On Display: Lella Gandini and Documentation

I have come to understand that documentation has the potential of achieving timelessness...

It is enduring...everlasting...

When I walked through the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, I noticed that some of the documentation had been from projects completed years before my visit.  As I began to study the documentation panels before me, I could almost hear the echoes of thinking and learning... 

The learning was alive and perpetual...

Whether a few days or several years have passed, investing our efforts in documentation can preserve a moment in time.  

Last Thursday, I attended the Ontario Reggio Association's "Transformation: The Role of the Teacher in Pedagogical Documentation" at The Bishop Strachan School.  The guest of honour was Lella Gandini, who is well known as the Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach.  

Lella presented about "Teachers and documentation: Documentation and teachers."  During her presentation she described two strong and inspiring examples of documentation, that I had read about and heard originally told by Carlina Rinaldi.  Though these stories were in my memory, I found I marvelled and delighted in hearing them again.  

First, Lella shared some documentation that made visible an infant's developing theory of sound.  Laura (the infant) became interested in a catalogue, and more specifically in looking at watches.  Her teacher observed this and responded by putting her real watch near Laura's ear.  Laura then put her ear directly on the photo of the watch within the catalogue expecting that it too would make a sound.  Lella commented that, "someone documented this important learning of discovery and intelligence...the power of a child."    

Laura's teacher, who also compiled "The Diary of Laura" said that "Laura contributed to a more defined image of the child who knows and is able to do, who knows and is able to discover, suggest, involve, whenever the adult is able to listen, see, suggest, re-launch, provoke, wonder, make hypotheses, and relate and whenever an adult is able to document and record in time the child's own curiosity, hypotheses and questions, creating projects and contextualizing hypotheses and possible answers.  As well as making them visible."

Then, she enlightened us with the story of Giovanni, Giulia, and Leonardo entitled, "Ring-Around-the-Rosie."

Thanks to my wonderful professional learning community on Twitter, I am able to share some of this documentation with you. It has been included as an example on the "Making Learning Visible: Understanding, Documenting, and Supporting Individual and Group Learning" website:

Documentation Example: Ring-Around-The-Rosie

Lella spoke with such passion and knowledge.  Many of her quotes and ideas resonated with me that evening.

Here are a few that she stated or included within her slideshow:

  • Documentation is a point of strength that makes the interweaving of actions of the adults and the children timely and visible, and improves the quality of communication and interaction.  It is a process of reciprocal learning.
  • Documentation makes it possible for teachers to sustain the children's learning, while at the same time, the teacher learns from the knowledge-building process of the children.
  • Documentation is to see more and better...
  • To document means to leave interpretable traces...which are able to make visible the children's learning processes and ways of constructing knowledge (including the relational and emotional aspects)
  • Vea Vecchi on documentation: When teachers learned to take photos and work on documentation, they were not just learning a skill, but rather they were learning a careful, attentive way of seeing.  It is a way of seeing that requires empathy.  You must be in empathy with the child and the surroundings to capture the essence of an experience in a photograph. 
  • To listen with a desire to learn...
  • Teachers discuss together and jot down hypotheses as tools for initial orientation and reflection before embarking on work with children
  • The documents we produce are partial findings, subjective interpretations which must be re-interpreted and discussed with colleagues.  This creates one of the most important opportunities for professional training and growth, real training that derives from exchange, comparison of ideas, discussion and collegiality.  It is here in those shared moments (which are not always each because we are not accustomed to such constant discussion and "putting ourselves on the line") that interpretive theories and hypotheses are generated.
  • Be more careful and thoughtful about what materials we offer, how we arrange them, and how we offer them to children...
  • Developing an atmosphere of continuous encouragement so that our students do not feel like they have failed.
  • Loris Malaguzzi: The child wants to be seen, observed and (applauded) encouraged...We must give enormous credit to the potential and the power that children possess.  We must be convinced that children, like us, have stronger potential than we give them credit for.  We must understand how, without even realizing it, we make so little use of the energy potential within each of us.

Thank you to Lella for sharing her insights, and for teaching me that even twenty-five years later, as in her example from The Story of Laura; good documentation is timeless.  

Photo found on blogs.webster.edu

I have grown a deep admiration for the educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and their ability to slow down the time and be present with their students.  Additionally, their  pedagogical documentation continues to captivate and challenge my thinking...  I sincerely look forward to gaining further insights on their powerful pedagogy...

Thank you to Lella Gandini, ORA, and BSS for hosting another memorable professional learning opportunity.   

For those of you who are interested, I found an interview with Lella Gandini that I would like to end this post with:

Share your thoughts :

  1. What a wonderful way to work with children instead of just worrying about meeting curriculum goals and deadlines.and Im sure the learning that is documented will stay with them a lot longer than other rote stuff.

    1. Hello Faigie,

      Thank you for visiting the blog!

      I love how documentation makes learning and thinking visible.

      Today I went to a meeting and learned that we should try to document changes in thinking and learning, rather than document what students already know.

      Still feel like I have so much to learn about documentation!