How to get started... what is it that you want to document? What should you be filming or taking photos of or taking notes of? I think this can be really daunting... as everything is of value... yet we do not have the time to document or process everything. it is simply overwhelming. So why not start with a project for yourself? I want to learn about....?
how the children are using their fine motor skills
how the children are developing their language
how the children are using the learning environment
how the children socially interact with each other
how the room supports the children's play
which activities interest the children, and why
do all the children feel safe
is there equal participation in the group, or do some children dominate, others appear invisible
There are of course a hundred more possibilities...
Once you have chosen your own inquiry you have to work out how can I find out these things. What kind of information do I need to collect? And how should I collect it.
For example the first option... maybe you set up some fine-motor activities that are connected to the project/inquiry that the children are involved in...
After all it is like two parallel projects happening at the same time... the children and yours...
The children are learning and exploring about the world... you are learning more about the children.
I have always chosen a question that I have felt I, or my team, have needed to understand better to become better educators, and more responsive to the children.
Language, empathy, listening, the third teacher etc have been areas that I have explored parallel to the children doing their project about dinosaurs, designing a square, stories, Leonardo da Vinci/robots...
it means that I have taken images and notes to help me understand what the children know, what they are interested in and also to make visible their process. But also taken notes, photos and films that have helped me understand more about the children's learning and development or environment's process/impact. If I make changes I have the before and after photos - and notes about what impact those changes had, short term and long term.
I also think that you need to set aside some time for dedicated documentation time... not the kind where you sit and create a document that gets published... but a time where you sit and really observe the children. I have always planned with my closest colleagues that I am going to spend 30-60 minutes observing and jotting down notes. So my colleague knows that s/he has the main responsibility for interacting with the children, while I try to make myself invisible. The children will often come up to me anyway, I do not want to hide away from the children, I simply do not want to be disturbing their play... and when the children ask what I am writing I will always show and explain... pointing out that they said this or that, or that they doing this, or were playing that over there and with these children... and explain that I do this so that I can learn more about them, so that when I plan activities, and excursions etc that it is based on what they like, what they feel is meaningful and that it is extending their learning rather than teaching them things they already know.
In this way I am open with the children that I am still a learner... and also that their actions, their play is a way of participating in the planning.
By writing who plays where and with whom, I get a good idea of the play constellations... I usually have a map/plan of the room where I put each child's initial in the place where they stand - I sometimes do this every ten minutes for an hour, just to see how the children are focussing on the play available in the room (sometimes with planned activities, and sometimes during free play) - and also to see if there is any child that is frequently on their own, and to explore why. Sometimes things can be easily missed.
I do the same thing outside... even in public parks, jot down where and with whom the children are playing every 10 minutes... is the play different outside that inside? if it is, why? and also what can I learn from these differences.
I quickly found that certain outdoor play spaces where better for social play than other ones... while others were great for developing hand strength... This meant we started choosing our outdoor spaces not just on what play opportunities they offered but also based on the needs of the group... for groups that needed more support with holding pens etc then the places that encouraged climbing for most of the time was chosen... when we seemed to be going through a few petty squabbles in the group, then the spaces that encouraged social play were visited.
My observations and documentations meant we had a better understanding of how to use not only our own setting, but the local area too. This was information that could be shared with the rest of the setting and all children could take advantage of.
So I think if you want to get going in your documentation. Then choose a topic YOU want to learn more about the children... and practice gather information about that... collecting evidence of how they write, or how they climb stairs, or how complex their sentences are, or if there is equality in the group...
Use this evidence, documentation to build theories... why do you think it is like this? if you make a change what do you think would happen?
for instance, if you introduce different kinds of pens, or beads and wire, or clay... how will this impact the way they hold their pens? (I take a lots of photos of children holding pens to see how I can ergonomically support them in the drawing and writing process - and will set up activities from creating from the should, the elbow and the wrist with different sized projects so that they can feel themselves how it impacts their own bodies etc)
or if I discover that one child is not participating much, then I will endeavor to discover why - has it always been like this, is it just a temporary thing, is something happening at home, could it be due to language development and not being able to keep up, or shyness, or being excluded... why are they being excluded etc etc I think this process can be a good one to start with... as it is documenting YOUR learning process. By doing this you can gain the experience of documenting learning processes that can be applied to documenting the children's learning processes.
at the same time you are learning about the children and how they learn... making it easier for you to understand what needs to be documented at this time. what can I process, what can I analyze, and how am I to analyze?
This I will go into more in later posts...
below are some links connected to this post for further reading
Proggetazione - this post I wrote together with Debi, about how we felt that many educators are not understanding the true complexity of project work with children... that it is much more than just a fancy name for a project... it is also enabling your own understanding of learning processes, and not just making the children's learning visible.
Observations - easier said than done - this post was a reaction to the fact that I noticed that there was a gap between the usage of the phrase "observing children" and understanding what that actually entails. What is the difference between watching and observing children. What is documented of these observations? Why is it being observed, why documented?
Child perspective and Child's perspective - the post explores the difference... and how important it is that as educators we not only plan from a child perspective but also the child's perspective... and this means being open to explore the children's ideas, reactions and understand their learning processes... as well as understanding theory of child development.
Scaffolding Inquiry - this post is about how we use our knowledge of the children to support their development and scaffold/facilitate their learning