Studying documentation of a 3.5 month old!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016




On Saturday I attended one of the Ontario Reggio Association's (ORA) Documentation Study Sessions hosted by Ellen Brown at York University.  You might ask, well what does the above image have to do with this learning opportunity?  As a new mom, and one who continues to be strongly influenced by the Italian educators from Reggio Emilia, I have already started to document  my young son.  It has been very interesting to take all that I have learned and tried to apply in my Kindergarten context to an infant.  My hope was to create a provocation for Sebastian, so that together we could begin exploring paint.  Bringing in this photograph for a group of us to study, proved once again the power of pedagogical documentation.


Here is what I believe is the process of studying documentation, based on my learning inspired by Dr. Carol Anne Wien in our graduate courses on the Reggio Emilia  approach:

It is important to note that the protocol we used was altered slightly by Carol Anne from the Harvard Protocol (initially adopted by Project Zero which originally came from Feldman, a visual art expert), and that she started using it in the 80's when she taught at MSVU in Halifax.  The course she instructed at the time was entitled, Art and the Young Child.  Oh how I wish I could have enrolled in such a course!

Below is how I have made sense of and continue to use this process in order to inform my teaching and learning.  I have also been inspired by Ellen Brown and how she facilitates the ORA study group meetings.  Together with other educators we are involved in serious research and professional development. 


How you might study documentation:

Step 1 - What do you see?

*By looking more carefully at the images, what do you notice visually? If a participant jumps to what they "think" and makes an inference, re-phrase the question by asking "why do you say that?"
*Pause for a minute and try to "re-see" by either looking away or moving around the table to view the documentation for a second time from a new perspective.

The participant who brought the documentation (in this case myself) remains quiet until Step 4 and may take notes of what the others say.

Step 2 - What do you wonder?

*What questions do you have after reading the transcription or viewing the images/video?  What puzzles you most or makes you feel curious? 

Step 3 - What do you think?

*What are your theories, hypotheses, or inferences, about what the students are saying, doing, thinking, representing, or learning?  How are you interpreting this documentation?

Sometimes when you get to this point, new questions arise or you may see something you hadn't before in the documentation.  In this case, you may wish to go back to Step 2 or Step 1.

Step 4 - What happened in actuality?

*After hearing the wonders and theories from your colleagues, what actually happened during the time of the documentation?
*The person who brought the documentation can finally share, by beginning to answer the questions or reveal what really occurred.

Step 5 -  What might the next steps be?  

*What suggestions might you offer, as the inquiry project or research continues?  How might the experience be changed or improved?

Step 6 - What are some reflections?

*How did studying the documentation shift your thinking?  What are your reflections about this process?


When I arrived at the session, I informed the group that I had brought some documentation of my 3.5 month old son in three different formats.  The first was the single image that I shared above, a short write-up of the experience using several images (below), and a snapchat story which I had saved and included music, photographs, audio recordings, and video all threaded together.

I wondered if the way that we study our documentation or our interpreations change, based on the format of what is being shared.

Through my experiences with documentation, I have come to realize that a single image of the process can be more powerful than a series of photographs that retell the beginning, middle, and end.  Whenever there is an end, there may also be a product that is driving the work.  This kind of documentation (like below) is a more traditional way of looking at learning.  It still frames learning from the point of view of assessment.  Pedagogical documentation on the other hand, frames learning as an ongoing process that we study and research.


If I had only brought the above format with me, I feel as though our discussion would have lacked the depth.  Perhaps the educators would have seen the frame of toe printed hearts (a product) and thought "how cute," which might have ended their analysis or studying of the documentation.

Instead, I never showed them this write-up (that was intended to be given to Sebastian's grandmother's on Mother's Day), and presented them with only the photograph from the bottom left hand corner.


Here is what came from our time together using the steps that I shared within this blog post:

Step 1 - What do you see?

*a baby - three fingers on his nose, hands touching his face, lines on his forehead, eyes squinting, feet in different positions, blue on feet, some parts of the soles of the feet do not have as much paint on them, wispy hair
*paint - three shades of blue paint, tiny jars, paint on onesie, paint on feet, colour streaks/mixing
*paintbrushes
*mirror - sunlight, reflection
*wipes
*frames
*computer 
*sticky notes


Step 2 - What do you wonder?

*Is the brown area the floor? Is the white area a table, shelf, or is it low on the ground with mural paper?
*Is this a footprint activity? Did he make marks on a piece of paper to document the experience?
*What was this experience like for him? I wonder if he is liking it? Is he feeling something that he never felt before?  Is he making noises? Is this a giggle?  Is this his reaction to the person taking the photo?
*Is he sucking his thumb? Does he have paint on his fingers? Why is he looking at his hand? Or is he looking somewhere else?
*Is he moving a lot? Why is he squinting?
*I wonder how paint got on his onesie? Was the onesie specifically chosen for that day or was he just wearing it?
*Was he fed before?
*Was he held up and dancing in the blue paint?
*Was the blue paint on the white surface a print? Did he make a stamp with his feet?
*Was this a sensory experience? Did the paint smell like something?
*When was this photo captured? At what point is this in the process? The beginning, middle, or end of the experience? What was the sequence of events?
*What was the intent? Was it for Easter? (I see the word Bunny on his top).
*Why are all of these other objects around him? Are the colour markers, sticky notes, jar with brushes all part of the task? Why were the frames there? Will these other materials be used later?
*Was the colour blue chosen specifically? Was there a purpose for the three shades of blue? Was the colour intended to match the baby's eyes, gender, or the favourite colour of the person who created the task? Was the paint mixed?  Were two colours used on his feet?  Is the colour intended for contrast? I wonder if he will do this with another colour.
*Were the paints purchased for this task?  Were they non-toxic? Were Is this his first paint experience or paint experiment? Was the paint warmed up before it was used?  How did the paint get on his feet?
*Why was a mirror selected for the paint to be placed on?
*Was there paint on his hands?
*Does the green seat the baby is in rock or is it stable?
*Does he put his feet in his mouth?
*Is there one person taking the photos or are there more people around?
*What is the atmosphere like?  Is there music playing?
*What time of day did this occur?
*Is there something going on with the computer? Music?
*Is this happening at home? Within an art studio? A different location?
*What age was the baby during this time?
*Is he able to grab or use his fingers?  I wonder if he tried to grab the jar. Did he grab the wipes?
*Did he get a whole bath after this occurred? 
*Did the blue paint come off of his onesie?
*How long did this experience last?


Step 3 - What do you think?

*I think the baby's mom is taking the photographs and he is looking at her.
*I think that this happened on top of a low table that was covered with white paper.
*There were two colours of paint on his feet.
*I think the baby took wipes out to play with them. The mom used the wipes to clean the baby's feet and her hands.
*The markers are not part of the opportunity, but the frame was used to put his footprint inside.  Since this might have been an ordinary day, the parent didn't mind the mess around with other materials. 
*The baby was happy.  He was squinting, because the paint tickled his feet.  He is communicating with gestures and facial expressions.
*I think that this was intended for an Easter gift, because he was wearing the Easter onesie.  Or perhaps it was an activity to share on the blog.  A precious moment to photograph that was a cute memory.
*I think that he is making sounds, like cooing noises with his mouth.
*His fingers are soothing him, that's why they are in his mouth.  His hands are clean from the wet wipes.
*I think that he is getting tired and this is right before a nap.  He might need a diaper change, because it looks quite full.


Step 4 - What happened in actuality?

Since I had to stay silent until Step 4 I was quickly recording everything down that I heard being shared (I see, I wonder, and I think).  It was very hard for me to keep quiet!  I began to reveal what happened by answering some of the questions and also setting up the context for the photograph.

*This photograph was captured on a sunny morning in my home art studio, just after Sebastian had been fed.  I used the white counter top of my large desk, and placed the baby in his green plastic bath chair.  He is used to this seat and very comfortable in it.  In the background I had some Disney music playing on my computer.  The song zip-a-dee-doo-dah is one of Sebastian's favourites, and often makes him smile or laugh.

*The intention for this task was to introduce my baby to his first painting experience.  I wanted to create a provocation for an infant (the way that I would have in FDK) and to document it.  I was curious to see if what I learned in teaching kindergarten students would apply to my infant, and if what I tried with my infant might deepen my understandings for when I return to the classroom.  

*Sebastian wore his Easter onesie, since he had two of them and we didn't need to worry about the mess.  This painting provocation occurred at 3.5 months old or 15 weeks.  The original motivation was to create a heart print for his grandmother's on their first Mother's Day with him.  Using his hands would not be possible, as he was more interested in sucking them.   He made slurping sounds and cooing noises throughout.  When the paint was put onto the mirror, he kicked the paintbrushes and the colours mixed together.  I started to use the paintbrush to apply the paint onto his tiny toes and he continued to kick them.  Eventually the kicking motions put some paint onto his onesie, as well as on my hands and shirt.  Sebastian did not react to the paint on his feet.  He preferred to look at my books, grab the wet wipes, or the paint brushes in my jar.

*We created three heart prints using the imprints from his blue feet.  The prints were placed within the white frames.  I used the wet wipes to clean Sebastian up and later gave him a bath.  By the end of this experience, he had been so stimulated by the music, colours in my studio, and all of the photographs, that he fell fast asleep!

*I recognized through this painting provocation that he is communicating with me and is very capable of learning.  Even though I had an initial intention or goal, by documenting the experience I could follow an emergent curriculum.  If Sebastian preferred to grab what was around him, or look at the colourful books then perhaps I could use this information to plan the next provocation.



Step 5 -  What might the next steps be?  

*Try offering different colours of paint and see his reaction.  Try more mark making without a final goal in mind.
*Use something edible when he is a little bit older for him to touch, grab, and mix with his hands (e.g., mashed strawberries for their bright red colour, etc.).
*Since he is interested in his hands, provide more sensory opportunities with various textures (e.g., sand on his feet, water, sponges, grit in paint, etc.).
*Experiment with different coloured materials from various visual perspectives and monitor his reaction.
*Have him explore colours while looking in a mirror.
*Try an assortment of experiments to see what he likes (e.g., light, colours, music, silence, textures, temperatures, etc.) in various conditions (e.g., from different heights, angles, etc.).


Step 6 - What are some reflections?

*Consider what Sebastian is communicating.  He communicates in many ways, even though he is non-verbal (e.g., his sounds, what he looks at, his facial expressions, body movements, etc.).

*Record more of his sounds and facial expressions within documentation notes of observations.

*Videotape or audio record parts of the experience to interpret later.

*One photo can be an entire blog post or piece of documentation for the wall/portfolio.  There does not need to be this pressure for a production!

*Retelling with photographs is documenting, but it is more traditional.  It becomes a tool for assessment and tracking. Pedaogical documentation on the other hand is a learning moment that we can study and learn from.  By interpreting part of the process, we can plan our next steps.








In our discussion, we spoke about documenting infants and that sometimes a photo might be misinterpreted.  Perhaps in the future I will bring  a video clip for us to study.  Ellen Brown reminded me of the Reggio Emilia resource known as, The diary of Laura, which I plan to re-visit.  This book documents Laura's first weeks in an infant/toddler program.  Perhaps I will save my findings for a future post, as this is getting quite lengthier than I had initially planned!

Ellen also shared that documenting is seeing teaching and learning in a different way.  It can go past all boundaries depending on our image of the audience who is reading it.  In addition, documentation is research that is open for interpretation and re-interpretation.  This is a process of thinking, sustaining of learning, and relationships, which is not product driven.  Therefore, if we centred our study that day on the retelling of events (my second series of photos that depicted the beginning, middle and end of our heart footprints) it would have limited what we would have seen or planned.  Rather than this being the end of an experience, the documentation can be used to inform what can occur next.  





I continue to value the process of learning (what happens during the learning experience), rather than the final product.  The finished frames that we created did not teach us anything about what my son could do.  Instead, it proved that his mommy could stamp his feet perfectly to create a heart shape.  In many ways, had I not considered what he actually did or communicated during the provocation, the experience would have been more like a generic craft.  Generic crafts (such as a cut and paste turkey for Thanksgiving or cookie cutter tasks that all the students try to copy), provide limited information on a child's thinking and learning.

A helpful article to read more about pedagogical documentation is called Learning to document in Reggio-inspired Education, by Dr. Carol Anne Wien with Victoria Guyevskey and Noula Berdoussis.  Please stay tuned for an upcoming post where I review her book, The power of emergent curriculum and give a copy away to a lucky blog follower!

I digress...




In closing, I strongly suggest finding some colleagues to go through this process with.  My network #CTInquiry that meets once per month is beginning to study documentation.  More details can be found here.

Thank you Carol Anne, Ellen, and ORA for continuing to inspire my thinking around pedagogical documentation! 






Children are making meaning from birth.  


Documentation is a valuable resource that allows 

us to listen carefully to their communication. 


It offers an opportunity

to study their capabilities and competencies.

                                                                                                     -Ellen Brown




1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post Joanne. You offer so much to think about and reflect on as I move forward in my own experiences with documentation. ❤️

    ReplyDelete