With fall transitioning into winter, and colder weather arriving in a few short weeks, we decided to create a documentation panel to frame our autumn inquiry. Naturally, we began the process by collecting evidence of student learning such as photographs, artwork, observational drawings, records of conversations and anecdotal notes to help us communicate student learning on our documentation panel … what we ended up with was a lot of artifacts! We quickly realized that if we included everything, our documentation panel would function more as an overview of our learning rather than take our audience on a deeper journey into our wonderings and observations. It was at this point that I decided to take a step back and revisit some key research articles about documentation in early childhood education. This really helped me take the time to think about what we wanted to communicate, who our audience was and how we were going to go about sharing our learning.
I really like the brief explanation of effective documentation offered by Seitz (2008) in her article titled The Power of Documentation in the Early Childhood Classroom – “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 experience – evidence or artifacts that describe a situation, tell a story, and help the viewer to understand the purpose of the action” (p. 88). This explanation guided us as we sifted through all of our evidence of student learning, decided who our audience was, what to include and what not to include, and how to arrange our documentation panel.
The photographs below offer a closer look at areas of our documentation panel with explanations about their significance. I’ve included three key ideas which helped us create documentation that was meaningful and unique to our learning – an important consideration as documentation panels are often revisited as sites of learning by students. Revisiting documentation plays a key role in learning as it offers students the chance to rework their learning theories by adding new information, reflecting on their experiences, and making connections to future learning opportunities (Katz & Chard, 1997; Seitz, 2008).
1. Start with ‘The Spark’:
As we began to sift through our evidence of student learning (photographs, artifacts, anecdotes), we quickly realized that what we really wanted to do was tell a story about the learning in our classroom, and therefore, would need to go back to the beginning . We asked ourselves, what learning experiences and conversations originally sparked the children’s interest about fall? For our students, their wonderings and observations about fall began with the provocation of ‘invisible’ paper on our window.
Our window quickly became a popular area for learning and conversation, and within a few days, was covered in observations and writing about our community and the changing weather. The window also became a place where the children began to have meaningful conversations about their working theories (understandings) about fall. As a starting point for our documentation panel, we decided it was important to frame our learning by including ‘the spark’, so that families and visitors could understand how and why our fall inquiry came to be. We did this by including three photographs side by side with a brief explanation of how our ‘invisible’ paper inspired the children’s wonderings and future learning. We also made sure to include the conversations our students were having with one another about the changing seasons.
M.R: Look what I found!
M.B: Is that a real leaf or a dead leaf?
M.R: Real. They start turning this colour. You know why? Because it is almost fall.
M.B: It is fall!
B.M: This is an old tree.
E.C: How do you know?
B.M: Because it is turning fall. Because that is the weather.
2. Tell a Story:
From here, we continued to tell our story by including examples and evidence of all of the learning activities our students’ initial observations inspired. We included:
- A photograph of our nature walk. Our students showed an interest in collecting pinecones, branches, leaves, and stones so that they could take a closer look at them.
2. Photographs as evidence of learning:
Counting beads while adding them to branches we collected. This game was student created, and over time, has become a class favourite.
We decided to include our observational drawings alongside student writing sharing their experiences. It was interesting to include the variety of ways students engaged with our inquiry.
For our documentation panel, we chose to focus on the variety of ways our students interacted with our nature walk finds and their observations about the changing seasons. Setiz (2008) suggests that in order for educators to stay on track, they must “carefully select one topic and explore it to the fullest rather than trying to do a little of everything” (p. 89). We did this by deciding early on what it was that we wanted to focus on and making a plan on including artifacts that best reflected our area of focus.
3. Include Interesting Artifacts
We decided to include these painted pinecones as part of our bulletin board. The art adds texture, colour and is a great example of engaging student learning.
We included pine needles and observational drawings by two students who became really interested in them. It was really interesting to include the many different interests of our students as our inquiry unfolded.
We also included the nature finds of our students that they would bring in to share with their peers.
It was really interesting to observe the different interests of our students within our fall inquiry. Some students chose to paint, some chose to write and read books, and others chose to have conversations with their peers about their observations of nature. Our documentation is reflective of all the different ways our students chose to explore their understandings of the changing seasons, making it a meaningful site to revisit in the future.
The process of creating a documentation panel of our learning was filled lots of reflecting (what did we want to include and why?), decision making (how would we tell our story?), and conversations (what artifacts did our students feel best reflected their learning experiences?). It is important to consider that there are many ways and formats to go about documenting student learning, and no matter the shape or form documentation may take, “the documenter is a researcher first, collecting as must information as possible to paint a picture of progress and outcomes” (Seitz, 2008, p. 90).
Our documentation panel is currently displayed in our classroom for students to reflect on and interact with as their understanding of fall and winter continues to evolve. We often observe students interacting with their learning through conversations and touching the tactile materials (pinecones, twigs, rocks) – making it a feature of our classroom that is meaningful to them.
Gandini, L. (1993). Fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education. Young Children, 49(1), 4-8.
Katz, L. G., & Chard, S. C. (1997). Documentation: The Reggio Emilia Approach. Principal, 76(5), 16-17.
Seitz, H. (2008). The power of documentation in the early childhood classroom. YC Young Children, 63(2), 88.