Documentation is a key feature of the Reggio Emilia Approach to teaching and learning; a pedagogy we had the opportunity to experience first hand last year, in Italy and beyond.Documentation is a way of making children’s learning visible; it often includes notes of the children’s actions, conversations, and comments – usually made by adults, as children go about their work – along with photographs that illustrate these experiences and moments.
Documentation enables the progression / stages of thinking and learning to be made visible.
Making learning visible during an inquiry on ‘identity’
During the March school holidays, a series of creative workshops were facilitated by a team of adult facilitators for a group of fifteen children, aged 5 to 9 years. The inquiry began by focusing on ‘identity’ – which included an exploration of colour through a provocation that introduced children to the shades, tints and tones of red, using a number of objects.
In seeing a metronome for the first time – one of the objects chosen by the lead facilitator – it was noticeable how intrigued the children were; by the sound it made, and how by re-positioning the adjustable weight on the pendulum the speed of that sound could be changed. As the team of facilitators shared and reflected on their documentation and observations of children’s “moments” and “experiences” at the end of the day (Kashin 2014), a consensus was reached that it would be appropriate to respond to, and attempt to build upon, the children’s curiosity with sound. This involved the children:
- being invited to become more aware of sounds in their ‘learning space’ through silent listening
- exploring sounds in the built and natural environment around them, by going on a listening hunt
- verbally sharing the sounds that they had heard – as a whole group
- describing and classifying the sounds
- exploring the sounds that they could reproduce and produce through a variety of materials – individually and together
- sharing the sounds they had created – in small groups
- verbally describing their sounds
- discussing what they would like to ‘do’ with the sounds
- working through their suggestions in small groups, either to (i) develop rhythms, (ii) create a sound story, or (iii) form a band
- sharing their collaborative creations with the whole
- and finally creating something to show what they had discovered about themselves
The aforementioned steps emerged – they were in no way predetermined – the ‘project’ evolved out of children’s initial / growing interests, and their affordance with their contexts. Children’s thinking was voiced, and became visible, through sensitive facilitation; the inquiry developed and progressed as a result of adults and children co-learning alongside each other. Written and photographic documentation of children’s comments, experiences, interactions, moments, thoughts, and so on, was intentional and essential to the learning journey; initially this was carried out by the adult facilitators as they worked with and observed children.
Within a short space of time, children began to mirror adults, and document their own learning (see the bottom row in the photographs above), to the degree where adults stopped documenting some aspects of the journey, trusting children to document it themselves.
The power of documentation
The facilitators’ documentation – alongside some of the children’s – offered a way identifying and evaluating what and how the children were learning; it encouraged and enabled facilitators to reflect together before, during, and after working alongside the children.
Ways forward – the next steps – emerged as a consequence of collectively discussing the documentation, which led to further provocations coming to mind, and being ‘set up’ in response; these provocations relaunched ideas and allowed children to go further.
As adults – and children – we opened, ‘ourselves up to new and courageous landscapes’Malaguzzi