When used effectively, consistently, and thoughtfully, documentation can also drive curriculum and collabora- tion in the early childhood classroom setting.
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88Young Children 2, 3, 4®EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS might ask, ﬁWhat is documentation?ﬂ or ﬁIs this documentation?ﬂ They sometimes wonder, ﬁCan my bulletin board be documentation?ﬂ What is documentation? Knowing what is documentation is the ˜rst stage of understanding the process. Katz and Chard offer this explanation: ﬁDocumentation typically includes samples of a child™s work at several different stages of completion: photographs showing work in prog -ress; comments written by the teacher or other adults working with the children; transcriptions of children™s discussions, comments, and explana- tions of intentions about the activity; and comments made by parentsﬂ (1996, 2).Effective communication An effective piece of documentation tells the story and the purpose of an event, experience, or development. It is a product that draws others into the experienceŠevidence or artifacts that describe a situation, tell a story, and help the viewer to understand the purpose of the action.The Power of DocumentationHilary Seitz, PhD, is the early childhood coordinator in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Her wide range of early childhood experiences includes teaching in child care centers, a public preschool, and elementary schools. email@example.comA parent eyes something on the wall in the hallway near her child™s classroom. She stops and looks across the entire wall, as if trying to determine where to start. She moves to the left a bit and scans the bulletin board posted farther down. At one point she nods as if in agreement and mouths a yes. Another parent approaches and turns to see what is on the wall. He too is mesmerized by the documentation of what one child discovered about pussy willows by using an I-scope lens. When used effectively, consistently, and thoughtfully, documentation can also drive curriculum and collabora – tion in the early childhood classroom setting.Formats that work A bulletin board can be a form of documentation, but there are any number of other possible formats, including a presentation board con – taining documentation artifacts and/ or evidence (documentation panels), class books, portfolios, slide shows, movies, and other creative products. The format that documentation takes can be as varied as the creator™s mind permits. Because documentation should provide evidence of a process with a purpose, whatever the format, it should fully explain the process, highlighting various aspects of the experience or event.in the Early Childhood Classroom
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Young Children 89Audience and purposes Successful documentation formats re˚ect the intended audience and purposes. In addition, the format selected will depend on the individual preparing the documenta – tion and how the children are involved in the experience. For example, if one teacher wants to highlight for families and administrators how the class is meeting a particular math or science standard, she would use examples of chil- dren participating in experi – ences that align with the stan- dard. As evidence, she might include photographs of chil- dren measuring plant stems with a ruler, children™s com -ments about measuring the stems, background informa – tion about how the children learned about measurement (or plants), and the speci˜c learning standard the children are meeting by participating in this experi- ence. To best combine all of these elements, the teacher may choose a documentation panel as the format to help the audience understand how children are learning. If children in the class are the intended audience, however, and the purpose of the documentation is to help children re˚ect on their math and science learning and connect them to future lessons, then the teacher would select different artifacts and evidence. A documentation panel could again be appropriate, but different artifacts and evidence might include a web of children™ s ideas: for instance, why an Documentation Artifacts and Evidence Teacher™s description and overview of an event/ experience/skill development, such as photographs and Photographs of children at workŠfor example, con-ducting a science experiment Samples of children™s work, like a writing sample from the beginning of the year Children™s comments, such as ﬁAll the rocks have spar -kles in them,ﬂ in writing or as recorded by the teacher Teacher or parent comments about a classroom eventŠfor instance, ﬁIt was really fun helping the chil-dren measure the ingredients for playdoughﬂ Teacher transcriptions of conversations during small group time when children are exploring a new topic, such as why snow melts indoors Important items or observations relating to an event/experience/development, such as ﬁJohnny can now write his own name on his workﬂPossible Topics to Document Individual child growth and development, such as language development progression Expected behaviors (at group time, in using a certain toy, while eating together) celebrations) Curriculum projects, such as learning about plant life cycles Families and relationships (different types of family structures and characteristics of the families in the classroom community) Evidence of meeting learning standards (by posting work samples) Questions and answers of the children, teachers, and families about such topics as classroom routines (like how to wash your hands)elephant should not live at the Alaska Zoo, children™s comments about the elephant, and questions for further exploration, such as, ﬁWhere should an elephant live?ﬂ Add related photo -graphs and work samples. Again, an explanation about where the learn – ing began and where it is intended to go will help any audience better understand the documentation. In both cases, the quality of the end product will depend on the teacher™s understanding of children, the curriculum, and the standards, along with his or her effective use of tech -nology and observation. What should we document? A variety of experi-ences and topics are appropriate to document, but documentation should always tell a complete story. To stay on track, carefully select one topic and explore it to the fullest rather than trying to do a little of everything. For example, if the class is learning about plants (and studying plant parts, how to grow particular plants, types of plants, and so on), it would be best to document fully just one aspect of chil- dren™s learning. Choosing a focus The teacher might choose to document only the children™s study of plant parts, for exam -ple, and could start by provid – ing a learning spark, such as a new plant in To stay on track, care-fully select one topic and explore it to the full – est rather than trying to do a little of everything.
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90Young Children the classroom (Seitz 2006). As chil -dren comment on the plant parts, the teacher can create a web to record what they know and to help them formulate questions. The children might also draw and label the various plant parts. Presenting the topic and learning The teacher can combine all of these pieces to make a documentation panel. This panel would illustrate the children™s knowledge and understand – ing more thoroughly than a panel displaying every child™s worksheet on plant parts, all of their water -color paintings of a plant, and every brainstormed list of vegetable plants. Offering speci˜c examples of how children came to their understandings about just one aspect of a lessonŠin this case, plant partsŠachieves more than offering an overview of several experiences.Showing developmental progress One important and common topic for documentation is individual child growth and development. As previous examples have shown, the documenter is a researcher ˜rst, collecting as much information as possible to paint a picture of progress and outcomes. Documenting individual growth requires a great deal of research, as the teacher must observe each child in a variety of areas of development (such as social-emotional, cognitive, language, and motor) over a substan-tial length of time. Only then can the teacher create a documentation piece that tells an accurate story about each child. A teacher should be careful to avoid displaying private or con˜dential information in public forums. There are times when documentation may be more appropriately shared in other, more private venues, such as a portfolio. Portfolios used for individual assessment of children make a par -ticularly good format for documenting developmental progress. Teachers select several domains to research. They then collect evidence of a child™s interaction with other children (photographs and written observa -tions), record the child™s re˚ections about their friendships and cognitive abilities in interviews or group discus – sions, collect work samples, and tie the documentation together by writ- ing a narrative describing the child™s abilities (not de˜cits) in the selected domains. Even though the portfolio focuses on a child™s abilities, teach – ers may want to consider sharing the documentation/portfolio in a private setting, such as a parent/child/teacher conference, so that parents do not feel compelled to compare their child to others in the class.Why should we document? There are several important reasons for using documentation in early child -hood classrooms. Showing accountability Accountability is one reason for documentation. Teachers are account – able to administrators, families, community members, and others, and documentation helps to provide evidence of children™s learning. In addition, documentation can improve relationships, teaching, and learning. Use of this tool helps educators get to know and understand children, and it allows them to re˚ect on the effec – tiveness of their teaching practices (Kroeger & Cardy 2006). Extending the learning Consider the following example of how one thoughtful teacher could use documentation to prolong and extend an unexpected learning opportunity. A group of children ˜nds some miscella – neous nuts and bolts on a playground, and their teacher, noting their curios -ity, carefully observes their responses and listens to and documents their The documenter is a researcher first, collecting as much information as possible to paint a picture of progress and outcomes.
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Young Children 91conversations (by using written notes, photographs, and video). She listens to learn what the children know about the items and what they wonder, such as ﬁWhere do these come from?ﬂ Then she facilitates a conversa-tion with the children to learn more about their ideas and theories behind the purpose of the nuts and bolts and how they came to be on the playground. Later the teacher incorporates the initial comments, the photographs, and the conversations in a docu- mentation source (panel, notebook, PowerPoint, or other creative prod – uct). The children and teacher revisit the encounter through the documen – tation and re˚ect on the experience, which helps the children continue their conversation and drives forward their interest. This back-and-forth examination of the documentation helps the teacher and children negoti – ate a curriculum that is based on the children™s interests (Seitz 2006). Making learning visible When expected to provide evidence that children are meeting learning standards, documentation is a natural way to make learning visible. Helm, Beneke, and Steinheimer (1998) call this idea ﬁwindows on learning,ﬂ mean – ing that documenting offers an insight into children™s development and learn -ing. Moreover, they observe, ﬁWhen teachers document children™s learning in a variety of ways, they can be more con˜dent about the value of their teachingﬂ (1998, 24).How should we document? The documentation process is best done in collaboration with other teachers, parents, and, in some cases, children soon after the experience. The information and product become richer when two or more teachers, children, and parents work together to understand an event. Collaboration also helps build a classroom community, which is important because it engages teachers, parents, and children in thinking about the process of learning. When two or more people discuss an event, each brings a different per -spective and a new level of depth. The photo below shows two teachers discussing a possible change to the classroom environment. They have discussed aspects that are necessary and that work and things they would like to change based on the children™s needs, such as repositioning the furniture. Together they share how they have observed young children using the space. This environment plan would look very different if just one individual had created it. Carlina Rinaldi discusses this notion of work- ing together and building community: ﬁTo feel a sense of belonging, to be part of a larger endeavor, to share meaningsŠthese are rights of every – one involved in the educational pro – cess, whether teachers, children, or parents . . . working in groups is essen -tialﬂ (1998, 114).Stages of the documenter First and foremost, documentation is a process that is learned, facilitated, and created in stages. I would even go so far as to say that documenters go through their own stages as they learn more about documenting and using documentation to support their ideas. Many early childhood educators already document children™s develop – ment and learning in many ways, and most communicate a variety of mes- sages in diverse formats to families (Brown-DuPaul, Keyes, & Segatti 2001). There are six stages that most early childhood educators, including col- lege students and practicing teach- ers, move through both individually and collaboratively (see ﬁStages of Documenter Experienceﬂ). Educators who collaborate to learn more about documentation tend to have more positive experiences than those who work on their own.The documentation process is best done in collaboration with other teachers, parents, and, in some cases, children soon after the experience.
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92Young Children Conclusion Documentation can be a rewarding process when educators understand the value associated with collecting evidence and producing a summary presentation, whether in a bulletin board, panel, video, or other format. To become a documenter, one must ˜rst understand what to observe and what to do with the information collected. It takes time and practice to learn which experiences support effective documentation and how to collect artifacts and evidence. Next, as documenters learn why the information is important, they begin to understand the value of documenta – tion for different audiences and come Stage1. Deciding to document 2. Exploring technology use3. Focusing on children™s engagement4. Gathering information5. Connecting and telling stories6. Documenting decision makingExperienceDocumenters ask, ﬁWhat should I document?ﬂ They create busy bulletin boards with too much informa- tion. Concerned with equity, many include every item rather than being selective.Documenters explore how to use equipment and photographs from various events and experiences. Most of the photos are displayed on bulletin boards or inserted in photo albums. The video clips are placed in slideshows or movies and shown to chil- dren and parents.and events with the intent of capturing a piece of the story of children engaged in learning.Documenters title the photographs, events, and experiences and begin to write descriptions that tell the story of children™s learning. Documenters combine work samples, photographs, descriptions, and miscellaneous information in sup- port of the entire learning event. They tell the whole story with a beginning, middle, and an end, using supporting artifacts. theories, and meet learning standards, all with the support of documentation.Value Documenters show pride in the children™s work. Documenters work hard to learn more about technology. They show pride in the chil- dren™s actions by displaying photos and video clips. Documenters become techno-logically competent and able to focus on important learning events and experiences. Documenters begin to con-nect children™s actions and experiences.Documenters continue to use documentation artifacts to con-nect children™s actions and experiences to curriculum and learning standards.-tive practitioners who document meaningful actions/events, explain why they are important, and push themselves and oth- ers to continue thinking about these experiences.Stages of Documenter Experienceto recognize why certain aspects of child development are important to assess. In addition, documenters learn that administrators and parents value this information, yet it also has value to the children and the teacher Often the documentation provides insights into chil-dren™s thinking and helps drive the future curriculum.
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Young Children 93in planning authentic curriculum that meets children™s needs. Finally, the documenter learns how best to interpret and display the information gathered. Often the documentation provides insights into children™s thinking and helps drive the future curriculum. Deepening chil -dren™s learning is the ultimate reward of documentation.References Brown-DuPaul, J., T. Keyes, & L. Segatti. 2001. Using documentation panels to communi-cate with families. Childhood Education 77 (4): 209Œ13.Helm, J.H., S. Beneke, & K. Steinheimer. 1998. Windows on learning: Documenting young chil – dren™s work. New York: Teachers College Press. Katz, L.G., & S.C. Chard. 1996. The contribu -tion of documentation to the quality of early childhood education. ED 393608. www.eric – digests.org/1996-4/quality.htm Kroeger, J., & T. Cardy. 2006. Documentation: A hard-to-reach place. Early Childhood Educa- tion Journal 33 (6): 389Œ98.Rinaldi, C. 1998. Projected curriculum con -struction through documentationŠ Proget – tazione. In The hundred languages of chil-dren: The Reggio Emilia approachŠAdvanced re˜ections, 2nd ed., eds. C. Edwards, L. Gan – dini, & G. Forman, 114. Greenwich, CT: Ablex. Seitz, H. 2006. The plan: Building on children™s interests. Young Children 61 (2): 36Œ41.Further resources Chard, S.C. 1998. T he Project Approach: Making curriculum come alive. New York: Scholastic. Curtis, D., & M. Carter. 2000. The art of aware -ness: How observation can transform your teaching. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf.Edwards, C., L. Gandini, & G. Forman, eds. 1998. The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approachŠAdvanced re˜ec -tions. 2nd ed. Greenwich, CT: Ablex. Fraser, S., & C. Gestwicki. 2002. Authentic child-hood: Exploring Reggio Emilia in the class- room. Albany, NY: Delmar/Thomson Learning. Fu, V.R., A.J. Stremmel, & L.T. Hill. 2002. Teach -ing and learning: Collaborative exploration of the Reggio Emilia approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill. Gandini, L., & C.P. Edwards, eds. 2001. Bam-bini: The Italian approach to infant/toddler care. New York: Teachers College Press. Hill, L.T., A.J. Stremmel, & V.R. Fu. 2005. Teach -ing as inquiry: Rethinking curriculum in early childhood education. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.Jones, E., & J. Nimmo. 1994. Emergent curricu -lum. Washington, DC: NAEYC. Katz, L.G., & S.C. Chard. 2000 Engaging chil-dren™s minds: The project approach. 2nd ed. Greenwich, CT: Ablex. Oken-Wright, P. 2001. Documentation: Both mir -ror and light. Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange 8 (4): 5Œ15.Reed, A.J., & V.E. Bergemann. 2005. A guide to observation, participation, and re˜ection in the classroom. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.Shores, E.F., & C. Grace. 2005. The portfolio book: A step-by-step guide for teachers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Wurm, J. 2005. Working the Reggio way: A beginner™s guide for American teachers. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf.Copyright © 2008 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. See Permissions and Reprints online at .
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