Sunday, March 9, 2014

Why So Many Ways to Document?

When I studied the first time around I learned how to observe and document using the following methods:

Anecdotal Observations
Running Records
Time Samples
Event Samples
Sociograms ...

I'm sure there were more, but those are the ones that come to mind.

That was 1996. Waaaay back when.

Now, there are training organizations, the now defunct DEEWR with their 'Educators Guide'  and the self-proclaimed consultants who are passing the old formats of observations off as if they are something new, and adding:

Morning meeting minutes
Afternoon meeting minutes
Reflective practice
Reflective Oblongs
Children's Philosophies
Family Philosophies
Learning Stories
Mind Maps
Analysis of learning

Do you not wonder why you are being told to spread yourself too thin? And who are these experts? Have they been through Assessment and Rating themselves? Have they even managed a centre consistently under the new National Quality Standards? What are their early childhood qualifications? Are they certified? Or are they just out to make a quick buck out of your insecurity and fear? If they were really out to help you, they wouldn't charge you exorbitantly for their time and supposed expertise.

I am a consultant. That's my nine to five. But I resent using the word because of those who are laying claim to it. Abusing it. Abusing you.

No one, NO ONE can get you exceeding. EVER. Apart from the fact that I have little faith in the A&R system as it is, I certainly think that if a centre gets Exceeding then it's their own doing. They did the work, not the books that they read, the websites they joined or the consultants they consulted with. The centre earned it. Not the hired help.

Are you even comfortable with someone claiming to take credit for your hard work? Is that fair? Is it ethical for someone to take your success, pass it off as their own, and then use your success to advertise themselves to make more money from other educators and service providers?

Just because someone delivers something in a way that you connect with. Just because they are charismatic and friendly, doesn't mean that they are speaking the truth and giving you sound information or advice.

My advice to you: Stick with a few styles of documentation and do them well. You only need a few. Don't fall for the "children's magical voices" bullshit. Writing anything down is worthless without some serious reflection behind it. And children are not magical beings. They are people. If you called me magical I'd smack you across the head for demeaning me and tell you it was just fairy dust. Don't. Call. Me. Magical. It's degrading. I'm a person who deserves respect.

Don't fall for empty promises and spread yourself too thin. That is not the path to a "Meeting" rating much less an "Exceeding" one.

Reflection is deeper than asking the children what they liked or didn't like about their day. Reflection is not about what you liked or what 'went' well or how lovely it was in the sandpit with all the children playing so nicely or what the children said.

I've given you plenty of professional reflection on my blog - go read it.

So what sorts of documentation would I use?

The Teacher's Ink Approved Documentation Methods: < tongue in cheek in case ya didn't know.
Anecdotal observations
Photo montages

And then I'd tie it all in together with my reflections of my knowledge of the child and what I would like to see the child working on in the near future.

I personally am not a fan of (New Zealand) Learning Stories - I think they're great for NZ and I think they're fabulous for centres that are above ratio and provide their educators with a) a computer and b) extensive time to document. Otherwise who has time to do them? I didn't.

I've never particularly liked them. And most people don't do them properly anyway. I doubt that many people know they come from NZ in the first place. You don't need to do them. They're not required. No matter what anyone says. There is NOTHING in the NQS or EYLF that says you need to use them.

So in regards to children's portfolios, I would have five main documentation formats. Five. That's it. FIVE. Not 10, not 20 or 30 or 86 different ways to document (yeah you think I'm joking? I've heard this one).

Pick five, and do them well. Especially the jottings - do lots of them! They're more meaningful that a whole long drawn out story.

In regards to hiring consultants, Google them, do some research! Just because they're nice and charismatic doesn't mean they're qualified.

Remember that: Charismatic is NOT the same as Qualified.

And a pretty portfolio is NOT an assessment of learning nor is it your curriculum documentation.

Portfolios are not even required, yet many of us do them. But that's another story.

I think perhaps the moral of this story is that you shouldn't spread yourself too think. You're not Vegemite.

Work smarter, not harder. I know. That's what they say. They all say it. But they're full of shit. Because they tell you to do it 10 or 20 or 30 or 86 different ways.

© Teacher’s Ink. 2014 All Rights Reserved


  1. Hi there,
    I seriously admire your work.
    I do have a question though, when you teach preschool, what does your day look like?
    Mine is a nightmare. My centre 'implements' NQF and the EYLF by allowing the children to decide what theme we learn with.
    For instance, the kids pretended to make a campfire last week during their rostered 1/2 hour of free play outside. So this week, I am covering big/medium/little concept, the letter S, counting to 20, science experiment of hot and cold and cutting skills through camping activities. Disgusted or pleased? Is this normal? It doesn't feel right. It feels like a year 1 class, but I still have kids who are only turning 4 next month. Shall I tell you what my day looks like?
    9:00-10:00 Grouptime. We sing some songs, play maths game, do a phonics session, brainstorm a focus question, watch a video clip. I constantly yell at kids to pay attention/stop fidgeting/stop annoying the person next you. When go for morning tea at 10:00, I feel sick and my conscience pangs me. Or I feel relieved that its over for another day. What do the kids think of me I wonder, how will they remember preschool?
    10:20-10:30 literacy. Books are laid on the mat and as soon as children are finished morning tea, they must come and sit on the mat and find the week's sight words in their books.
    10:30 story time. I read the kids a story. This is, hands down, the best part of my day.
    10:40 art and craft intentional teaching activities. One 8 seater table is set up with a cutting and gluing activity (eg, cutting healthy food from a magazine and putting it on a plate - what would you eat at camping is the focus) a second 8 seater table has a colouring/painting activity (eg, please paint a picture of when you went camping). A third 8 seater table has the children's name writing templates set up. All children MUST complete minimum of 2 activities before allowed to choose from books or puzzles.
    11:10-11:40 outside play. They can come out with a teacher to the yard for half an hour, free play from what has been set up outside.
    11:40 maths. Whole class must gather on mat to do work on a maths concept (eg. Big medium little fish when you go fishing)
    12:00 free play indoors. Children can play with whatever they wish, from the choices laid out on tables. Only four children allowed in home corner. No art allowed.
    12:45 music and dance. We play a game or dance. Or sing.
    1:00-2:30 Lunch and bed. Some children can have colouring in books on their bed, others must sleep.
    2:30 free choice of quiet activities on tables.
    3:00-3:15 Group Time. show and tell, daily summary, then afternoon tea
    3:30 out to yard until the centre closes at 5:30. Non contact time for teacher.

    Is this right? Is this how it should be? Because I feel sick coming to work sometimes and bossing those kids. But if this is the best practice, then ok, fair enough. Admittedly, those kids know so much and are so, so ready for school. But it feels wrong. What should it look like?
    Please help. Carmen

    1. Hi Carmen, I know that this is a ridiculously late response! My apologies. My preschool room was within a long day care setting and we had a very open ended and emergent curriculum ... I basically planned the learning environment - the spaces - knowing the children and general child development - they then engaged in the space and with each other and of course their educators and then learning occurred. I prefer a more open-ended approach where what you are doing - which it seems you're not happy with - is a more 'traditional' and structured approach. Where abouts are you located?

      - G