests or needs. It is important that we reflect on the work in progress and the discussions that surrounds it. This may lead us to consider possible new directions that the learning may take. Clear and detailed documentation provides an ongoing planning and evaluation that should be achieved by all the adults who are responsible for the learning of the children.

Documentation for Parents:

Sharing documented work with parents is great way for parents to participate in their child’s learning in a more intimate way. Documentation also allows for the parents to understand the work and learning that their child is engaged in and think about ways they can contribute to the work in a thoughtful way. I have found that using the Seesaw portfolio provides parents with instant access to the children’s learning journey as it happens. If used correctly, they can witness any academic or social developments their child takes with just a touch of a button. This makes it possible for parents to become greatly aware of nearly every aspect of their children’s experience at school. Parent’s feedback on Seesaw and other media can also contribute to the value of documentation. 

Another effective method I have found to include the parents in my teaching practice and documentation is through my weekly class blog. I take the time each week to create a detailed narrative of the learning experiences. Through learning about the activities and learning in which their children are engaged, parents may be able to contribute ideas and support learning at home. This is especially true in Early Years if the children need support in the Action or creating a project that they are to bring to school. The opportunity to examine the documentation of a project in progress can also help parents to think of ways that they might contribute their time and energy in their child’s learning. There are many ways that the parents can take action themselves by examining the documentation. It also helps to support transparency between school and home. I have often found that an informed parent tends to be a happy parent. Or at least we try our best 🙂

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