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Processes and Purposes of Pedagogical Documentation

Debi Keyte-Hartland is an international arts educator and early years pedagogical consultant who has worked in education, health, social and cultural fields for 20+ years developing creative and transdisciplinary approaches to learning and inquiry in early learning settings. Debi shares:

“I speak, write and share my work alongside the educators with whom I work to raise the profile and illuminate what is possible in early childhood education …to engage and ignite the curiosity of educators and develop deep thinking about children’s learning processes and the researchful pedagogic practices that can support children’s meaning-making strategies.”

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A conversation about philosophies, theories and relevance...

Jessica Horne-Kennedy spoke to Debi about her upcoming series at Gowrie NSW Education Hub to gain insights into the philosophies, theories and processes underpinning pedagogical documentation and its relevance for our work with young children in early education settings.

In November you will present this two-part online workshop for Gowrie NSW - what is one key important idea behind this series?

I think for me, the key idea when thinking about pedagogical documentation is that it is not a product, for example, a panel on the wall or an entry in a child’s personal portfolio of some kind, but a process.  A process that involves thinking about what you will be observing and why (our pre-figurations), the act of observation itself, the reflection on that observation in relation to your pre-figurations as such, and the decisions you make after thinking about what you have observed.  It is a formative process of our own professional development that helps us in understanding how children learn that also makes it possible to share those significant moments with others for future conversations about what they think about it too.   

Processes and Purposes of Pedagogical DocumentationPedagogical Documentation might be a term that is new to many educators in early childhood – if you could describe what this is in a nutshell what would you say? 

Well, a nutshell is so hard… so I’m going for a slightly larger coconut here! I think if we first consider the documentation element first. Documentation of any kind involves the collection and preparation of documents, which for us working in early childhood could be photographs, film, notes of what the children have said, notes on what they are doing with their bodies, notes on what we are wondering at the time, and also the artefacts that the children may be working on, for example, drawings, paintings, clay work, a story they have narrated, their writing… those physical traces that children leave behind. In fact, I call thee the traces of learning. Now to the pedagogical part, for me, it is then what you do with those traces. If they just go into a box to go home with the child, or if they are just put on the wall to be displayed, or if we never look at the video again, or post it in a digital portfolio for others to see, then that is about collecting and making it public. The pedagogical part means we must act on those traces, through processes of observation, interpretation that helps us to understand what it is the child, or the group are thinking about, helps us to understand and interrogate the processes and strategies of learning that our children are using, for us then to make better decisions about what we as educators do next. If we look at the word pedagogy, then we see it as referring to how teachers teach, informed by their beliefs and values, and how their teaching affects their learners. So, in that nutshell, pedagogical documentation is a process that helps us to keep reflecting on how we teach, why, and the effect of actions of teaching on the children with who we are working directly with. We could also call it a kind of practice-based research.
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Oslo kids are having fun with each other
In what contexts have you used this approach to documentation? 
This level of pedagogical documentation cannot be applied to everything that you do, all the time. If so, we would not be interacting and participating in the learning event with the children. We would also be drowning in all the traces we collect, and never have enough time in the day or night to reflect and analyse everything we do. I learnt this the hard way. So, it involves making a choice about what we will research in this depth and for me, it has taken the form of:
  • Researching the strategies and genres that children use in their drawings 
  • Researching how children develop understanding about numbers
  • Researching an inquiry with children about trees, another about the insects they found whilst digging in the garden, another about how seeds grow and how they know how to grow 
So often they can be inquiries of the adults wanting to know more about processes of learning and strategies that children use to develop understanding, or about distinct inquiry or projects that children become immersed in. Sometimes it can be a small, short moment in which the whole team gather around to analyse the situation, other times a long and ongoing project that develops and evolves over the course of the year. So, the process of pedagogical documentation can be applied to almost everything we do, but it must have at its heart a sense of research, or a desire for ourselves to learn more about the children’s learning and our effect on that.
Who are some of the theorists or philosophers that have inspired you in your work teaching educators about this approach? 
Loris Malaguzzi was one of the foundational thinkers of what has now become known as theOslo LithgowDSCF0853 Reggio Emilia Approach, and of course those who
worked with him.  Vea Vecchi has this amazing way of seeing creativity and the arts as languages of poetic communication but also as means of constructing knowledge.  Gregory Bateson, who Malaguzzi and Vecchi read and his daughter Nora Bateson, who both challenge us to look at the world of things and ideas with as many lenses as possible, and to see how the world is a living, ecological system of interdependent systems, and if we break that multiple ways of perceiving to understand, that we create these false and mechanical ways of being that breakdown and do damage. And Deleuze and Guattari remind us that learning is not simply sequential or linear and Post-Humanist thinkers who talk about the complexity of learning and new materialist approaches that challenge us to see learning and being as an intra-active dynamic, where children do not just simply act on materials such as paper or paint to change them, but that the world of objects and materials, the environment, our ways of being, the history and social context, indeed everything that can be is inherent in the materials, and the choices we make and that they speak to us of their possibilities of uses, can guide us, and interact with us too.  For me, it opens so many ways of seeing and thinking differently, and for me, that is key to getting better at observing what is going on in any given situation. 
A ‘pedagogy of listening’ is such an important concept to consider - in what ways does this idea support educators to value children’s ideas and voice?
The pedagogy of listening comes from Carla Rinaldi and the Reggio Emilia Approach and is a metaphor for how we can in our observations and interactions with others, become an active listener wishing to seek and understand different points of view that holds the possibility of changing our minds. This is how we learn, in encountering others and otherness, so that we may learn to accept that it is ok to think and be different.  It is about acceptance, belonging, and valuing each other.  So, with children, it is no different, what we are trying to activate in children and ourselves is a value of listening where the potential to learn from the other, is always present and valued. 
In the course you will share how it is important to build powerful learning opportunities to enrich and evolve complex learning through environments and materials – what might an example of a powerful learning opportunity be? 
I think powerful learning is learning that is complex, that is always in a state of evolving and becoming more and more sophisticated.  It is the deep and complex kind that has many ways of being thought about and is transferable too across contexts.  It is also the kind of learning when you figure something out finally, where there is that joyous moment of Eureka and Aha and it is learning that is meaningful and lasting. 
After attending this course, what are some of the benefits that educators and teachers may take into their teaching and learning practices with children and families? 
My aim is that educators and teachers will understand how pedagogical documentation within a pedagogy of listening and can help them to value and recognise the child’s agency and voice in their own learning and their own ways of making sense of the world.  That as educators and teachers they can confidently observe and analyse the traces of learning to build upon those to plan and design further contexts of learning that are of interest to children, that activates their curiosity which builds powerful learning experiences.  But most of all, I really want us all, including myself, to grow our understanding of how our teaching both affects and honours children’s wonderful capacity for expressing their thinking and learning.  
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Debi has shared her work with educators internationally – you can view her presentation Children as Ideas Makers at TEDxBrum here (Children as Ideas Makers | Debi Keyte-Hartland | TEDxBrum - YouTube

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