Pedagogy is the understanding of how learning takes place and the philosophy and practice that supports that understanding of learning.
(How Does Learning Happen? 2014, pg. 16)
“Pedagogical documentation allows educators to see how thinking, learning, curriculum and assessment are intertwined.”
(Pedagogical Documentation Revisited, 2015)
Recall that the focus of my thinking lately has been that my learning as the Early Years Lead is truly impacting my understanding of learning across the grades – up to and including grade 12! We have already thought about self-regulation from this perspective, and this week, I have been thinking deeply about pedagogical documentation. I am understanding that pedagogical documentation, an assessment for and as learning strategy that puts student thinking and learning at the center, is a critical piece of our practice as educators.
We know from Growing Success that we must “collect evidence over time from three different sources – observations, conversations and student products. Using multiple sources of evidence increases the reliability and validity of the evaluation of student learning” (Growing Success, page 39). As educators it has always been essential that we have strengths in our ability to document student thinking (formative) through tasks and task analysis – our anecdotal records. Over the years, we have experienced many conversations and tried numerous strategies to actually “record” our documentation…and then there has been the struggle with making sense of the mass of documentation that we end up with when we begin the process of evaluation. I recall seeing an educator working on report cards at a computer with stacks of student work and personal records spread around her…feeling overwhelmed as she tried to make sense of the documentation…and her swearing that this would never happen again! What was missing in this process was the “pedagogical” part of the documentation process…as it is only pedagogical documentation when we interact with the documentation throughout the learning process – engaging in analysis and responding (our Condition for Learning!) to the learner’s thinking – hence making it assessment for and as learning – not assessment of learning (as was occurring in my example above). As Rinaldi comments in The Relationship Between Documentation and Assessment (online, 2004), “documentation…does not mean to collect documents after the conclusion of experiences with children, but during the course of the experiences. Traditionally, the recording and reading of memories [has taken] place at the end of an experience and may become part of a collection of archives. For us, documentation is part of the daily life in schools” (pg. 1). “In essence, then, part of what makes documentation pedagogical is the careful, iterative process of examining and responding to the interplay between learning, the educator’s pedagogical decisions, and the student’s role and voice in the learning.” (Pedagogical Documentation Revisited, Capacity Building Series, January 2015).
Using pedagogical documentation, we can ensure that we are moving from being task focused to being learning focused. As we slow down and purposefully observe children (which may begin with just a couple of minutes per day on a rotational schedule) and engage in what Rinaldi (2004) calls “visible listening” we begin to deeply understand more and more about what the children know and can do. We always observe from an asset stance…our strength based approach…staying away from wishing that the learner knows and can do more than they are currently demonstrating. We have to grow comfortable with and increasingly respectful of where the learner is at. This deep knowledge of learners provides us with insights into their thinking and doing that allow us to personalize our response – to provoke their thinking further by introducing an experience, a question, a resource, or by having them share their thinking with other learners to expand their working theories of the world. I recently read some documentation that included a section at the end where the educators captured their thinking around “Possibilities and Opportunities” for further provocations, (as well as a space for parents/caregivers to also reflect their thinking).
This shift to a culture of learning (from the culture of teaching) is defined by this responsive approach as it truly involves the honouring of student thinking, student voice, is a co-constructed approach, and is focused on student strengths. This also furthers the move from our traditional role as the keepers of all of the knowledge to our new role as provokers of thinking. It reminds me of a quote that I heard at the last Pedagogical Leadership Webinar that went something like “teaching isn’t about correcting mistakes…”. I think that this nicely describes our enhanced roles.
Educators are also helping me to understand the various purposes of pedagogical documentation. I am seeing that this documentation belongs not only in the hallway as evidence of thinking for parents, but in the classroom as evidence of thinking for students. Engaging students by using the documentation as part of their learning environment, having it available as tools to provoke further thinking, conversation, celebration, etc. for the learners is a key piece. Engaging in documentation with students allows for multiple opportunities to model thinking, to encourage metacognition, and to explore working theories by engaging in conversation with students. These analytic conversations should also be happening with others; we have recently been reminded that we engage in documentation analysis with parents, principals, special education resource teachers, early childhood educators, student work study teachers, other teachers…etc. This analysis is not limited to those classrooms with an educator team! When we think about pedagogical documentation across the grades, this is a key barrier that can be rethought.
Again, I know that I will be further challenged with the HOW of this complex change in our practice. And just in time, our Ministry of Education has released yet another research based (from our colleagues in this province!) monograph to support our thinking. It is available at
Be sure to have a read as it is an amazing tool. Keep in mind always though…this monograph is designed to get us thinking and does not contain all of the answers to the HOW! This is the piece that I believe has contributed to redefining teaching as a profession…we are professionals who have the ability to deeply think, practice, refine, inquiry again, and come to our own conclusions. There are no answers…just excellent prompts to keep us thinking and learning! Know thy impact…
Pedagogical documentation…a responsive, assessment for and as learning practice…that is done WITH our learners and NOT TO our learners.
Thoughts? How are we moving pedagogical documentation from an “early years” practice to one that supports learning across the grades?
And for our SGDSB leaders…how are you co-analyzing and responding to the documentation from your Problem of Practice?
Until next week…