Documentation is an important part of our learning environment at Tulip Tree. Recently, when hanging up some photos in our art studio, ST asked me, “What are you doing?”. I replied, “Well, I’m hanging up some photos of you all with your hands in the clay. Do you remember doing that last week?” ST said, “Yeah, but why are you doing that?”
Well, ‘why’, is a very different question. A big question. A question I sometimes steer away from with the children because it is a question of cause and effect, a question of higher thinking. I tried to answer in my best simplified preschool teacher answer, “Well, I want you to see them. And for everyone to see them! It can be nice to visit with things we are thinking about and exploring.” He shrugged and ran off, apparently satisfied enough with my answer, or over the conversation.
But I wanted to extend this conversation to the community, because ST asked an important question. We spend a lot of time and energy in documenting the children throughout the year. We put large displays on the walls of many rooms that include drawings, questions, stories, photos, and words. We also photograph and organize all photos, take videos, voice record, make books, transcribe stories and conversations, blog almost daily, post happenings on Instagram, host parent nights, write monthly newsletters, send photos through Brightwheel, write connective questions on our little chalkboard, and so much more. Teachers spend so many hours each week dedicated to documentation, so why we do it, is a great question.
First of all, we want families to know what their child is doing at school. Documentation is a simple way to connect with your child’s life and learning at school. When parents come in and spend a moment looking around, they are participating in our learning environment. They are gaining knowledge of their own child’s ideas, explorations, and discoveries. They are also gaining an awareness of their child’s peers and teachers that are included in the documentation. So documentation is certainly partly for parents, but it is also for the children, the teachers, and others outside the community too.
Having the documentation on our walls is a beautiful way to show the children that they matter, their learning matters, and the work they do is important to us and their community. Documentation often reflects the process of the activity, and not just the product. We want children to know that the act of wondering, doing, trying, exploring, is so important and not just what ends up in their art file.
Making learning visible is very important for the children for assessment as well. When researching the most productive forms of assessments, we find that self-assessment is actually best. By having their work directly displayed on the wall, children are naturally somewhat assessing themselves. The children recall, compare, and get inspired from the work of the walls.
Furthermore, a language rich environment is conducive to learning to read and write. Just having words around, in any form, will support the children’s learning written words. Typed words are crisp and clean and can feel formal, grown-up, and important. Hand written words, whether by student or teacher, have character and style and can show a connectedness to the work by giving a sense of that person’s presence. However we do it, even if they cannot actually read it, the words are there for the children as well.
The documentation is there for the teachers too. Why? Because we are, admittedly, all learning. At the Opal School symposium we attended this summer, we met some amazing folks from Harvard’s Project Zero who referred to the children as “our young colleagues”. I love the respect this term holds for the children. The students are our “young colleagues” and we are all learning different things, but all together. Documentation, like this blog, is an amazing time for teachers to be reflective in their work and to check-in and see where we should take it next in following our young colleagues. Our curriculum doesn’t come with a set map. We are a child-led school because we are always trying to listen to their 100 languages, and build a school together that reflects their curiosities and nurtures their growth.
And beyond this, we also want others to know what we do at our school. We get inspired by other schools and we like to think we inspire others too. Alisha has, for the past couple of years, spoken during seminars to teach teachers about some of the amazing work she has done around gender with preschoolers. We also make our blog public, and I have been managing a public Instagram account for us for the past couple years. We are connecting on social media with other schools all over the world and sharing ideas across language barriers and oceans. We want to document to give parents connection, to give the children a sense of their importance, the teachers reflection, and the world inspiration.