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1.5: The Role of Documentation

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    One of the cornerstones of a high-quality early care and education program is the practice of observing, documenting and assessing children’s development. According to NAEYC (2009), in order to make formative decisions that will guide what goes on in the classroom, there needs to be an organized system in place to collect information. When we record our observations and collect data, we “hold in memory the actions, nonverbal communication, or comments that seem to be significant to children’s thinking” (California Preschool Program Guidelines, 2015 p. 46). When we document children’s learning and collect key artifacts, we create tangible evidence that we can share with the children and their families, along with administrators and stakeholders. There are many ways you can record and document children’s learning. In fact, you should attempt to utilize several methods as part of your regular observation routines.

    To collect and record data you can use the following methods :

    • running records
    • anecdotal notes
    • checklists
    • frequency counts
    • learning stories
    • time or event samples
    • work samples
    • taking photos, videotaping, or audio recordings

    To store your documentation

    To safely store your collected data, you will need to have an organized system in place. Portfolios are a popular strategy used by intentional teachers. To create a portfolio, you can use a binder or notebook, a file or accordion-style folder, or a cardboard box. As you collect observation evidence for each child, it is vital that you date everything so you can organize it chronologically. This will help you track each child’s progress throughout the school year more efficiently. Portfolios help you construct a well-rounded and authentic picture of each child in your class. Knowing the “whole child” you are better equipped to build on each child’s individual interests, and you are more apt to plan developmentally appropriate activities.

    Each child should have their own portfolio. A well-organized portfolio will contain observations and artifacts of children's work that are collected at different time periods throughout the school year. It is recommended that you include some type of documentation that highlights each developmental domain. For example:

    • Gross Motor: Take photographs of your child while they are engaged in outside activities like running, jumping, climbing, riding a bike or playing in the sandbox.
    • Fine Motor: Keep a checklist of when your child learns to button, zip, and tie his shoes. Include work samples of their cutting, coloring, painting, and samples of emergent writing
    • Social-Emotional: Write anecdotal notes when your child engages in open-ended, child-directed play. Take note of how they share and cooperate with others. Do a frequency count to see which centers your child chooses to spend their time in and tally their play patterns to see if they prefer to play alone or with others.
    • Cognitive: Chart a science experiment and take photos. Photograph a completed puzzle. Use a video camera to record a child as she builds a block bridge. And, as she explains her process and she had to figure out all the steps to take so that the bridge wouldn’t fall down – be sure to record that too.
    • Literacy and Oral language: Save writing examples to track how the child writes her name. Include illustrations of stories they love and the stories they write themselves. Write down quotes in your running record or make audiotapes of conversations during circle time.
    • Creative expression: Videotape your child while playing in the dramatic play area or while performing a dance during music and movement. Photograph a clay creation, painting or block tower.

    To be clear, it isn’t the amount of documentation you collect for each portfolio that matters, it’s the quality of information you gather. Portfolios tell a story of the whole child. There should be a beginning, middle, and an end. Each work sample, anecdotal note, checklist, frequency count and learning story should be used to showcase how a child processes information, develops relationships, and learns while playing.

    To document children’s learning

    Whether you collect evidence through spontaneous or planned observations, you will use your documentation to ultimately assess a child’s learning, growth, and development. With well-organized documentation, intentional teachers can effectively communicate with a child’s family, using the evidence and artifacts they have collected over time. Families appreciate being able to see their child’s progression and how they interact with others. Families also enjoy seeing the types of activities their child engages in during a typical day at school. Here are a few ways documentation can be used to showcase a child’s learning, growth and development:

    • rating scales and formal developmental assessments
    • daily progress reports
    • documentation boards

    Pin It! Ten Teacher Tips When Gathering your Documentation

    1. Date – this is key in tracking development over time
    2. Time – start time and end time
    3. Setting – note the location (indoor or outdoor; center or play area)
    4. Purpose – what is the intended goal
    5. Note the child (or children) who are involved in the activity
    6. Record only the facts – Write down exactly what you see and hear
    7. Be as concise (to the point) as you can
    8. Record the facts in the order as they occur
    9. Be descriptive and provide vivid details -create a visual picture so others can “see” what is happening
    10. Be specific and avoid vague or general terms – this is helpful when you go back to review your dat

    This page titled 1.5: The Role of Documentation is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gina Peterson and Emily Elam.