Exploring Documentation Together
This post will have it's main focus for educators that do not work together at the same setting but meet up in learning circles etc... of course this approach can be used by educators in the same setting too. I will try to keep this as simple as possible by writing it in steps... The aim of this post is to offer a kind of routine for educators to use when analysing the documentation and therefore supporting the reflection process and also explore the effectivity of the documentation.
Bring some documentation to the meeting. This could be a finished "published" piece of work that would be put up on the wall for the children, parents etc to read; or it could be s series of photos, film or text to reflect on.
Divide the meeting into smaller groups - I would say not more than 4-8 people in a group. Decide on a time. How much time do you have for the meeting. Consider that the meeting should be divided into three parts. reading/note-taking; discussion in small groups; whole group reflection
IN SILENCE pass your documentation to the person on the right (I am assuming that you are sitting round a table). Each person reads, watches or listens (it can be a good idea with headphones), write down notes...
the notes should cover some or all (or more) of the following questions/thoughts....
what is happening?
what learning can you see going on?
what are the children interested in?
what interactions are occurring?
if it is a finished piece of work... is the publication clear? Is there a good balance of writing/images? Who do you think the publication is aimed for? Are there any suggestions on how this could be improved. Could it be presented in another way?
how would YOU continue from this point, using the information you have.
could the information have been collected another way? How?
if you have a three hour meeting then you have an hour to explore EVERYONE'S documentation at the table. The WHOLE time there is silence, so that each person has a chance to explore the documentation and make notes without the influence of other opinions.
Once all the documentation has been analysed it is time for the small group dialogue.
Start with one of the shared documentations... the group then expresses their opinions from their notes. This is an opportunity for author to see if the published/finished documentation conveys the message that they have intended. For unfinished documentation it is an opportunity to see where the data could take them and gain tips on how this could be done. The idea is not to repeat what others have said, but to add, agree, deepen and also disagree with what has been said.
It is important to remember that this is not a competition on who has created the best documentation but a chance for everyone to extend their knowledge and experience of observing and documenting children.
The author can now share intentions, also drawbacks and advantages gained during their own experience. Sharing their own learning of their process. The questions and feedback from the others are also a great way to gain further insight.
It is important that everyone in the group participates... everyone has the responsibility to share their knowledge, queries and experience with others - this helps everyone to grow in their role.
it is important to be respectful when asking questions or disagreeing... and always be constructive in your critique and come with suggestions of possible alternatives (it may be that the author had considered the alternative but that it was not an option, and can give reasons for that)
always receive criticism with respect. Feedback, negative as well as positive is essential for developing your observational techniques and your documentation techniques.
When all the documentation has been discussed there can be a short break before starting the final dialogue/reflection
The final reflection is done with the whole group (if it is a small group to start with and there is no need to divide into smaller groups then this will simply be a continuation of the group dialogue)
Questions to reflect upon:-
did others see areas of learning that you, yourself missed (social, motor skills, cognitive)? why?
what suggestions for improving observation of the children have been offered (both by the author and others) that you want to test out. Why?
what suggestions for sharing documentation with others have been useful?
are there any observation/analysis/documentation techniques that you want to avoid in the future? why? What will you use instead?
This is a dialogue where you as an educator are offered the chance to dare to be wrong... it is OK to make mistakes and to own those mistakes - we are given the chance to learn from them. If we have the need to get it right all the time it is much harder for yourself to improve and for others to learn from your experience. My personal motto is F.A.I.L. - First Attempt In Learning... it does not mean I like making mistakes, but it is a reminder to myself that they are great opportunity to learn, and to shed the school feeling that mistakes are wrong.
Our aim as educators is to LIFT each other... so always reflect on how to help each other develop better observational and documentation skills. NEVER just say something is wrong, you need to explain why you do not think it was the best approach and also give an alternative method... if you cannot do the latter then maybe think a little more before speaking.
it can be a good idea that someone take notes for the whole meeting, and that these are shared with everyone after, for further reflection.
Finish off with choosing 3 points that have resonated the most with you during the session... this could be a personal reflection or done as a group.
If this is done a regular basis (once a month) then there is the opportunity to take time to reflect on the previous meeting. There could be the idea that each meeting will have a theme to see how all the educators observe the same thing and offer the chance to learn many observational languages...
for instance one session could all be about language and communication (how do we observe children's language development) - by sharing observations of language development then there is a chance for all the educators in the group to see new ways of observing and recording this information. By having the sessions once a month or twice a month, there is time to observe the children over a period of time and collect information. The actual choosing of what documentation to take to the meeting is a process in itself... why that documentation, why not one of the others? is it that you are taking your best presented work? Why? Why not the work you feel least satisfied with in order to get tips of how to improve.
Another area of observation could be... social interactions, or gross motor skills, fine motor skills, maths in the everyday, creative expression, empathy, science etc etc...
It will depend on what you as a group feel have the greatest need to explore and to improve. Maybe you want to explore how to get the children involved in these observations and the documentation?
Part of observing children is in a way phronesis - that it is not just something that you can learn by reading... you have to keep on trying and gain experience, keep on reflecting and gain understanding, to keep on sharing and gain knowledge, and to keep on interacting to gain a feeling of this is what feels right... it is a practical wisdom - to both observe and document those observations. You have to dare to not get it right until you find that sweet spot of your own and get into an observational groove that works for you at your setting.
Observation and good pedagogical documentation are essential tools for Original Learning - it allows the educator and learner able to make the connections between their experiences and their learning and development.