Documentation of Learning

“Documentation is not pretty pictures of engaged children. Rather, it captures the thinking process: What motivated [students] to begin, continue, change direction? What were the breakthroughs, the pivotal remarks or actions? How did they solve the problem? The goal is to enable whoever reads a panel to understand what the child attempted and how they went about it, to see stimulus, process, and outcome.”

-A. Lewin-Benham (2006). Possible Schools: The Reggio Approach to Urban Education. New York: Teacher’s College Press.

Documentation in an intentionally designed environmentWhile reflecting on this quote, think of your classroom walls:

  • What is hanging on the walls?
  • Is it a reflection of the children?
  • Do the children look at, talk about, use the information that is hanging on the walls?
  • Did the children have the opportunity to help create the pieces on the walls?                                                                                                                                                                         As educators, we need to reflect on how we are showcasing the process of the learning of young children, how do we provide a visual to others of the children’s thinking.

Documentation of Learning journeyintoearlychildhood.comI believe that if we had this goal in mind as we are hanging items on our walls and deciding how to document children’s learning- not just the end product but the process as well- it would serve as an incredible focal point for student conversations as well as provide an amazing visible display of what children are learning and thinking for parents, administrators and other stakeholders- what are your thoughts?

Intentionally Designed Environments: Documentation

As we continue the discussion of intentionally designed environments and how we Reggio Waydisplay not just children’s work but also the process of their learning, there are some key ideas I found helpful to provide some insights from Working in the Reggio Way by  Julianne Wurm.

  • Documentation is important for not only the children to see the process of their thinking and their work but also for the teachers to grow in their craft and understanding of children.

  • Documentation can serve to illuminate the thinking, a change in thinking that occurred, what was learned or not learned, the evolution of the behavior, questioning, maturity, responses, and opinions.

  • Documentation begins with observation.


A couple of fun, engaging ideas that I have observed in classrooms include…


* Documenting student’s thoughts during different times of the day and placing those by the posted visual schedule.


* Taking lots of pictures and showing them as a slide show – playing the slide show each morning on the Smart Board to remind students of the learning that took place the previous day.

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* A web of student’s thoughts and ideas as a project develops is a good way of displaying the process of the children’s thinking. The teacher would always be referring back to it with the children-  the documentation was useful and children were able to gain the skill of reflecting on their thinking.

* Students reflection of their own learning posted next to their work. 

* I saw a documentation board in one classroom that had pictures and one or two quotes from students for each month- although it wouldn’t capture the thinking through a whole project, it was a good way to demonstrate to students the passage of time. The students chose one to two pictures each week that demonstrated their learning. It was a great time to review the learning and also work on voting skills.

 

Honoring Children through Display of Their Work

Continuing with our discussion of intentionally designed environments, today we are going to ponder how we honor students and develop a sense of belonging by our thoughtful display of their work.

Look around your environment and ponder how you can give greater importance and honor to children’s work  by placing it in a frame or on a shelf- in a place of honor. This communicates to the child that what they have created is important, has meaning and is worthy of being looked at by others.

Frames are expensive but I’ve even seen the lids to shoe  boxes covered to “frame” student’s work or poster board cut into shape of frame  and they both were beautiful displays of children’s work. I have also found some very inexpensive frames this summer at garage sales, flea markets and Goodwill stores.

 

Maintaining Engaged Learning while Addressing Early Learning Standards

Since we know that young children learn best through active engagement-  we must stand firm in our support and implementation of instructional practices that support constructing of knowledge through active experiences. We also need to develop and refine our own beliefs about young children in order to defend and protect best practices.

National Education Association for Young Children supports (based on multitude of research) a constructivist approach to teaching and learning in which young children construct their knowledge and understanding of the world through their experiences.
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So the question to you is… how are you melding together the research based constructivist type approaches with the early learning standards to provide activities, questions/probes and  materials that are designed to challenge children’s thinking processes and encourage them to dig deeper into their understandings (based on student interest)?

Intentionally Designed Walls

 

Another important aspect to consider when thinking about designing your classroom with intention is the walls.

  • How do you make decisions of what to put on your walls?
  • How do you decide the image you want to portray through your room environment?
  • What image of the child are you projecting through your environment? 

As discussed in the last blog post regarding intentionally designed environments, it is critical that we examine the environment as a place for students and should be a reflection of them.

Patricia Tarr in the article, Consider the Walls,  talks about how commercially made posters, etc. that we hang for educational purposes may actually be limiting children’s sense of who they truly are and true capabilities and stifles their imagination and creativity. She states,

“So too does the mass of commercial stereotyped images silence the actual lived experiences of those individuals  learning together. An overload of commercial materials leaves little room  for work created by the children—another kind of silencing.”  The challenge for early childhood educators is to think beyond decorating to consider how walls can be used effectively as part of an educational environment. In Reggio Emilia the walls display documentation panels of projects that children are engaged in. These become the basis of ongoing research and dialogue between the children, teachers, and families. Panels of photos, artifacts, and text make “learning visible” to participants and to outsiders (Rinaldi 2001).”

Think carefully about what pictures, children’s work, or photos you place on the walls. Students absorb a lot from their environment; so, we want to use the space for demonstrating both the learning and the process toward the learning. When determining what you are going to place on the walls, ponder

  • is the item is important to your educational goals and objectives 
  • how can it be  created by the students instead of commercially  or by the teacher
  • does it demonstrate beauty and is it aesthetically pleasing
  •  how does the item(s) display not just the product of learning but also the process of learning
  • is it a part of the children’s world, something that is relevant to their life that they can touch and observe
Classroom that Belong to the Students
Students helped to design the color posters. journeyintoearlychildhood.com

For example: one Pre-K teacher felt it was important to have the colors displayed on her walls- so her students created the color  posters which was much more meaningful to them and since it was created by them,  they tended to reference and look at the posters more often than they would have if it was limited to a commercially made design. They were beautiful and much more aesthetically appealing.

 

 

 

Intentionally Designed Environments

Pondering about where to start with intentionally designing your environment for the start of the new school year can at times seem overwhelming.

One key aspect to think about that is critical all year but especially at the beginning of the year is making the space belong to the students – not to the teacher! The classroom space should reflect the learners.

At the beginning of year, building the space for the learners would include designing for the importance of building a community of  learners- of creating the environment to assist with being a school family.

IDEAS:

  • Add pictures of each child’s family to a family bulletin board or have them in frames in the dramatic play area.
  • Create identity panel,  with photo on one side and self -portrait on the other side.
  • Create a chandelier or a piece of art work together as a class that is displayed in the room.
  • Allows pairs or small groups of students to work together on art projects to build friendships and have a piece in the classroom that they can continue to discuss and show to others.

What are some ways that you build the classroom to reflect the students and build your classroom community?