“The question in my mind is – who is documentation really for, at the end of the day who does it belong to? Is it a record for the child now or in the future? A tool for children to reflect on their recent learning? A way of sharing and engaging parents, family and communities in a child’s learning? Or a way to report to provide evidence of assessment of learning and development to agencies?”
I travel a lot through my work. My job is to build and maintain relationships with partners, educators and advisors. I listen to what these different people are talking about, what they need, what’s challenging them and this helps us ensure that Storypark evolves in the ways that best serve children, educators and families.
All this listening gives me some interesting insights, and I’m starting to notice some patterns. I’m by no means an expert when it comes to early childhood education, but I do know a bit about what different organizations, experts and practitioners are thinking/talking about.
So this is the first of my blog posts about trends and ideas that I’m seeing in early childhood. I hope you find this useful, stimulating or at least a bit provocative.
Firstly, there’s no clear one ‘right’ way to educate children in early childhood. I learned that pretty quickly. There’s certainly popular schools of thought and scientific research that substantiates a lot of practice but there’s no ‘one ring to rule them all’.
People do have very strong ‘opinions’ and express them with passion, sometimes making them out to be the ‘right/only’ way to approach early childhood education.
One thing I come across a lot is educators holding tightly onto the habit of beautifying and printing children’s portfolios. There’s some wonderfully creative and talented crafts-people out there who use glitter, cut things out, print in full colour and sometimes invest hours in their documentation.
I totally support the fact that documentation should be well presented, and that it’s important for children to be able to revisit their learning. For this reason a degree of creativity is important.
I totally respect and support having a sense of professional pride in your work, but the consensus amongst many of the experts I speak with is that the content (what you actually say and how you say it) is far more important than its decoration.
The question in my mind is – who is documentation really for, at the end of the day who does it belong to? Is it a record for the child now or in the future? A tool for children to reflect on their recent learning? A way of sharing and engaging parents, family and communities in a child’s learning? Or a way to report to provide evidence of assessment of learning and development to agencies?
The answer is ‘all of the above’, and this creates a lot of complexity for educators in the documentation process.
Storypark makes documentation processes faster, and in some ways easier – allowing aspects of curriculum, values or frameworks to be linked to documentation; linking documentation to plans; and enabling documentation to happen on the floor including children and their voices in a variety of ways.
Although Storypark provides more options, it leaves the content up to the educator to decide on. Storypark cannot simplify the complexity of the purpose of documentation.
Giving Educators and parents more time to think about what they write about and greater confidence to write it, giving them more options to communicate in different mediums e.g. video, audio, images and in different channels (conversations, stories, community posts) should not make the content of what they record simpler or less valuable.
Educators and parents alike love having video as part of the documentation process, and the ability to analyse use of curriculum over time and activity at a centre at the click of a button is an activity that was never possible in printed portfolios.
My Mum has been involved in Early Childhood for some 40+ years and has been a great support/guide for us on this journey. One of the things she said to me early on was that often we can overlook or paraphrase the child’s voice in the documentation process. Based on this feedback, we made it possible in the app to record (via audio) a child’s voice as they reflect on the photos and learning that’s just taken place. This enriches the documentation process and has also provided a bridge for parents or family members who might not be as literate or comfortable writing. Grandma can give her response directly to the child and teachers can play it so the child can hear Grandma’s voice too.
Let’s go back to my earlier question – who is documentation for? There is no substitute for well thought out pedagogical documentation, and Storypark supports this. However if documentation uses ECE jargon, links to aspects of a curriculum that parents don’t know about or simply isn’t accessible then how easy is this for parents or children to understand (the two key members of our audience)?
One of the key reasons services implement Storypark is to engage parents who are currently disconnected and strengthen already existing relationships with other parents. From the many parents we’ve surveyed and spoken with, one of the reasons they don’t engage is because of ‘performance anxiety’. Parents have said to me things like “I don’t know what to write on my child’s portfolio. I’m not a teacher – I don’t want to write something stupid.”
If educators only communicate with parents using language that shows off their pedagogical knowledge, then we maintain these barriers.
One of the points of documenting learning is to share a child’s progress with others. Another is so that the child can revisit their own learning and have discussions with others (especially their own family).This will extend children’s language, create understanding between parents and other family members and build on understanding of the child, affirmation of their abilities and strengthen neural pathways. It makes sense therefore for documentation to be done in a user friendly way, and this is enhanced by teachers knowledge and relationships with families.
Sure, government agencies have particular things they want to see and standards of observations and assessments that they encourage. Documentation must be thought through and intentional, based on reflective practice and sound planning. We can show this in ways that are still accessible to parents AND report children’s learning and development to regulators.
Storypark enables educators to communicate whatever they want, using a variety of channels that vary from who is privy to the information, in real time and through a medium that parents feel comfortable to respond in. There’s a spell-check, they always have their device with them, it’s easy and they’re ‘familiar’ with the idea of commenting in a digital space. Because it’s time friendly, educators can quickly share a quick 10 second video of a child who is now settling in well but was distraught when the parent left. Clearly this supports aspects of good practice outlined in both Te Whariki, ELECT, the Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality standards.
It’s just as easy with Storypark to document complex pedagogical analysis, and this happens too, but as part of a portfolio of communication types. Overall this means that parents feel comfortable responding, learn more about their child’s learning and development and work as part of a reciprocal learning community around the child.
Storypark is just a tool – and when I was little my Dad used to say “a poor workman blames his tools”. I think this is true of Storypark too – It is as good as the people using it. Storypark does make digital documentation more transparent and accessible to more people, and this may highlight issues more readily than before.
That’s why we’re focused on providing the best possible support for Storypark, and commenting on good practice through our blog, Facebook and our new newsletter.
If you haven’t already, follow Storypark on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter. I’d also welcome your feedback on this article – what impact do you think Storypark is having on the nature and level of documentation of learning?