Pedagogical documentation is a method that renders pedagogical work transparent, opening the way for interpretation, dialogue, discussion and insight. At early childhood education and care (ECEC) centres, a practice is translated into pedagogical documentation when the staff and the children reflect on and discuss the practice.
The Swedish researcher Charlotte Holmberg recommends that employees take care not get into a rut with one particular way of compiling documentation. It is their thoughts on the content of the documentation that are important.
‘Just do it! Don’t worry about what might be right or wrong. Don’t get into a rut with particular tools or theories. Use post-it notes if you want to,’ she says enthusiastically.
She finds it crucial to think about pedagogical documentation as a process that calls for reflection both before and after. ‘The purpose is to render visible what the children and adults actually learn. This will lead to meaningful collective learning, as opposed to being nothing more than a task that has to be done and then look as good on paper as possible’, continues the researcher.
Used the documentation differently
Holmberg was interested in how pedagogical documentation is used in actual practice in the day-to-day operations of ECEC centres. This was the point of departure for a study in two ECEC centres in Sweden, where she shadowed a total of six ECEC teachers in two units for a total of four months.
The one unit, Blueberry, was part of a municipal kindergarten with no particular pedagogical direction. There, pedagogical documentation was in the start-up phase, and it was one of many responsibilities.
The other unit visited by the researcher was known as Cranberry, and it is part of a Reggio Emilia-inspired ECEC centre. In this facility, staff had worked with pedagogical documentation for many years. It was at the very core of their activities and it was not considered to be a separate task.
The study shows that the ideological differences between the two kindergartens were expressed in terms of what was documented, how the documentation was produced, and how the documentation was used.
It is their thoughts on the content of the documentation that are important.
Staff at both units found it difficult to produce documentation. This was true of the novices as well as the veterans. They found it especially difficult to lead an activity at the same time as discussing the activity with the children.
‘Both units felt torn on this issue. They were afraid that they were not there for the children in the moment when they also had to document the activity.
‘That being said, they had two different ways of documenting’, Holmberg discovered.
‘At Blueberry, they were very concerned about the documentation itself, that is, on whether it was good or bad. They were not as concerned with how they were going to use the documentation. The Blueberry staff devoted more attention to whether they had succeeded in reaching their goal, which was to comply with the Framework Plan for Kindergartens. The Cranberry staff turned their attention more to the documentation process per se, and to ensuring that the children’s voices were heard.’
Time-consuming and difficult
The production of pedagogical documentation is time-consuming. The study also shows that various ways of documenting can be demanding in terms of the technical expertise of staff. Tablets and digital cameras were important tools for the documentation work done in kindergartens. Many used digital cameras, but not all of them were equipped with tablets.
Quite a few found it to be technically difficult to document activities using these tools. They had not learned these skills during their training, and they were not always comfortable with using tablets or digital cameras. For that reason, they frequently asked others to handle the documentation.
Just do it!
Even though staff experienced the documentation process as both difficult and stressful, they were nevertheless satisfied and felt that it helped facilitate their professional development. They took part in each others’ work to a greater extent, and they were more interested in the thoughts and theories of the children as well as of their colleagues.
Holmberg finds it a pity that so many struggle with documentation because of the tools. It is also a pity that some are so eager to produce a nice product that the reflection process per se gets lost along the way.