This is a guide... it is not a step by step manual. So please read, let it fill you with ideas and with questions... and the courage to start...
this is a post for pedagogues that have not yet started using pedagogical documentation and are interested in learning more about this documentation approach...
This is post one of four...
Pedagogical documentation differs from documenting in the sense that it is a tool for the teacher to learn more about the individual children, about the group/class, about how the room is working (the third teacher) about how children learn, their interests etc... and from this knowledge make plans to support the children's continued learning, to make visible this learning to the children and parents ... and other interested parties... it is a tool to allow participation in the children's own learning. It is also linked to the Reggio Emilia Approach... where documentation is collected, analysed, discussed, reflected on, used to plan, returned to, more collecting of data as needed etc... so that the educator is learning from the child, to become better at facilitating the children's learning...
This first session is all about different methods of collecting information... about observations, photographs, films, writing down dialogues etc and why we do this...
There are questions about should it be about individual children, the group etc... and really pedagogical documentation is a tool that can be used in many ways... to explore and better understand the learning happening in your setting.
An average week of data collection for me would be
Monday... take films/photos of the movement session to see how the children are physically developing over time. if there any concern areas I will take close ups of this (discreetly).
Outdoors, photos taken if the children are exploring something new, or are challenging themselves in a new way... or if the children ask me to (my group of children were well aware of how documentation was being used... to put into their files to remember, and also to show this is when I managed this, it also gave them power over what is important to them, and not always my adult perception of what is important in their development).
Sometimes I would have a notebook with me and write down notes about the group constellations, how they grouped and re-grouped during their free play, what sort of play they participated in, and how long they participated in certain games before changing - sometimes this would be intensive writing, and I would write the time at the left side at regular periods so I could see the process of the morning. (this applies to all days... as we were outside every day)
Afternoons data collected through films, photos and written observations as needed. (this applies to all days)
Tuesday... dialogue would be recorded, most often by taking notes. One person held the dialogue another educator wrote down verbatim what the children and the lead educator said. Sometimes we filmed and recorded these dialogues, but the children often wanted to return to an idea we wrote down during the session, and rewinding on film/audio was more complicated to check. We also found that the children found it inspiring for us to write down their words... at first we wrote them by hand in notebooks, but after a while we wrote them directly into a computer.
see above for outdoor and afternoon data collection.
Wednesday... in the atelier. This was a session that was recorded mostly through film and photos, including photos of the various stages of the children's works. At regular times throughout the year I would take close up photos of how the children held their pens/pencils to see how the children's pen grips were developing. I would be focussing in the films not only on technique and the children's ideas and creativity, but also on their social interaction. Some art sessions needed more scaffolding... during those sessions there are fewer photos and films or maybe none... as the children always come before the documentation.
see above for outdoor and afternoons
Thursday... outdoor learning... so very much the same as what I have already written about outdoor play, but also with more focus on seasons and nature... so I would take photographs and films of what we were seeing and doing, this would then be material we would use with the children later for further thinking and reflecting.
Friday... was a reflection day... I tried to take as few photos and films as possible on this day, so that there was time to reflect on the week... of course there are times when the children or myself see a moment that needs to be recorded in some way or another.
There have been times when i have felt the need to collect extra information... when I worked in a bilingual preschool, language was an important part of our lives... as not only were there two used languages at the setting (English and Swedish) but many of the children had further home languages too. For the sake of play, learning, communication it was important for us as educators to know how much the children could understand in the two languages used at preschool... so that we could better support their development through appropriate activities, stories and constellations of children... as the children are also teachers and help each other in their learning.
Of course when it comes to children in need of extra support in their social skills or an area of learning, then there needs to be specific data collection to better understand the child and their processes; as educators we will have our assumptions, but by collecting data we can see if we are correct or not...
Sometimes I have collected data based on the needs of the educators (in my role as director). On occasion educators have felt that at certain times of the day there are too many children for the child-teacher ratio at the end of the day... and by collecting precise data of when children and educators leave the setting there is the opportunity to see if this is a perceived problem because educators feel tired at the end of the day, or that there is an real issue that needs to be addressed. Quite often things feel more manageable when educators realise they are not physically overwhelmed as they initially thought.
Data can be collected to understand how the setting is being used... what areas are most used, are there any areas that some children do not feel welcome in, are there any areas that educators do not keep within a good radar of safety? There are many questions that can be asked.
At this point we have collected information, documented the children... it is not pedagogical documentation yet. It is when we begin to analyse this information that it begins to be pedagogical... and this should be done preferably with others... with colleagues and with the children too... and also the parents. So we are at stage one of the documentation circle.
It is important when collecting data, making observations that you find a style/approach that works for you. Maybe in the beginning you feel uncomfortable... especially if you are being filmed and your voice being recorded... but this can be a good reminder that the children too might find it uncomfortable.
When documenting children through film and photographs we should always be sensitive to the children... not all children want to be photographed or filmed, especially when they know it is going onto the wall. So respect a child's integrity. If they say no, then don't.
it can be a good idea to talk to the children about taking photographs, and take the time to explain to them why you are taking photographs, so that they become a part of the process. If you are taking photographs of the children's work, there are copyright issues here... the artwork belongs to the child, so if you are wanting to share it on social media you should be asking for permission.
But we can go into this more at a later date... right now it is this first step. Getting comfortable with collecting data, finding a routine that works for you, and making sure that the children come first... the documentation is a tool to support the process of becoming a better educator it is not the process in itself. So put the camera, notebook down and be with the children, use the documentation tools when there is time.
It might be that when you get started you want to give yourself a routine, that at certain times, certain activities you learn how to collect the information; so that you get comfortable with the process. AND why not push yourself out of the comfort zone and try a method that you would not usually use, just so that you can evaluate it... maybe it is better than you first thought?
Over the years I have had a variety of notebooks for writing down observations, or writing down dialogues, or for using like a scrapbook, with photos glued in... I have also used similar notebooks for each child... where they could choose photos to glue in and write their thoughts down (sometimes on their own, most often they dictated their thoughts to us and we wrote them).
it is about getting creative with documentation... about being open to technology as new tools allow for new ways to record the children's learning. it is about testing, and making mistakes, rethinking and finding new ways... until you find your optimum data collection procedure...
For more reading about how to observe children please refer to this post
I also have a series called Why we document that might be useful to you
To continue with this exploration of pedagogical documentation then please read...
A beginner's guide to pedagogical documentation - part two - exploring analysis of the observations
A Beginner's Guide to Pedagogical Documentation - part three - making decisions based on the analysis
A Beginner's Guide to Pedagogical Documentation - part 4 - looking at the difference between the process and the published work/product