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:

Believe it or not the parents are usually the last thing on my mind when it comes to documentation. I truly believe in teaching for the children and and do not try to consider the expectations of the parents in my teaching or planning.  However, with detailed documentation you can often satisfy the expectations of the parents and even when in times of disagreement the documentation can be used to support opinion. An indirect consequence of using the Seesaw portfolio has been that parents have 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. 

The only way that I probably go out of my way 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. It also works as a record for myself which I believe to be more valuable. 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 🙂

Invitations and Provocations: The First Steps in Agency

Invitations and Provocations Develop Agency

Two years ago I was given the opportunity to work within an Early Years classroom. The experience has brought a variety of new perspectives and wonderings to my teaching. I have reassessed many areas and one of which is the important role that invitations and provocations play in stimulating young minds and learning. In my reassessment of practice I view provocations and invitations with far greater importance. They are a gate way to learning, a stimulus for thinking and creativity. They can be the beginning of inquiry or the driving force. They can be a demonstration of understanding. They can be the first steps in developing our student’s agency.

 

With my new found appreciation I now find myself spending more time reimagining my classroom through the eyes of the student. Placing greater importance in the role of the environment in the development of the children’s curiosity and engagement. I have found myself letting go and allowing the environment to be the third teacher in the room. I have had to swallow my own pride as often have to take a backstage in my importance as I allow the learning environment do its thing, and rightly so. Children can learn much more through the independent exploration of their world than often my direction of learning. An important part of my role has become to nurture and develop this space. It is a role I enjoy as it allows for my own creativity to flourish.

 

Carefully arranged objects, artefacts and materials that support both guided and open-ended activities are placed both inside and outside the classroom with thoughtful, purposeful care. The time given to this careful arrangement of objects cannot be underestimated or forgotten especially as we now rightfully place so much emphasis and energy on the development of student’s agency. The invitations and provocations are the first steps in developing our curious, independent learners. Opportunities to provide voice, choice and ownership to their learning.

 

‘Environments are invitations for inquiry. These environments have the potential to promote learning processes where children engage with one another and with meaningful materials exploring, constructing and representing their understanding and theories’ Louise Jupp, 2016.

 

Provocations

Provocations play a pivotal role in the Reggio Emilia approach to child-centred learning. They are a stimulus to provoke thought, ideas, and action in young learners. They allow opportunities for children to experience the world for themselves without direct interference from the teacher. Opportunities to explore and create their own world of ideas and imagination. This help to support a comfortable and safe environment for the children to explore learning with a sense of ownership. Exploration and engagement can be done under the conditions that the child has no specific learning goal and therefore no fear of failure. The idea is to encourage children to think independently by encouraging their interests and exploration of ideas. Provocations provide the children with “something that must be responded to, that we cannot ignore” Wein
 

To be able to provide meaningful engagements and experiences for the students it is important to provide time for quality thinking in the development of our learning areas.  Once you have imagined  the engagement and have decided on the materials to use in creating your provocation it is important to take a step back and reflect on its purpose. Look at the provocation through the eyes of the students, to think about the items you have chosen and how they have been arranged. Ask yourself; How would you use the provocation? Would it inspire you to investigate as well? What questions and wonderings would you yourself have? Does it inspire? Are the materials and objects accessible? 

 

Just as important as the construction of provocations it is equally, if not more so, to take the time to observe the children in their engagement of the provocation. Think about how they are using it, what inquiries they are following, what questions are they asking. Through careful observation we can develop and modify the materials to support and push forward the children’s independent learning. To make it fresh again to support fresh ideas and new inquiries. 

 

Invitations

Unlike provocations, invitations have a more direct impact on the direction and focus of the children’s learning. They are another common concept found in the Reggio Emilia approach to learning but are a more direct piece of encouragement for exploration to children. Unlike the open-ended engagement provocations supply, invitations can be used to invite students to explore a specific concept.  The teacher invites students to think about or explore a concept. In Reggio Emilia, this is encouraged, but what is preferred in a child-focused learning environment is to encourage the child to begin “to do” in order to learn more about something through action or occurrence (Louise Jupp). It is this invitation to exploratory action that is the difference between provocations and invitations in childhood education.

 

‘Do we create provocations and invitations to stimulate interest or do we create them in response to the children’s interests?’ I think there has to be room for both. They can be used to stimulate interest in either a direct or open-ended concept or they can support the children’s interest and provide personalised challenges and development of learning. I have found both provocations and invitations to be invaluable first steps in developing and supporting children’s agency.’

Teachers endeavour to continually provoke children’s natural propensities to search for meanings, to pose questions of themselves and others, and to interpret the phenomena of their own lives. (CooperThe Hundred Languages of Children, 2012).

‘The importance of provocation and invitations can never be underestimated. With the right environment added with a dash of curiosity the learning happens naturally.’

 

Taking Action: Every Mighty Tree Begins with a Small Seed.

Taking Action in Early Years

 

Taking action is an integral part of learning. It is a demonstration of how the students make connections to what they have learned and applying this to a variety of real life skills, demonstrating an enduring understanding through concepts and reflecting on the attributes of the learner profile and attitudes. It is grounded in the students’ own concrete experiences. But what does Action look like? How is it stimulated? Should Action always be sustainable?

The purpose of this post is to document a learning journey with my P2 class that started a few months ago that led to authentic and sustainable action. The journey has taken me by complete surprise and who knows where this journey will end. Being part of this journey has been thrilling and developed my understanding of how Action can begin when we least expect it. Even our biggest achievements can have humble beginnings. As with the title of this blog, every mighty tree starts with a small seed.


The beginning our journey was a humble one with very little glamour. We had been asked to consider being more responsible and independent after our lunch. The students took responsibility for clearing and sorting their plates and food waste.

 

We continued this activity for about a week before some of the children noticed how much food we were wasting. We decided to weigh the food each day and record how much food we actually wasted each week. After weighing our first weeks food waste the children were shocked to find out that we had wasted 9kg of food.

 

 

Over the next week we thought about how we could reduce the amount of food waste. The children created a list through whole class discussion:

  • Eat our food quicker – less chatting.
  • Reduce the portions of the food.
  • We can only have more food if we finish the food we have.

These simple rules quickly reduced the amount of food we wasted from 9kg to about 4kg each week. As teachers we were happy that the children had taken responsibility and some kind of action in our school community but our learning journey did not finish there. The children started to ask questions like ‘What happens to our food waste? Where does it go?

We needed to find out so we asked our Head Chef to get some answers. We found out that most of the food waste was taken to a nearby farm and is turned into compost. It seems that the next step in our quest for answers would take us to the farm.

The following week a trip was organised to visit the local farm.We were introduced to the process of how our food waste was turned into compost to be used in garden beds. We were also introduced to the idea of permaculture. Permaculture is a system of agriculture and social design principles centred around stimulating or directly utelizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The Permaculture garden is a lot more than an organic garden. Intelligent design uses free, sustainable energies and resources. It is energy-wise and collaborative to minimise the impact of a site on the surrounding environment.
We had to have a go ourselves so under the instruction of the farm staff we help to build our own Perma Garden. We finished the process by planting carrot seeds. We can’t wait for them to grow.

The impact of the learning on the children was clear to see. As soon as we arrived back at school many of the children began exploring our own school garden and wanted to plant their own seeds.

Since our visit to the farm we have continued to monitor the amount of food waste from our lunch. We have also continued with our interest in Permaculture. With a little determination and organisation we finally build our very own garden in our school grounds. We are in the process of caring for our garden and waiting patiently for the natural process of composition to happen before we start to grow our own crops.

After several months of allowing our garden to settle and to allow the natural compost process to begin it was time to look below the surface to see what was happening before we planted our first seeds. It was a very exciting time.

After a week of allowing the new layers to settle it was time to plant and care for our first seeds.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our journey of discovery although the journey still continues. Who knows where it will take us next? Remember that every mighty tree begins with a small seed.

Sharing the Planet: Our Journey Through Inquiry

Introduction:

This time last year I had been left disappointed with the learning and teaching of my current inquiry. I found the scope too narrow, not enough depth for ‘real’ inquiry. I had not been looking forward to beginning it again. It was time for a rethink. I decided to approach the inquiry in a new way. My way did not work so lets see if we can change things. I decided to let things go and see where the children took me. It was time for greater student agency. I have documented the whole process and hope that you enjoy the journey. I have included a variety of learning but not all.

Please leave comments of what you think worked and how this could be improved. I am very open and welcoming to positive criticism. 

Transdisciplinary Theme: Sharing the planet:

An inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.

Central Idea: Animals and people interact in different ways in different contexts.

Lines of Inquiry:

  • The different roles animals play in people’s lives.
  • Suitability of particular animals for specific functions.
  • Our responsibility for the well-being of animals.

Before we begin an inquiry I believe that it is always important to begin with the ‘Why’? This is based on the work of Simon Sinek. I have introduced this to my practice during the last couple of years and I have found that it really adds purpose to the inquiry and a logical progression in thinking. It provides a core purpose to the inquiry and why we do what we do. 

Why?

  • Children recognise the important connection between humans and animals

How?

  • Through research the children will become ‘experts’ on a particular animal and develop greater understanding on others.

What?

  • Facts.
  • Responsibilities.
  • Human Impact.
  • The role animals play in our every day lives.

Provocations and Invitations:

Within my practice I have always believed in the importance of provocations inside and outside the classroom to stimulate the children’s thinking about a particular areas of learning. This has been especially true for Early Years. For this inquiry we had created a model farm and an area where the children can view small insects. We had also turned our role-play area into a vets. A variety of picture books about animals were also placed in the area. These provocations help to stimulate ideas, interest and discussion. An entry point to our learning journey.

‘Environments are invitations for inquiry. These environments have the potential to promote learning processes where children engage with one another and with meaningful materials exploring, constructing and representing their understanding and theories’ Louise Jupp

Writing stations were organised to provide prompts for the children’s learning. This is helpful in supporting the language development with the inquiry. Providing language skills directly linked to the inquiry.

Our outside area would also play an important role in our inquiry as the children explore, question and investigate their natural environment. The learning experiences of the children’s independent interaction with the natural world have been invaluable throughout the year. We have recently built a sustainable garden which has to develop further the children’s connections with nature and a developing sense of responsibility.

Tuning In:

When the children arrived in the classroom the first day I casually pretended to be watching a video on a variety of animals. Straight away this got the children’s interest and stimulated discussion. It was amazing the vast amount of knowledge that the children began to share with enthusiasm. All children it seems have a natural curiosity and knowledge about the animals we share our world with.

This is great I thought, so after some discussion I asked, ‘Which animals would you like to learn more about?’ Straight away hands went up, ‘Black Panthers, Tigers, Rabbits, Ducks, Dogs, Cats, Polar Bears……’ the list went on.

The children were then asked to think of at least one question that they would like to know about the animal of their choice. This is where our inquiry really began to take shape. I had wanted to use research as a means of driving the inquiry but I was unsure as to how much success I would have in an Early Years classroom. I knew that much of it was going to be supported but I always consider the Early Years as an introductory period for many of the skills that they would need later in life. I then asked the children to draw a picture of their animal and then each provided at least one ‘question’ they would like to find out.As mentioned earlier, the children would certainly need some modelling as to how and where to approach research. I decided this was a perfect opportunity.

We began by choosing one of the children’s question. I had decided that I would use an example provided by one of my EAL students as they would need the most support. The question was “Where does a panda live?’ We then discussed where we could find the answer. ‘In a book? or on the internet’ some of the children suggested. So we searched YouTube to find a suitable vdeo all about pandas and recorded the information we discovered. 

The information we discovered and recorded only led to more questions.

  • What is mammal?
  • What does endangered mean?
  • What happens to animal when it become extinct?

And so our inquiry began to take shape……

During the first week of the inquiry we also thought about and discussed our pets. This also seemed a natural starting point as pets are many of the children’s most important interactions with animals.

A good point to start was to find out which of the children in the class have a pet. So we asked the question and recorded our results. A good opportunity to make cross-curricula links to our Maths outcomes.

I also wanted to assess the children’s understanding about the concepts of pets. This would be important as we would begin to categories animals later in our inquiry. So I the asked the question, ‘What is a pet?’ and through discussion the children shared their thoughts and ideas which were recored on our board.

We also thought about the different roles our pets play in our daily lives. We came up with four very important roles, play, family, fun and friendship.

Finding-Out:

After our previous discussions regarding our pets we shared our ideas regarding our responsibilities. We shared our own thoughts, ideas and experiences. Many of the children had an excellent understanding of how to care and be responsible for their pets but we wanted to find out more.

We thought about the different ways that we can research information e.g. internet, books, or even just asking someone who is knowledgeable. We decided to try the internet and quickly found the video that explained the basic animal needs of pets.

After watching the video we used the information we already had and added some extra information that we found out to create a list of our responsibilities for our pets.

As research is going to play a big role in our inquiry we decided that we wanted to find out more about our pets. What better way to find out more than to ask the people most knowledgeable about them. Over the next few weeks the children brought in pictures of their pets while the rest of the class practiced our questioning skills to find out more e.g. What do they eat? What are their names? What is their favourite food? The children really enjoyed sharing their knowledge.

We are very lucky that our school has an abundance of wild life just outside our classroom. Throughout the inquiry the children have been observing many of the animals and asking questions to find out more information. Here are a few of the animals that we found.Where our inquiry was really beginning to take shape and take a life of its own was with the children’s research into the animals of their choice. Questions led to research which led to more questions e.g. What is a mammal? Is a snake a mammal? What is a reptile? We had started to make connections across our inquiry board. each time we made a connection it led to further questions and further research. There was a danger at one point that the inquiry may get out of hand. the scope too broad, the questions too many!

Thankfully one area of learning that was beginning to become of more importance was the idea of endangered animals and the affect of human impact on the animals habitat. As the children researched their animal it was evident that many of the animals were being affected by the activities of humans.

Sorting Out:

The joy of this inquiry has taken many directions which has been one of the greatest successes. The children were following their own path of learning with their questions being the driving force. As mentioned earlier, however, this had started to worry me slightly that the inquiry was becoming too broad. Would we ever come to the ‘why’ of the inquiry and if we did would there be enough time to inquire about this in depth?

By about the third week of the inquiry the children had begun to naturally sort animals into different groups. As the questions and research developed we had begun to think about mammals, reptiles and insects. We had also begun to think of the different places we would find animals. First it was the pets in the home and then the children had begun to discuss the concepts of farm and zoo animals. At this point in the inquiry the children did not identify ‘wild’ animals that would come later but they did seem to think that many animals lived in the zoo. This was a misconception that would need to be tackled later in the inquiry. 

Through the children’s independent questioning which were introduced to words like nocturnal, carnivore, herbivore, mammals, reptiles, birds etc. The children began to sort these animals into different groups based on these characteristics.

As farm animals are the most recognisable animals to the children I inquired further as to why certain animals identified by the children lived on a farm. The children’s suggestions are below. At this point they did not recognise the function of the animals and held very innocent views as to why some animals lived on a farm. A point I found quite amusing.

After beginning our interest in the farm we continued our research through a variety of online virtual tours. I would rather take a field trip to a fram but unfortunately the traffic in our city makes it impossible and what would be available is not the healthy farm environment that I would like the children to visit. Online virtual tours were our only option.

Through our research we developed a better understanding of the function of farm animals and their connection to our daily lives. Over the next week we decided that we would have a go at making our own produce. We made butter, cream, and even ice-cream. We learned a lot about the process of how some of our food gets from the farm to our plates.

At the front of our classroom I had created a board that made our learning journey visible. 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.

Going Further:

Throughout our inquiry the children have continued to research their chosen animal with support. This has led to many discussions regarding the different habitats where the animals lived. This led us to begin to study each of the habitats a little more closely. What we discovered was that many of the habitats were connected by the terrible effects of human behaviour. This learning really began to change the direction of our learning.

We began by watching a video of a diver in Bali. It was shocking to see the amount of plastic that was in the water. We have discussed different ways that we can help to reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans.

  • Stop using plastic bags when we are shopping.
  • Recycle our waste especially plastic which takes a very long time to decompose.

Who has made all this mess?! My teaching partner and I decided to provide a provocation to stimulate the children’s thinking about recycling. Her class were learning about different materials and my class had just begun to think about the concept of recycling. It seemed a perfect time to collaborate.

When our classes returned from break they were confronted with a pile of rubbish that had just been dumped on our break-out space floor. This had to be recycled and we were there to help. We sorted the objects depending on the material that they are made from. We found plastic and paper. We can now recycle the objects properly for other things.

With the recycled material we decided that it would be a good idea to create a craft. We used the bottle tops to create the outline of a whale. We then used the remaining plastic to fill in the rest of the whale. Over time it developed into an awareness poster.
We continued to explore a variety of different habitats over the coming weeks. We were continuously shocked by the negative human effects on our world. The conversations amongst the children were stimulating. Many demonstrating a deep empathy for the plight of animals and demonstrating a growing understanding of their responsibilities. We should not be afraid to teach our young learners about Global issues. We need to make a change and they need to make a difference.

Making Conclusions:

At the beginning of the inquiry I had been unsure about a Summative Assessment task. I had been willing to go along with the children’s thinking and see where it leads. As I was unsure of where the learning would take us I was not sure what the Summative Assessment would look like. Once the children had started to research information about animals I then thoughts, ‘Maybe they could present their information to the class?’ I believe that this was a worthwhile exercise but not really a good assessment of the learning journey the children had been on. By the time we were reaching the conclusion of our inquiry we found that we had already collected enough data to complete our Rubric. Allowing the children to present their information using an information book they had created helped to provide value to the process. The children also used Book Creator as another means of sharing their information.

Our experiences travelling the world had helped to develop a sense of empathy for our animal friends. We thought about how the animals might feel and what advice they would give to us given the chance. There were some wonderful responses from the children.
Action:

Action in the PYP. 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.‘ Even our youngest learners are capable of meaningful Action.

The most pleasing part of our inquiry has been the amount of Action that the children have taken. I consider this to be the most meaningful assessment of the children’s understanding, commitment and engagement in our inquiry.

  • We watched a video about the different ways hens are kept on farms e.g. free-range, caged, barn. After some discussion the children all decided that they would like to be free-range if they were hens. Some of the parents have now commented that the children have requested free-range eggs when they are at the supermarket.
  • After our learning about plastic in our oceans some parents have commented on the children’s concerns about using plastic bags when shopping.
  • Throughout the inquiry the children have demonstrated and developed greater care and empathy towards many of the animals they have encountered in our environment.
  • Children have began to independently research animals delighting in sharing their new found knowledge.


It is always nice to receive positive email from parents especially when they document the children’s reflection of learning. Below is an email we received during the course of the inquiry.

‘This is let you know that Vihan has been constantly talking about the devastating effect of plastic on our environment and what we can do to help.

He has spoken to the maids and security in our apartment to ensure that plastic bags are not being thrown away, instead reused and recycled. 

Vihan noticed that the bag of spare clothes that he carries to school everyday, is plastic and immediately insisted that it be changed to paper or cloth bag. He found a suitable paper bag and is now carrying that to school.

Thank you very much for making the students aware of plastics and its effect on Earth. We really appreciate it’


Another email I received from a parent was about one of the children reusing unwanted objects at home. In this particular photograph it shows a chocolate box that has been reused to put all her jewellery in.

Our Inquiry-Cycle: 

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.


Student-Initiated Inquiries:

The pleasing element of this inquiry is that it has almost all been student initiated. It has been the children’s questions and curiosity that has really driven the inquiry. We have tried as much as possible to follow the children’s thinking. When possible we made connections between the work.
Insects:

Step 1: We found a bug in the playground. It was a beautiful little thing and it certainly grabbed the children’s attention. The bug seemed to be injured and there was a lot of discussion about what might be wrong with it and how we might best care for it. We decided that it may be best if we leave it in peace.

Step 2: Once in the classroom we remembered that one of the questions from last week was ‘What is an insect?’. I showed the children a variety of toy insects and we talked about what they all had in common. What made an insect an insect? This was a good opportunity to assess the children’s prior knowledge.

The children’s responses:

  • Some have fur and some don’t.
  • They are tiny.
  • Some insects sting (The children gave many examples of themselves and family members being stung)
  • Insects have 6 legs (I had to prompt them with this one by counting the legs)

Step 3: It was clear that we needed to find out more information. I asked the children how we could research to find out more. I was pleased that some answered with Youtube. this demonstrated that the children were becoming more aware of how technology can be used to support our learning. We searched YouTube and found a video all about insects to develop our knowledge and research skills.


Step 4: We discussed and shared the information that we found out. The children’s understanding of insects had quickly developed.

Children’s Findings:

  • They don’t have bones but many do have a shell (exoskeleton).
  • They are cold blooded so they prefer warm places but can be found anywhere in the world, even Antarctica!
  • Most have wings and antenna.
  • They hibernate.
  • They lay eggs.
  • Some insects change shape during their life.

What is the biggest animal?

Step 1: An another example of student-initiated inquiry that happened began with the question ‘What is the biggest land animal? We had to find out!

Step 2: We used our I.pads to research the question as a whole class activity. We want to support the children’s research skills.

Step 3: We found out the the elephant is the largest land animal. We also found out through our research that the giraffe was the tallest animal. This was great because our strand of Maths for this inquiry is measurement. We decided that we could measure how big and elephant is and how tall a giraffe is. We could then compare this to other animals we had already measured. Great opportunity to integrate our Maths objectives authentically into our unit of inquiry.
Technology Integration:

When ever possible I try to make authentic technology integration within the learning. With our focus on research it has been quite easy to make this connection as the children have used a variety of web based searches to gain information regarding the animals e.g. google, Youtube etc. the children have been supported in how to find information with a developing independence.

This year I have been introduced to Seesaw, an online portfolio. It has made technology integration so much easier than ever before. We used Seesaw to label to different body parts of a variety of animals as this has been part of our science expectations for this inquiry.

The children also used Book Creator as another means of presenting and sharing their research about the animal of their choice.

Conclusion:

It has been a very interesting learning journey. I can certainly say that it has been much more successful than the previous year it terms of learning and student engagement. We have tackled some ‘real world’ issues and the children have responded brilliantly. The amount of meaningful, authentic Action that took place made it all worth it. It has demonstrated that even our youngest learners are capable of taking Action. Through the inquiry we have created an awareness and developing understanding of Global issues which the children will take forward with them.

The whole process has made me reconsider my approach to both inquiry and assessment. I will certainly provide greater opportunity for children’s interest and thinking to drive the inquiry. I have also had to rethink the importance of creating a Summative Assessment task at the beginning of the inquiry, if they are needed at all. If we use detailed formative assessment throughout there is little need.