Documentation is a research report used to enhance discourse, rather than a record of a past event. -Edward, Gandini, & Forman The Hundred Languages of Children
At The Odyssey School, I make documentation boards about the thinking and learning in the school. These are displayed in the hallways. Their content includes all the areas of curriculum as well as school culture and philosophy. These documentation boards are a hybrid of the teachings from the Reggio Emila preschools in Italy and the Expeditionary Learning School Design. They make the learning in our school visible. As the art teacher, time and resources are given to me to do this. The boards create spaces that tell the story of our learning and keep the quality of our school environment coherent and beautiful. As an art teacher, I was excited to play this role in my school. It embodied my belief that the world is a better place when the lines between art and everyday life are blurred.
Here is a summary of some of the workshops and handouts I created about the practice of documentation while I was at Odyssey from 1999-2012.
WHAT DOCUMENTATION BOARDS DO
•OFFER DESCRIPTIONS They give accurate and current information about the process of learning in the school.
•INVITE SYNTHESIS They offer opportunities to build understanding by connecting many formats of information.
•PROVOKE INQUIRY They offer opportunities for questions and investigation.
WHY WE MAKE THEM: To provide a specific focus for discourse, enhance inquiry, build community, celebrate children, maintain a culture of quality, and integrate learning with our physical environment.
WHO THEY ARE FOR: All protagonists of the learning process: students, teachers, parents, and community members
HOW ARE THEY DONE: As professional development, educational coaches and teachers plan documentation themes and create them.
WHEN ARE THEY MADE AND USED: They are made during staff professional development time. They are used during the day as tools for students and teachers, during site visits, and are always available to parents and the community.
WHERE THEY ORIGINATED: Odyssey’s founders embraced documentation ideas from the Italian Reggio-Emilia Schools as a way to build a culture of quality, inquiry, authenticity, meaning, and beauty into the fabric of the building.
MAKING DOCUMENTATION PANELS: CONTENT
POSE A QUESTION OR INVESTIGATE A TOPIC: As an individual teacher, a class, or a staff, ask: What do you want to know? What do you want others to know? What do you want to look at closer?
Find real stuff to fill in your framework (Think of it as making a scrapbook page): -Transcriptions of student/teacher conversation -Photographs of students in the process of learning (action shots, not posed shots) -Photocopies of student work •journals, written reflections •series of drafts and their final work •drawings/diagrams •lab write-ups •field work notes -Photographs of 3d projects and the process of their progression -Written reflections from teachers and students about the topic -Photocopies of resources •book covers •brochures from museums •business cards from experts -Printed standards, rubrics, learning targets, other assessment documents, content continuums
CREATE A SCAFFOLDMake a mock-up of your board with sticky notes. How will you organize your questions and ideas? What evidence will you use to represent those questions or ideas? How will you organize the evidence?
EDIT AND FILL HOLES What will you include? What will you leave out? What else do you need to look for? What other sources outside the classroom will help support your message? What does not pertain to the theme of the board? Less is more. Get rid of extraneous stuff no matter how cool it is. Save that for another board. Look for holes. Gather more.
MAKING DOCUMENTATION PANELS: FORM
SELECT A FORMAL PRESENTATION STYLE (Here are some suggestions:) Linear: Your narrative progresses from left to right. / Linear Circle: Your linear narrative can follow a circular shape / Columns: Link together two or more content columns for comparing and connecting ideas. / Circular: Link a fixed central anchor text to radiating points surrounding it / Layered: A huge central anchor text (e.g.map) lies beneath overlapping points at strategic parts.
OTHER VISUAL COMMUNICATION DEVICES TO CONSIDER •Variety and Contrast: Vary the scale of your photos, font, and photocopied work. •Unity: Have a purpose for your varied sizes.( e.g. rubrics at font 18 or section labels at font 32.) Repeat your varied sizes based on the content of your board. •Color Code: Use color to organize your sections, (e.g. all kid comments backed on red) •Play the Straight Man: This is a professional board, not a fun and crazy bulletin board. Let the amazing content amaze people, not fancy borders and distracting decorations. •Less is More: Edit your board. How much can people read while standing in a hallway? Choose only essential photos and student work. Use only what you need. •Emphasize Children: As much as you can, use children’s handwriting and drawings for titles and graphics. Fancy computer generated fonts, computer clip art, and teacher-store visuals detract from the authentic student voice. •Form Follows Function: Any kind of decorative devices should help with the understanding of the board. (e.g. Diagonally slanting words or photos should have a reason for slanting.)
TWO SAMPLE DOCUMENTATION BOARDS
A Brief Overview of School’s Educational Structure
An In-Depth Analysis of a First Grade Writing Project
(1996) Berger, R. A Culture of Quality, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann.
(1977) Cadwell L, Bring Reggio Emilia Home:An Innovative Approach to Early Childhood Education, Teachers College Press.
(1988) EdwardsC Gandini L FormanG, The Hundred Languages of Children:The Reggio Emilia Approach Advanced Reflections, Second Edition, Ablex Publishing.