Learning From the Early Years: Pedagogical Documentation Across the Grades

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 learningnot 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…

13 responses

  1. Hi Nicki;

    As always, I enjoyed reading about your thinking this week. I have benefited from all of our conversations around the importance of modelling the kinds of practices we want to see in our classrooms, and the value of making our thinking visible and open to others.

    As I work throughout the province with the challenges of pedagogical documentation, one consistent piece of feedback is the need to simplify the process to allow people to get started. When we smother people with too much to read or to think about, there is never time to actually start the work to benefit students.

    I was pleased to see that the new Pedagogical Documentation document (http://715113695.r.worldcdn.net//wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Pedagogical-Documentation-Revisited-Looking-at-Assessment-and-Learning-in-New-Ways.pdf) has “Getting Started” tips.

    I want to share with you some of my learning about implementation.

    First, the most effective method to help educators understand pedagogical documentation is to encourage them to document their own learning first. By being an active participant in the process of learning documentation, we better understand all of the complexities of the process. Instead of reading a list of things to think about, we experience them first hand for deeper learning.

    Here are some resources to share with educators to encourage and support them in this process:

    Langwitches – Documenting FOR Learning: http://langwitches.org/blog/2014/07/01/documenting-for-learning/ and Blogging as Pedagogy – Facilitate Learning http://langwitches.org/blog/2014/06/03/blogging-as-pedagogy-facilitate-learning/

    Secondly, if you are promoting pedagogical documentation as an important assessment tool, operational considerations, like tools, storage, connectivity, ownership and marks (calculation and recording – particularly at secondary) all need to be effectively dealt with for successful implementation. A number of educators have developed the skills to facilitate the operational considerations, and it’s important to ensure these are in place, or implementation of pedagogical documentation can fail because of frustration at the classroom level. I am happy to share some of our learning about this with you. You know where to find me!

    And lastly, there are a number of educators using pedagogical documentation openly in the province. Following those who model exemplary practice is helpful, particularly when those practitioners openly share their work and invite comments and conversation for further learning. For example, look at what Aviva Dunsiger is doing with her Grade 1 students: Class Learning here: http://missdunsiger.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/2015/02/10/daily-shoot-miss-dunsigers-class-day-102-2/
    Personal reflections here: http://adunsiger.com/2015/02/11/our-most-valuable-resource/

    Thanks for continuing to make your own thinking visible!


    1. Wow…I needed to chat with you before I did the Early Years Inquiry session on Tuesday! Thanks for this information – I love this sharing and will check out the links that you have provides me with. As hoped, I want to inspire our secondary colleagues to challenge my thinking and to provide that secondary perspective…it has been a long time since I taught in a high school! Appreciate your comments Donna. N


  2. […] @fryed: Pedagogical documentation across the grades. Comments? nmordencormier.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/lea… […]


  3. I wonder if our work on pedagogical documentation can nicely be linked to our preparation for student led conferencing. I think of the work that we have engaged in with each student in the school to have a folder that they can use to showcase our work. Pedagogical documentation can be a great vehicle to gather formative data to guide our planning for inquiry in the classroom. We need to recognize that pedagogical documentation can inform us at all levels of assessment.
    Thanks for the links and the further conversation as a result from your post.


  4. Nice connection Heidi. Especially when the learner is involved in the documentation – how powerful to share this with families. To invite families to share in the learning!


    1. Great connections.

      Why not use a digital format so that families can be involved throughout the learning process instead of just on specific “conference” dates? There are a number of online formats that other boards are using for this purpose, and they are open to sharing their experiences.

      The technology enabled learning and teaching leader in your board – your eLC – can assist with moving to a digital format for pedagogical documentation.

      Digital formats also ensure that the student products, conversations and observations are always just a click away when you need to access them.

      Feel free to reach out if you want further information on this.


  5. I have been modelling the digital collection with my two schools for the first half of the year while building capacity amongst the staff. Our staff is now engaged in weekly sharing using the 3 stage model for documentation on our VLE and MMM. This is not a quick process as the selection, interpretation, and next steps of the documentation is where the true thinking lies. Going digital helps make sure that the thinking goes beyond a few scribbled words. We have been working on communicating our learning to each other and when this occurs, our own learning is solidified. I would really like to see the use of the VLE become an integral part of our student led conferences however I am recognizing that we are needing to be out of the beginning implementation stage before we can use this as an asset that we are confident in using. I appreciate the discussions thus far.


    1. Will, thanks for the willingness to move forward with the technology but also being mindful of the need to support educators at their readiness level in a way that values everyone as a colearner


  6. Our parents struggle to decipher the edu babble in many of our report cards and IEP’s. Meaningful feedback is cloaked in a range of word bank phrases that conceal any value. Pedagogical documentation can be used as a reporting tool to provide a far more informed and personalized assessment of a student’s learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had a chance to read the new monograph and really felt that it supported what we have been learning about in the Early Years and though it’s not a “how to” manual for others that are just starting their journey with Pedagogical Documentation, it is a place to start.


  8. Excellent blog right here! Also your site a lot up fast! What web host are you the use of? Can I get your affiliate link in your host? I want my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol


    1. Thank you Coletta! I try to post each week. Not sure what you mean by affiliate link???


  9. Greate article. Keep writing such kind of information on your blog. Im really impressed by it.


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