The rapid expansion of technology in everyday life has meant that the tools available to early childhood educators to use in pedagogical documentation are many. The early childhood sector has responded enthusiastically to their arrival and a lot of documentation in children’s programs reflects some use of technology. This makes sense. Photographs and visual artefacts can be gathered over a period of time and can evidence development. They are also useful for demonstrating how children participate and what they might be thinking.
The use of visual images however, without a rich narrative to accompany it is not enough. It is the metadata around the image that enriches the documentation. It is the case that too often the visual documentation of children’s work is valued only for the decorative, for the potential of display and as such we are deprived of realising its true potential. We have begun to assume that the images by themselves reflect learning.
Visual documentation of children’s work, experiences and activities provide families, educators and children with valuable information about children’s learning and development. The use of photography particularly, to document children’s learning in early learning services is now well entrenched and it would be difficult to find a care and education service that does not rely on some form of photography as evidence of learning. There can be a lot of value in this. When someone stops to take a photograph of a child or their work they are communicating a powerful message to children: you and what you are doing matters.
It can often be the case however that the images are only valued for the visual aesthetic and in doing this so much of the potential of these photographic images is lost to us.
Ministories are a type of pedagogical documentation specific to the Reggio Emilia Project and provide us with a different and more authentic way of documenting that enables us to link the everyday to the extraordinary. These everyday stories that are iterative in design can show thinking and action concurrently while located in a very specific context.
“Ministories are catching, in photographs and recordings of children’s words, a synthesis that gives the essence of the context and strategies children use and, more importantly, a deeper sense of what is taking place” (Vecchi, 2010, p. 134).
Ministories are brief visual narratives and they are able to make visible in partial and mostly subjective ways the processes and strategies used by children to make sense of their world. This idea can be confronting to us in our local context where it is often thought that documentation should be objective. Not so. A point of view, a hypothesis and interpretation are subjective. This is the absolute strength of Ministories. This subjectivity demands that we take responsibility for our ideas.
Documenting in this way, with a heightened sense of awareness to the smallest details of children’s explorations allows us to really observe children’s search for meaning using all of our senses. This is a pedagogy of listening and it is built on engagement and curiosity. This is an encounter of ethics and requires us to use all of our senses to read and interpret the work. There is no place in this type of documentation for predetermined outcomes or linear progression. There is however a place for openness to the opportunity to understand children and how they think. Ministories provide us with the opportunity to connect deeply, listening to the documentation
Ministories aim to make known the intelligence and thinking processes of children and reminds us clearly that documentation is not about finding answers but rather about generating questions and proposals. The visual stories and their accompanying interpretations allow us to communicate to others our thinking and gives us an opportunity to generate theory and meaning. Vecchi explains:
“Through visual images, we try to pause on children’s expressions and actions with one another and in the work they are doing” (Vecchi, 2010, p 134).
This type of pedagogical documentation offers us the opportunity to become co-constructors of knowledge with children. The book The Hundred Languages in Ministories (Gambetti & Gandini. 2016.) provides excellent examples of these visual narratives. The power of the photograph or the drawing and the accompanying narrative is clear. It invites us to consider:
- What do we want to understand?
- What theories can I see in practice?
- What do I want to find out more about?
Particularly in the Ministory Francesco and the Paper Tube (Gandini & Gandini, 2016, p. 8) we can clearly read and see the course of action and the complexities of the context, as the protagonist Francesco seeks to understand why his markers have not come out of the tube. This is powerful documentation and reminds us that when given intelligent proposals and provocations children will provide intelligent answers. There is no rush to this approach. Time to reflect is a commodity of value here:
“Time has high value. In these stories, one sees that in such an environment there is no sense of being rushed; one can explore, construct, solve a problem, or simply enjoy shared moments. Teachers leave time and take time. They have the responsibility and the right to have the time to reflect and question what is happening and also to explore with the children what shared steps ought to be taken. All this is part of an attitude of research in order to connect and construct processes of reciprocal awareness and assess the learning taking place in an authentic and respectful way” (Gambetti & Gandini, 2016, p. x1)
Ministories, when done well, are able to make visible children’s thinking and enable the adult to reflect, interpret and re-launch the ideas.
We have known for a long time that the process is more important than the product when it comes to the artefacts that children produce, yet this knowledge is often not reflected in how we document children’s learning. Educators must leave behind a largely unhelpful way of documenting the work they do with young children and look for better ways to document the strong pedagogical learning and approaches that underpin the programs that are delivered to children in early learning environments every day. Ministories can provide us with one way of doing this.
Gambetti, A & Gandini, L. (2016). The Hundred Languages in Ministories – Told by Teachers and Children from Reggio Emilia. United States of America: Davis Publications, Inc.
Vecchi, V. (2010). Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia – Exploring the role and potential of ateliers in early childhood education. U.K: Routledge.