Over-attention to documentation continues, often seemingly with more emphasis on quantity than on quality. It would be heartening to hear of a service where practices were rated as outstanding in every respect and at every level, but the National Quality Standards rating was diminished because there wasn’t enough documentation!
Many documented observations of children appear to be more about what they have done than about evidence of what they have learned or are learning. This seems to be true even when the accounts are mistakenly called ‘learning stories’.
It’s much easier to see, hear and record what children are doing than what they are learning. Most educators are familiar with milestones, which are mainly behaviours that can be seen or heard, and much documentation is of milestones. Learning, on the other hand, may or may not be readily visible. It’s subtler, often requiring interpretation and analysis about meaning rather than simply noting the behaviour.
This is especially true of children who aren’t yet adept at using language. Verbal children can often tell you what they have learned or are learning. On the other hand, educators have to infer possible learning with babies, toddlers and older children whose skills at using language are limited. You have to speculate frequently about meaning and often as a result will decide to look for more evidence to confirm or disconfirm your hunches.
Documenting learning in ways that inform program planning is more complex than focusing on milestones and behaviour.
It’s obvious when a baby feeds herself peas using a pincer grip. It’s less obvious that this is an expression of her desire for independence and autonomy.
It’s easy to notice a toddler walking purposefully around the space, collecting jar lids and other flat objects in a basket and then posting them into a tissue box. It’s not as easy to understand that this child is beginning to plan and be more purposeful in his play.
It’s easier to notice a two year old snatching others’ toys than to see that as a child learning to be a member of a community.
Children’s learning is what the EYLF is about. The Learning Outcomes are its centrepiece. The detail in the Learning Outcomes and associated resources about the Outcomes can support educators’ efforts to pay more attention to learning.
Following are some questions to consider:
No matter what we call it, does my/our documentation focus more on what children are doing than it does on what children are learning?
If we want to focus more on learning than doing, what will help us make the shift?
And the really important question: Given that one of the most important reasons for documenting children’s learning is to inform our pedagogy or practice, how do we connect what we know about children’s learning to what we do every day? How can we make sure that there are direct links?