Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Making Learning Visible: Fostering Reflective TeachingPracticesThroughDocumentation

 "Documentation is not just what we collect, it's the practice of how we observe." Daniel Wilson (see Visible Learners)
Yesterday I wrote an introduction for what I intend to be a series of guest posts featuring ideas about and examples of pedagogical documentation from people in my PLN. These guests all have something in common though their contexts, classes, and styles are quite varied - they all managed to clearly convey in their documentation an idea that I'd been grappling with for ages. They each created work that I immediately connected with as the exemplar for the concept I'd been chatting about in ReggioPLC discussions, or reading about in various publications. Ideas that were deeply meaningful to me at this point in my journey - risky play, the view of the child as capable, inquiry as a moment or a process, documentation as shared ownership of storytelling, inquiry as a process fraught with doubt - all ideas that suddenly had a link, for me, to these inspiring educators. I started that post with the following:
 I had a lightbulb moment recently, regarding my understanding and practice of documentation.
I realized after publishing the post that I never revealed what that lightbulb moment was, although I detailed the more-than-a-year process of examining documentation in order to better understand it.
That aha was this: pedagogical documentation is not one "thing", it is both the process and the product born out of the relationships between materials, learners, and method of documentation. The aha was that I still didn't have a big picture, though I had many pieces giving me a wider view of what I was looking at. In fact, there would never be a big picture, not an accurate one, when the ongoing process meant the view was always changing. Lastly, I realized that what made me reach out to these educators was exactly what had made me reach out to Tessa over a year ago to ask for her view of the teaching partner relationship (taken from my intro to her post):
There is something about the way we share a view of children (as infinitely capable, curious, fascinating) and teaching (as a wondrous journey, forever deepening and growing out into our lives) that creates real friends through the ether. (from this earlier guest post)

Here, then, is the first feature of the series, written by a new and inspiring friend, Christie Angleton. From a tiny glimpse of her panel (in tweet below) I was intrigued. Here was a teacher making the learning visible and demonstrating a message of curious, capable learners.

Snippets of our conversation as I introduced myself and my concept for exploring documentation together. I'm so grateful Christie agreed, and delighted by the story she tells.

Making Learning Visible: Fostering Reflective Teaching Practices Through Documentation
Christie Angleton – Louisville, Kentucky

When Laurel first contacted me about sharing in this space, I was flattered – I’m new(ish) to Twitter and haven’t really made a lot of connections yet through the #ReggioPLCAnd when she asked me to share my thoughts about documentation, my heart soared! Documenting children’s work (read: PLAY) is something I love and have been thinking about a lot of late.

I work as a lead facilitator in a year-round preschool program. Now that the summer months are upon us, I find myself with a bit more time than I am accustomed to during the typical “school year.” While we continue with our play- and inquiry-based philosophy, things just feel more relaxed during the hot months of summer – children go on lengthy vacations, there are fewer demands on time for formal research and other endeavors, and one of my two brilliant assistant facilitators expressed an interest in leading planning for the summer term. This has afforded me the gift of time to reflect – on the work we’ve done, on where we might go in the months to come – and documentation seems to be a recurring theme in these reflections.

Most everyone with knowledge of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of teaching is familiar with the idea of documentation as a means of making children’s learning visible – visible to families, to other teachers, to the community, and to the children themselves.

M and J discuss a recent small group discussion about gendered toys while observing a small documentation panel.

For me, documentation not only provides an opportunity for children and their families to reflect on their thinking and learning, but it provides an opportunity for me, their teacher, to reflect upon what the children are taking away from their encounters– their confidences, their strengths, their challenges, their thought processes – while they are engaged with each other, with their peers, with other teachers and community members, and even with me.

I am fortunate to act as a mentor teacher in my school and, as such, I frequently choose to create large documentation panels that are visible to many different people and serve as inspiration and an idea generator. Luckily for me, several other teachers in my school also choose to display their documentation in a similar fashion – which means the inspiration is mutual and provides a wellspring for reflection and conversation. Perhaps even more importantly, it shows how much our community values the children are learners and constructors of their own knowledge; it lets the children know we believe in them and appreciate what they contribute to our community on a daily basis.

At the beginning of the school year, this panel conveyed the independence displayed daily by our preschoolers – now the oldest children in our building.

I’ve been exploring and researching the importance of risky play and risk assessment for the past several months. I recently created the following display to press home one particular point: children are risk takers and even more so, they are CAPABLE.

A display about some of the risky play the children have been engaged in of late.

The really marvelous thing about creating this panel is that no one seemed overly surprised with what they were reading. I did have a few conversations with colleagues about how to address parental concerns about safety, but ultimately I was able to convey to the community that children ARE capable and it is our responsibility to provide them with opportunities for those capabilities to shine in myriad arenas. In this case, it was stacking and then jumping from milk crates. These carefully selected photos and quotations are enough – at least for now – to convey one way in which these children are capable. Making learning visible is a powerful experience!

Choosing what to include in any form of documentation is a labor of love. The children I’ve encountered are generally so marvelously brilliant that it would take multiple hallways to display all of the wonderful things they say and do! The seemingly simple process of selecting photos and quotes is actually a far more arduous process that it might seem at first glance. What photos will I choose to convey the children’s learning processes? What words will accompany the photos to illustrate the children’s thinking? What additional support – if any – is necessary to demonstrate the heart of what the children are doing?

Lately I’ve been letting the photos of the children do most of the talking, as it were. With four-year-olds, I do like to include direct quotes because kids are generally brilliant and full of poignant insight. But photographs are powerful and often tell the story and make words unnecessary. 

There is such a story here, wouldn’t you agree?

Another form of documentation I experimented with this year was child-led self-documentation. The panels below are examples of this.

I placed a large photo of some project the child(ren) had recently been engaged in on a large sheet of paper and invited them to write, draw, and/or dictate what they were doing and thinking in the blank spaces around the photo. The results were stunning! The children reflected on their work and articulated their thought processes and feelings. It was truly insightful and led me to one of those illuminating teacher a-ha! momentsDocumentation is really a part of the process for getting to know the children more deeply. There is much power to be shared and insight to be gained through thoughtful reflection about the abilities and challenges encountered each day by the children in our care. Documenting the work of the children helps me go deeper in my relationships with them, which encourages me to be a more thoughtful and intentional teacher.

Documentation is one means for getting to know children on an authentic, meaningful level – and isn’t that really what we’re all striving for?

A panel designed to show child thinking.

An invitation for children, families, and members of the school community to document their observations about seasonal changes.

A linear documentation display to convey our learning journey as we studied elements of the autumn season.

I love this beautiful illustration of the power of documentation to strengthen relationships among all stakeholders in a facility such as her preschool: students, teachers, parents all enriched by these lovingly curated stories. I hope that readers will leave a comment or question here for Christie, or add more voices to the conversation.

A note for readers: Christie has begun to share her stories on her own blog as well. Please visit her page at "Loosely Wondered" for more glimpses of "Reggio-inspired, Child-inspired" teaching and learning.


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