There are two ways to capture a moment in the early childhood world: experience and documentation.
Experience is as simple as it states, just taking a moment to experience the world with a child/children. No strings tied, no assessing, all joy. Taking that moment and making a memory. Sometimes the most important thing we can give children is to be fully present. To turn off our teacher brains and just be human with them: no checklists, cameras, or analysis involved.
The education world these days is filled with many outcomes and standards. Children are very aware of when we have them on our radar. Often shifts in behavior happen when a child feels they are being observed for assessment – authentically or not. Once while recording a set of children during a conflict (that they were beautifully resolving), the child leaned into the direction of my recorder and said, “Right, Anna? We should just be friends”. While I am sure he was sincere in his response, I am also sure that his response was shaped by the fact that he was highly aware that he was being “documented”. So while, I thrive on taking note of what the children are doing – collecting authentic evidence, I also know that they deserve moments where I set the task of documenting aside. Moments where they can trust being their authentic self without judgement or the teacher paparazzi in their face.
However, documentation (from my experience) is the most authentic, meaningful, and developmentally appropriate method of capturing a moment and collecting evidence. One of my favorite sayings is “it is not what they know, but how they have come to know it” – meaning that the process of how a child learns is the most valuable part of the journey and not the collections of facts and rote skills they can ramble off or demonstrate on cue. A collected story or documentation shows that they have internalized a skill so deeply that they are able to use it in their life, play, and the real world. Which is much more relevant and important than being able to “test” correctly on a piece of information within one moment (e.g. find their friends name to put a letter in in by knowing it has an A first vs. one day in December pointing to an A on a pull out assessment, such as a DIBELS or Get it Got it Go).
Last year, I had a conversation with a parent about how her child was highly aware of having enough muffins in the package while grocery shopping for himself, his mom, his dad, and still enough for him to have one tomorrow. In his mind’s eye he calculated that he needed at least 4 muffins and that there were more than that (6). She wondered what was more valuable, that he could do that or was he behind on his skills because his fellow playmate could count to 100 and he could not. I hands down feel it is the muffin quantity. He was able to apply his knowledge to a real life context. He utilized his knowledge just as I had seen him do in the past when fixing a Tonka truck, he was looking for one round circle to replace a missing tire on a set of four. Navigating through daily challenges using problem solving and real world knowledge is most valuable.
The challenge for a teacher is that this type of knowledge is difficult to assess and monitor. It has to be captured. Documentation is truly the only way to understand, record, and collect evidence of learning during these moments because it is the map to how the child shows they know what they know. I could mark on a checklist that Jonathan knows how to identify the number 8 but if I snap a photo of him playing office with a keyboard and scribe a story or anecdotal note about how he noticed his glasses when turned make the shape of a number 8 just like on the keyboard – that shows context to the information gathered. It also is likely that this information will stay with the child for a lifetime. Brain research shows that we store memories by meaningful moments. Which would be more meaningful to you – reviewing a set of flashcards or learning how to write Mom on you picture of a rainbow for her?
Have you ever crammed for a test, remembering all of the vocabulary words for the next day, ace-ing it and then not remembering it when it came to finals time? Did you use the information in between that time? So why do we assume that children are vessels to carry facts? Why do we assume they should be assessed as so? or learn by collecting data and not memories?
Each year my methods for documentation varies – but it remains my life line to showing evidence of learning and communicating with families and the community. I tweak and learn things that improve my methods. There are a few things that stay the same: note taking, photos, and collecting samples of language and work. These are always elements I include. The devices I use, the methods I use to share the documentations, and my style of writing documentations might change. This year there are two new elements to my documentation process: the use of a private education app Storypark and the style of sharing the information. I know tend to use a phone/tablet without access to personal information, work only when with the children (to take photos, videos, and notes). This makes my accessibility to a device easier, it fits in my apron pocket. My time is also saved by being able to link the stored photo or data to the app that is on the phone/tablet without using a lengthy download process by transferring them from a camera to another location or device for documenting. As for the style shift, a new style that I have been fascinated by is called Learning Stories. It is a way of writing a letter directly to a child – noting the observations and possibilities of a particular experience. I find it to be very open, detailed oriented, and child honoring. A link to a detailed explanation and example can be seen here:
Also, here is one of my own examples of a Learning Story:
(* Name and Photos edited and limited for privacy)
I marvel at the way you play family. You can often be spotted mixing something tasty in the kitchen or being the caregiver of a baby doll. Often when walking by the dramatic play area or playhouse I hear you negotiating your role in the family such as Brother, Daddy, or even pet dog. You are ready to take on your character with eager commitment. It is evident that as you play this nurturing role, you pour yourself into it- with lots of love and attention. An extra pinch or salt, a few more stirs, a tender hug – as you are practicing these roles, you are building your skills to be a kind and compassionate friend, a collaborative playmate, and a tender father (much later in you future, of course).
Here is your story of ‘You and Your Baby Crumb’ :
“There’s a baby in my tummy.
I’m having a baby.
She is going to be born in one day.
She will be 6.
Her name is Crumb, like a cracker.
Here she comes. (Pulls her out and gently and snuggles her).”
Your smile as you look down at Crumb says it all.
Learning Tags: Social Emotional, Joy and Wonder, Dramatic Play
As an early childhood educator I feel taking the time to capture the moment deepens our relationships with the children and our abilities to be mindful and reflective educators. So with no further rambling I invite you to capture a moment: create a memory through experience or collect one by documenting the moment. Join the world of authentic assessment, document learning.