Documentation: A Teacher's Tool

I had always dabbled in scrapbooking as a young adult so when I started working in an early education classroom and started learning about “documentation”, it came pretty naturally to me. Some teachers loathe documentation and the time and effort it takes, but I really find it to be an essential part of my teaching practice. Susan Stacey, author of Emergent Curriculum in Early Childhood Settings  talks about documentation as a “gold mine of precious information about the world and thinking of teachers and children as they collaborated in the classroom.”  Working in the field of early education you may have heard “its not the product that counts its the process.”

Documentation is just that- the process of what children are learning. And if you think about documentation like that, its easily understood what an important tool it can become. It demonstrates to parents and families what children are learning and how they are learning. It can help the teachers plan curriculum and lesson plans. And it is a visible representation of learning for the children. When they can revisit such moments through a documentation board, children may ask new questions, increase their memory skills by telling you the story of what happened and find pride adn inner confidence when they see themselves and the work they are doing, displayed for everyone to see. 

If you have never practiced documentation here are few ways I do it in my classroom.

- Documentation boards or panels (this is probably the simplest way): When you have collected pictures of the children working on one thing (example: exploring bubbles, making playdough, painting with watercolors, building with blocks) you can lay them out on a large poster board and begin telling the story of what the children did- the process. You can write under the pictures or type up a story to go along with pictures. I will even involve the children in my documentation and ask them to tell me what they did in each of the pictures. I try and add the skills that were practiced so the parents can better understand why simple acts like blowing bubbles or playing with blocks are so important to a developing child. Display your finished board somewhere the parents can see it as well as where your children can revisit their process. 

- Documentation books- these are a great way to incorporate documentation into your center or classroom for children to really revisit what they’ve done in your class. I literally tell the story page by page of one activity, laminate each page (if you don’t have a laminator you can use clear contact paper), hole punch each page and use metal binder rings or yarn to create a handmade documentation book. In my class we have a large basket filled with  documentation books for the children to explore. They love revisiting old projects and explorations and this is a perfect way for little hands and adult hands to see work done in the classroom. 

- Documentation through portfolios- if your children are older and you have a little more time and a little more money (or are a little more creative), you can put together a documentation portfolio for each child in your care. Some caregivers/teachers work on daily pages, adding pictures, project work and artwork to the portfolio. For a project on The Three Little Pigs I did with my class a few years back, I put together two whole class portfolios full of chronological pictures, drawings, discussions and any day to day happenings that pertained to the project. It took me awhile to assemble everything in the way I felt it should be presented but the process of putting it together helped me move my curriculum in certain directions as well as showed me what the children were really interested in and what they were learning along the way. Now we have a lovely collection of children’s work to discover over and over again. Documentation used as a tool in sharing children’s work, can open up many new avenues in your teaching and caregiving experience. It is a true reminder of all we accomplish every day working with these fantastic, eager young minds.


Resources for Documentation

The President and Fellows of Harvard College on Behalf of Project Zero. 2003. Making Teaching Visible: Documenting Individual and Group Learning As Professional Development. Cambridge, Ma: Project Zero.

Stacey, Susan (2009).  Emergent Curriculum in Early Childhood Settings: From Theory to Practice, Redleaf Press: St. Paul, MN.

Curtis and Carter (2008).Learning Together with Young Children: A Curriculum Framework for Reflective Teachers, Redleaf Press: ST. Paul, MN. 

Wurm, J. (2005).Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner's Guide for American Teachers. Redleaf Press: St. Paul, MN.

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Summer Langille, M.A, Early Childhood Education Specializing 0-8 Years

Summer has been working with children for almost 15 years. The oldest of four she’s always seen herself as a caregiver. She started off caring for children as a nanny for many years. She received her undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies from San Francisco State University and has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education specializing in birth to age eight from Long Beach State. She’s worked with infants all the way up to elementary aged children in center-based care, private school care, home-based care, back-up care and afterschool care. She was a lead teacher for an infant program and more recently a two year old/preschool program. She even had a brief stint as a brownie girl scout troop leader. She’s passionate about quality care for children and thinks the environment plays a large role in how a child learns effectively. She loves art, blocks, music, fairy gardens and picture books and wants all caregivers of children to know how important their job is to the children they care for. Summer is currently home with her baby, navigating this new role as Mama. She blogs about her family at www.summerplayshouse.com.