We often talk about being co-researchers with the children, but I also think that we are co-documenters - especially in the sense of the Reggio Emilia approach sense of pedagogical documentation... I do not feel that we should be producing documentation FOR the children, but WITH the children.
And if we are collecting data by documenting the children through photos, note-taking, filming, audio, collecting work etc together with the children and then analysing that with colleagues, parents and also with the children and making plans based on the analysis with the children as well as colleagues... and then making decisions about what goes into the publications... digital, the wall, portfolios, online etc etc then we are not being voyeurs of the children's learning and play - it is not just a physical representation of what the educators observe - it is so much more, a collaboration. Pedagogical documentation, for me, is in symbiosis with the children... they learn how to document their learning and see their learning, as do I... they learn from my processes and I learn from their processes... it is not so much about me being teaching and being present in the learning moments... but about being present together, of being aware of the learning that is happening, organically through play, and through the activities... for me it is not a tool that I use to learn about the children and show the parents and the children what is being learned and achieved... it is a tool for both educator and child to use together and to explore the world together... if we are co-researchers then they need all the tools... if we are hogging the documentation tool then there is not balance. In a sense by being co-documenters we are also giving the children strategies for metacognition.
And empowering the children with the documentation tool means that there are not those moments of a child saying "did you take a photo of me, can a I see" being an interruption, but seen as part of the child's natural curiosity.. and once you have met that curiosity and talked about why you take photographs, and how they get used, and use them WITH the children then the children start to understand the power of photographs in documenting their own learning, in documenting their memories. They also have the power to choose when to play and ignore the camera and when to pause and use the camera as part of their play or documenting elements of their play that they want to remember. I do not agree with the idea of taking audio recordings of children without their consent - of, for example, switching on the audio recorder in the breast pocket and secretly gathering the children's words. There are so many ethical issues that I struggle with about this... I think if we are co-researchers then there needs to be an openness,a transparency, there also needs to be an equality in the relationship... and also we, as adults, do NOT want to be recorded without our knowledge. Also legally this is not permitted... you can film and photograph people without permission in public places as long as it is without sound, and absolutely not make audio recordings without consent. I have used audio recordings before, always with the children's permission, always with the device visible, and the children have always been able to listen to themselves as well afterwards. I believe it is an important part of respecting the child's integrity. And it is like all things, in the beginning it is a novelty and takes attention and focus from the children and makes them self aware... but if this is a documentation style that you like, the children soon become comfortable with it as a medium. It is the same with photography... I ask their consent, but when you know a group well and you involve the group in the documentation then there is an unspoken connection - I listen to their body language, the children tell me when they do not want to have their photograph taken and feel comfortable saying "no" (which I think is an important skill to learn too, as they know that I value their opinion and that they have the right to decide about their bodies), they tell me when they want photos and what moments are important to them (not just from my child development theory point of view) - not posed shots but of what they have learned to do and what they have found or made or what they want to remember, or what they are proud of in that particular moment. Audio is a great tool as is filming for getting all the details and my group would let me know when to use these mediums too or when to write down things. It means documenting with the children in all parts of the process - not just collecting the data but also at the analysing, planning stage so they know why we collect data and how it helps them in their learning and in my learning to be a better teacher - and talking about this with them. They are with when we make decisions about what goes on the wall too. Not all the time... sometimes they are far too busy with play and other things to spend time on documentation. My son is very clear about what images I may use of him... my daughters are too, but not to the same extent... he will see a photo and will remember the emotion... not just of the photo right then, but also just before or just after the photo was taken... and then he does not want that photo shared - because it is personal as the emotion had been strong, especially emotions he connects as being negative... sad or angry or disappointed etc... even though no-one else can see that emotion, he can... I have amazing photos of him that I can never use, because he has a strong emotion connected to it... imagine if I chose to ignore him and put it on the wall for him to relive every time he walked past... (or had never taken the time to enter a dialogue with him about the photo and just put it up, never knowing how he felt about the photo) - and he thinks others can see the emotion too like him... he does understand the logic better now that he is older. (that others do see or feel about the photo in the same way as him, only the positive moment of the actual photo).. but we are talking about young children here... who might not have fully understood the separation of emotions ... I remember doing documentation before the digital camera... have they EVER made it all easier... and now there ARE easy ways to record children (with their permission) and not just big chunky tape recorders as there were before... ... and the whole waiting until the film was finished before getting to see the photos... not the instant fix of today... and the COST.... OMG taking photos was a much more thoughtful procedure then... and even so, so many images were just wasted as photos did not capture what you intended or caught the children in a strange facial pose... stuff I would never put on the walls, or portfolios or share with others... yet I see so many places put on walls and in portfolios really random photos... and not ones that tell a story, or maybe reflect the child as they want to be seen... I mean, as adults we are pretty clear on what images we want to share with others of ourselves... but for some reason it is OK to put up on walls and publish on FB etc images that many adults have never asked permission from the children (only their parents)... I have a hard time when families share films of their children having tantrums and meltdowns... sure film these things sometimes to learn, and to learn with the child (I have, and as I filmed I have told the child I am filming you now so that we can work out a way to help you calm down quicker in the future... but this has only been with children that have had a hard time with self regulation and have worked themselves up into half hour or longer meltdowns... when calm we would watch the film, the child had no memory of being upset, so the film was essential to understand what we were talking about and the start of working on strategies together... the child was 3 when I started this approach, I told the child could say no, we always deleted the films afterwards together, and the child was aware and we worked together to create strategies, that worked!!) - but I would never publicly share these sort of films with others... even if the child agreed, they do not fully understand the implications as they do not have the years of experience to comprehend that yet. For me being present is possible through and with documentation... especially when doing this WITH the children... I am aware that even when I am 100% present I am going to miss things... like during philosophical dialogues with children, one teacher is the facilitator another is the one who writes... and when I read and look at film, or audio (when that is done too) or photos... I see things that I missed even though I was listening 100%... and for me that has been an important part of the pedagogical documentation... the part that allows you to put your view of the moment together with what the camera saw, or the audio heard, and importantly with how the children experienced it and colleagues too. It needs to be discussed with others... there is no way that we can see everything, understand everything no matter how present we try to be. AND I am totally fine with us all coming with our own perspectives, that we look at the learning subjectively... I mean, is it even possible to be objective? We are humans with emotions! - what makes is so fascinating is the inter-subjectivity... learning about the perspectives of others and re-visiting our own understanding of the experience through their perspective... it opens up the opportunity to see things with a broader lens. I think we have to accept that we cannot see and hear all... I think we can be present in the moment with documentation if we are including the children in the process instead of being voyeurs... we all have different skills that we can bring to the table, different ways of seeing, different ways of being present... and by working together rather than always dividing into small groups allows us to document moments in different ways... but then again sometimes small groups are better ... it is about listening to the children, to the group dynamic and working out a rhythm that works best for you all... educators and learners. the documentation process becomes another area of learning for the children and educators... the children learn about their learning, they are in control more of what is important learning for them and what should be recorded (not always what you think) - they learn that their learning, their memories belong to them, not adults, and that they have the right to decide - sometimes they wanted me to publish things online and I would not, so I got the chance to talk about internet safety and about being aware of what you share online - and in today's society that is important learning - and yes preschoolers can learn this in a natural way without it being frightening. Then I also think that if we are taking a step back from the children and allow them to get on with their learning, and not always being a hands on directive teacher then there is time to document, to take photos and films, to write notes... Personally I never enjoyed audio documentation because I did not have the time to deal with it afterwards, if I took time to transcribe etc then it was time away from the children in what they are doing NOW... I do not record the minutia of every child's learning... each day every week... I am more a collector of moments together with the children, and those moments build up their learning story - sometimes there would be a need for details - often the pedagogical documentation was based on memories - talking with a colleague and recording that dialogue. Time is something we never seem to have enough of... so documenting with the children felt a great way to save on time in the sense the documentation process did not take me away from the children all the time.