Pedagogical Documentation in Challenging Times

I have in a much loved notebook that I took on my first ever visit to Reggio Emilia, now nearly 17 years ago, a quote by Malaguzzi scribed on a singular page saying that, “We can only change what we can take charge of.”  In these times of undignified, ugly and paradoxical world ‘leaderships’ whose ideals are seemingly to separate, to isolate, and to deny or describe as fake those very things that others hold dear, what is it, that we can take charge of in order to change, when the ordeal seems so great?

The process of pedagogical documentation we could say is to observe and listen closely to what children say and do, to use those collected traces of documentation (film, photographs, dialogue, artefacts etc) to help us and others to understand how children think and act, which thus helps us then to make better choices of what to do next, and makes visible in the final process of publication the image of the child we hold and have discovered.  It makes visible their dispositions, their meaning-making, the things they value and their ways of seeing the world.  In learning to read documentation it helps us to expand our minds to what is capable and possible when we work in ECE and to what our own image of the child is.  To read more about pedagogical documentation read here and visit Diane Kashin’s wonderful blog at Technology Rich Inquiry  specifically for pedagogical documentation here.

I wonder, therefore, if pedagogical documentation holds within it a power to make visible the values of a humane society?  If we look at the words associated with humane in a Thesaurus we are confronted with terms such as compassionate, kind, kindly, kind-hearted, considerate, understanding, sympathetic, tolerant, civilised, good, good-natured, gentle; lenient, forbearing, forgiving, merciful, mild, tender, clement, benign, humanitarian, benevolent, charitable, generous, magnanimous; approachable, accessible.  These are characteristics I have seen in documentation, where children are often engaged with thinking about nature in relational ways.  They demonstrate and live out these ways of being that offer alternative and multiple viewpoints on climate change, natural systems and relationships in nature and between themselves and ourselves.  Where children exclaim that they can hear daffodils drinking, that trees have songs, that things that grow can talk to each other, that everything belongs together.

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Woodlands Primary and Nursery School. Telford. UK

This drawing was made by a 4-5 year old and details a small stand of trees that the children, as part of a small inquiry group had been exploring.  There was one tree that was different, (can you spot it?)  It didn’t have all its leaves like the others did.  Children had suggested many ways of dressing it up in party clothes to make it feel better or to try and look for its parents.  The comment made after the drawing was complete was;

“We are all together with the tree’s. There is a sad one without any leaves… we can join it.”

For me, this drawing and the sentiment expressed of joining with it reminds me of the human spirt of collaboration, of empathy and the need to be with others.  It offers the antidote to what our news-feeds are filled with, in terms of politics, governance and leadership.  In making it visible and thus sharable we can take charge of what we value in our classrooms, and change what people see.  It worked for a small town called Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, could it do so on a global basis too?

Pedagogical documentation for me has always offered opportunity to share stories that offer a different perspective to the singular story or narrative being told  (the dominant discourses) and thus offers us a way of creating conditions for change to emerge.  The one thing we can take charge of is what we share, so instead of sharing the latest fad for what is on the light box, share instead something powerful, that just might, turn minds to a more humane way of being.

In this video, children from the Pre-Schools of Reggio Emilia share with the global community their thoughts and thinking about Peace.  It is something we can all learn from.

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The Language of Describing the Complexity of Learning

“Survival of the fittest, in a world that worships development and ‘forward-moving progress’ makes us all lost and small.”

Nora Bateson. 2016.  Small Arcs of Larger Circles

I have been thinking lots recently about the language we use to describe learning and learning processes. We often speak in linear ways of ‘progress, ‘development’ and ‘next steps’. We also speak sometimes as if everything is so simple and and fixed ‘oh it’s process over product… it’s a schema!”  I wonder if this is at all what I see with children. Indeed, Loris Malaguzzi defied describing learning in such progressive and fixed steps when he used the metaphor of a tangled bowl of spaghetti more akin to Deleuze and Guttari’s vision of a rhizome.

Both metaphors see learning as a tangle, with no beginning or end.

I struggle too with terms such as ‘personalised learning’, ‘Individual learning’ even ‘uniqueness’. Not that I believe we are all the same or learn in the same way, No! But rather that it takes away the social and contextual connection to learning, that ability we have to learn together, our interdependencies between each other and the environment. A tree does not grow alone, it is connected via the forest floor to other trees via a vast network of roots and fungi sharing nutrients, energy, and some might say ‘knowledge’ of a kind that helps other trees to live in the forest. We are nature, not just a part and I think more and more about the mechanistic educational language that we use that seemingly separates us from each other and the world.

In these times especially, words like relational, collaboration, mutuality, connection, participation, sociability, togetherness seem more apt descriptors as well as values to hold dear.  The learning I see in young children is not linear or staged, they do not learn in unique silo’s they bounce ideas and thoughts off each other, it’s complicated, multidirectional and relational. Learning is, and is in a relationship to other children, their families, ourselves, friends, the environment, that tree, and everything within it. It’s the interaction that takes place between the parts that enables it to sit as tangled bowl of spaghetti rather than a singular thread of pasta.  So let’s think deeply, widely, broadly, upwardly, inside out and upside down about our ways of describing ‘learning’ so that we can begin to find richer ways and concepts of describing something as beautiful as ‘learning’.

But we must also err on the side of caution too… because in finding new language and concepts we must still remain flexible and open to new learning and not close it down with newly created fixed truths.  We must avoid just creating another set of polarities or binaries than define learning as linear or fixed.  I remember Gunilla Dahlberg talking about this, and saying we must shift from the paradigm of I, I, I, to And, and, and… as in this way we see things from multiple perspectives, all at the same time and thus in new and ever evolving ways.