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Documentation is the Exchange of Values – It Cannot be Neutral

October 21, 2009


Time flies when you’re freezing cold!  After several days now, I think my mind is finally coming around the idea of documentation according to the Reggio educators we’ve heard from.  I’ll try to convey my thoughts so far.

Let me begin by trying to explain what documentation is, but by saying what it isn’t:

“Documentation is not a technique, but a strategy of knowledge building and a means of assessment.” – Carla Rinaldi

We mistakenly summarize documentation as images of children working accompanied by text explaining the situation or giving background on the nature of the child’s learning, student quotes, or video clips of learning with transcripts.  Although this is the visible side of documentation, under the surface is where the real power in documentation lays.

What we don’t see is that documentation is a result of dialogue.  When teachers begin talking about what they hypothesize is happening among children regarding their learning, they interpret what they witness in their own way.  Our perspectives on learning are never neutral.  They are never fully objective. They are interpretations of what is happening.  As soon as we try and make sense of what is going on in a group of children or a child’s mind, we make a choice based on our perspective.  We forsake objectivity in order to attempt to make sense of what we see.  By taking this leap, we affirm the commitment we have as educators to make meaning of the learning that occurs in our classrooms.  Another teacher makes a choice from her perspective, and there is a healthy, but perhaps uncomfortable, profession tension.  A discussion is born.

From this dialogue, the teachers might assemble documentation (pictures, video, notes, transcripts, etc) that explains their interpretation of what happened or is happening among the children.  Other teachers, parents, or children might comment on the documentation, and, thus, more dialogue occurs.  Through this dialogue more documentation comes about, and there we have it – the ongoing, unceasing nature of documentation as a permanent process of researching.

In this idea of documentation, we can essentially define education as participation – it is a shared process in the community that is not based on objective observations, but rather, interpretations of what we see and what we place value on.  Documentation is a social construction of knowledge and culture.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2009 8:11 am

    I think it is interesting to consider documentation from the view of the parents who, for whatever reason, think that as teachers we have the definitive answers.

    We don’t.

    Documentation really is our observation, complete with all the filters and biases that we bring to it. I wonder if there are new media ways to allow this documentation process to become even more of a dialogue, and more interactive, so that it can include more perspectives. . .while my teachers seem to be able to get some documentation done, there is never enough time for enough discussions, and to find a way to involve the busy parents that are always here-and-then-gone in this process would be lovely. When I think of all the electronic progress that have been made, there must be a way to make more of our documentation notes / photos / etc all more visible, inviting more perspectives as the work is unfolding, rather than when a documentation board is complete. . .

  2. laurenmeyer permalink*
    November 9, 2009 8:38 am

    Sustaining ongoing dialogue has definitely been a struggle for us at ACS, and although I feel we are Reggio inspired in many ways, this very important part of the overall Reggio philosophy seems harder to incorporate into our daily lives than, say, changes in the classroom environment.

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