Documenting Bing’s Everyday Amazing Moments
By Tom Limbert, Head Teacher
Teachers in West PM had been watching and marveling at the children’s ideas and creations last fall. Each day, children were putting time and thought into their block-buildings and paintings, and they were planning and working together in teams in the sand area. Teachers wanted to make a record of these amazing moments, which happen in Bing classrooms every day. We decided to document the children’s ideas and creations and to make them the focal point of classroom activities. This decision in the end benefited everyone, the teachers, the parents and the children.
As teachers, we aimed to hone our observation skills and learn how to ask careful questions that extend children’s thinking. As Vygotskian scholars have argued, the practice of observing children closely and attempting to scaffold their learning process with careful questioning is a very delicate task for the teacher. One expert, C.A. Stone, aptly noted that scaffolding is a “subtle phenomenon.” It takes careful observation and great knowledge of a child’s developmental level and personality to know when and how to ask carefully worded and timely questions that lead a child to deeper thinking and greater discovery.
Teachers decided to closely observe, respond and document the children’s work. By taking the time to transcribe their language and narrate the process, teachers became better students of the children and learned more about each child. We used PowerPoint software on classroom computers to format and record notes and observations and experimented with different styles of presentation — including computer slideshows and paper printouts. As teachers, we became more observant, more careful and more creative.
Parents were delighted to see concrete evidence of their children’s endeavors, actual documentation of their creativity in action. Parents were shown examples of children expressing and articulating their own ideas, listening to others and solving problems together. We wanted parents to witness these important moments that happen throughout the day, and we hoped that parents would see and value the subtle benefits a child gains from participating in a child-centered, play-based learning environment like Bing.
Several moms mentioned that their husbands enjoyed getting a look at their children’s activities at school. One mom accepted a picture and detailed description of her twins working with number puzzles and remarked that in one page she could see her children playing with other children, using language effectively and displaying the ability to focus on an activity for an extended period of time. The children’s work served as a bridge between parents and teachers as together we marveled at children’s ideas and creativity.
Perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of our extended focus on the children’s work were the children themselves. With the teachers taking more time and effort to record children’s ideas, the children took more time with their creations. According to educational thinker Loris Malaguzzi, through documentation children “become even more curious, interested, and confident as they contemplate the meaning of what they have achieved.”
Each time a teacher wrote down a child’s words and showed genuine interest in a child’s work, that child understood that the ideas were worthwhile. This was reinforced when a child also saw examples of his peers’ ideas documented and displayed prominently in the classroom and on our computer slideshows. The documentation helped build community: Children were learning from each other and about each other. In a laboratory nursery school like Bing, parents and teachers likewise grow and learn from the children.
When meeting with parents in spring conferences to discuss their children’s growth, the documentation helped assess a child’s development and interests. “The Contribution of Documentation to the Quality of Early Childhood Education,” an article by Lilian Katz and Sylvia Chard, explains — “Of particular relevance to American educators, documentation provides information about children’s learning and progress that cannot be demonstrated by the formal standardized tests and checklists we commonly employ.”
The documentation project conducted by teachers this past school year will serve as a future reminder to the children and the parents in our classroom of their time at Bing. We all will be able to look back on the amazing creations and marvelous ideas the children expressed and imagine what they might think of next.