About me

Sunday, 6 July 2014


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Thursday, 3 April 2014

What is documentation?

This is such a huge question that I am not going to attempt to unpack it all in one post! There are many more experienced educators than I, who spend years researching and investigating this area.

In this post I will simply outline in layman's terms what I have seen as documentation in the 4 years I have been inspired by this approach. The main purpose of documentation is to make the process of learning visible. Documentation is not necessarily concerned with the 'end product' although this can be a part of the documentation.

1. Children's conversations/quotes. This deserves a post (or many!) all to its self. By recording the children's conversations or quotes you are giving visibility to the process of their thinking and learning. What are they thinking? How do they engage in conversation with others? What are they wondering about? How are they building understanding together? How are they hypothesising? How are they problem solving? Negotiating? How are they developing relationships with others? How are they developing relationships with the world around them?

2. Photographs/video. I take approximately 50 photos per day. Sometime this is still not enough. Again I will address this area in whole series of posts later on. The purpose of photographs is to give visibility to the children actively constructing their own understanding.

3. Graphic representations. This is a fancy term for the children's drawings. The children are provided with the opportunity to draw their thinking, for example "How could I measure the length of this space?". Depending on the age/ability of the children these drawings may be accompanied by the children's writing.

4. 3D models. Like graphic representations but in 3D form, often using clay, paper or wire.

These forms of on-going documentation can be made visible in the classroom on a daily basis. For example learning centres/areas that display conversations or quotes. Often we will leave out clay, wire or paper work that they children are developing to give visibility to their learning process. Similarly photos and graphic representations can be displayed daily for visitors to our classroom.

Bringing it all together

The school I currently work at uses photoshop, indesign and keynote. I had no idea how to use any of these programs before I started there, so it's been a big learning curve. We are lucky enough to have the resources to create panels similar to those seen in Reggio Emilia. These panels can be aimed at the adult community of the school or at the children. Panels are a great way to make visible key areas of the evolution of the project as the children are working.

 Teachers are also expected to create two presentations using keynote (similar to powerpoint) to summarize the learning experiences for the year. One presentation is solely about project. The second is about the identity and experiences of the children in all other aspects of the program including literacy and numeracy. Both presentations are given at the end of the year to the parent community to summarize the learning experiences.

Some examples of "end products" that reflect the children's learning;

  •  books created by the children
  •  3D models
  •  maps
  • role plays
  • dance
And many more!!!!!

What small change can I make today?

At school we've had a term of professional development in the area of literacy, covering specifically two aspects; handwriting and spelling. 

 All this new learning is exciting but can be overwhelming and leaves me thinking "where do I start?!"

To break it down and make it more manageable I try and think "what small change can I make tomorrow?" I'm not the first to think this!

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Lao Tzu

Then I can begin to think about what I am going to do the next day, and the day after that, and after that, until new practises have been formed. I find that this strategy really works and stops me from thinking "It's too much! I can't do it!" 

Nobody expects your practice to change overnight, but I do believe it is critical to be constantly reflecting and improving my pedagogy through personal and school directed professional development. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Aesthetics of the learning environment - the value of calmness

In many Reggio Emillia inspired centres that I have visited the value of calmness is very apparent in their environment, thus creating a calm space for children to interact with.

Decisions from the colour of furniture, to wall coverings, to what is put on the wall and display tables often reflect this value of calmness.  

One school I worked at had neutral colours and wall coverings. The overall effect was calming but it also ensured that the children’s work was not competing with bright colour backgrounds and boards.

Another school I worked at encouraged teachers to think very carefully about what they were displaying, how and why they were displaying it. Creating a soothing calm learning environment was a high priority.

When I first started teaching, 11 years ago, one of my favourite tasks was creating wall displays. Layer upon layer of colour, boarders and children’s work all competed for audience attention. Looking back I cringe at the visual chaos that was going on in my classroom. I hope that now I am a lot more thoughtful about  the aesthetics and visual impact my environment has.

Here are some inspiring pictures of calming environments; 

2013/2014 Project Planning - A year long focus 'The City'

There are many different approaches to project planning. The two approaches I have experienced are; term by term with specific curriculum areas to be covered in the project. For example in Term 2 we are focusing on the 'Arts' curriculum which will drive your project. 
·      The second approach I have been involved in is a year  long project and curriculum areas are integrated at discretion of teacher, but the expectation is that by the end of the year all curriculum areas have been covered. 

This year, 2013/2014, we are following a year long project approach. Our umbrella topic for Year 1 is ‘The City’ which is a great concrete topic for this age level, also applicable as we live in the city!

While we don’t follow a direct ‘model’ of inquiry, there is naturally a general order to how things flow. In the initial stage of the inquiry we are gathering the children’s ideas about the topic of 'the city'. There are many ways we set up provocations;  sometimes through direct questioning, questions to think about for show and tell i.e. bring in a photo of something you see in the city, looking at books, and pictures. This stage is the perhaps the trickiest stage because there are so many possibilities with the direction the project can go in. Careful consideration of the children’s ideas, theories, hypotheses and opinions give pathways forward. The children's ideas are gathered through the recording of their conversations, photographs and graphic representations of their thinking. 

We reflect upon the children's ideas and think about the educational value of what we are doing; Why are we doing this?  And what do we want the children to learn? We are also looking for concepts as opposed to specific knowledge objectives. A concept might be 'diversity' vs a specific knowledge objective ' identify physical elements in a city'.  We brainstorm possible concepts and  use this as a 'road map’ to help guide us in our decision making and planning. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A twist on a standard topic - All about me!

At the beginning of every school year, across the country and quite probably the world, Teachers are preparing their first unit of study - All about me! The purpose of course; to get to know the new class. My experience has been, until recently, that the same unit was pulled out (dusted off) and presented in day by day stages. This unit typically would also be used to assess the children's ability to read, write and draw within the first few days of school.

Last month I started work at a Reggio inspired school in Bangkok. I would like to offer the perspective the school has taken and the twist on this project. 

Firstly there is a great focus on relationships and relationship building. This focus has guided protocol and policy making, for example there is no formal assessment within the first 3 weeks of school. The understanding being that children need time to settle in school after a long summer break and to feel comfortable in their new surroundings and with their new teacher. 

Secondly, that this project All about me is not to be used primarily for assessment purposes. Yes, as a teacher you may observe things but there is not the expectation of having the children sit down on day 1 and recount their summer holiday in writing. The primary purpose of this project is to get to know the children, to really get to know them.

As a group of teachers we spent some time thinking about how we were going to launch this first project. We discussed possible questions and reflected upon the fact that while most children would have travelled outside of Bangkok for their summer, some would have stayed at home. We didn't want to exclude these children or make them feel like their experience was lesser because they hadn't gone away. This value of inclusiveness influenced the types of questions we decided to ask the children.  We felt that asking "what have you been doing in your time away from school?" was more appropriate than "Where did you go in your holiday?" We also thought that there may be some confusion about terminology for example a word 'holiday' for Americans means Thanksgiving or Christmas, whereas for Europeans is means a break. Working at an international school means we need to consider these things. 

We also decided that it would be important as teachers to share our own experiences with the children, and through this modelling we could focus on various aspects such as an emotional reflection about an experience. 

In the second week of school we asked the children to bring in photos of their experiences. I shared two photos showing my big move to Bangkok and the children had the opportunity to share theirs. I asked each child to share with the rest of the class their experiences. This is where things went a bit awry. While some of the children were happy and confident to share their experiences in front of a group, many of them clammed up when it was their turn and I ended up having to ask alot of questions to encourage the more reserved children to share. This did not encourage an open dialogue with the rest of the group, and didn't spark much further discussion. 

At the end of the second week I shared my disappointment about how our sharing had gone with the other teachers. I realised that a whole class forum was not the way to encourage discussion at this early stage of the year. Moving forward I decided that we needed to revisit these holiday experiences in smaller groups to encourage relationship building and more in depth dialogue and interaction. 

I appreciated the emphasis on using this provocation as a springboard into our project work and the time the children were encouraged to take to truly explore this concept of 'identity'. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

What is a project - time


A project has not limits of boundaries in terms of how it might develop. Be open to a project continuing on from the term before. I have let go of the mentality that it's a new term therefore we need a new project. Some projects are very meaty!

A project will have an ebb and flow to it, some days or weeks the children will be really excited or engaged, and other times they will be less so.

There may be some projects that all of the children are engaging in at one time. There also maybe multiple projects running at the same time. When I first began my Reggio inspired journey and reflecting upon my own practice it was inconceivable to me to run more than one project at a time, so all of the children were involved in one project. However, after a few years of reflection and changes made to my practice I feel confident and comfortable in running multiple projects.

Some projects may spark 'mini' projects that are connected to the main project.

The project work is fully integrated into the classroom programme which means I don't have allocated 'project time' in my day (traditionally most classrooms would have inquiry learning after lunch). In my classroom children may be engaged in the project throughout the day, and then see me for targeted teaching in reading, writing and maths.