Integrating Pedagogical Documentation in Junior Grades – Beginning Our Journey

I am beginning a new journey this year as a grade four homeroom teacher. I have been teaching grade four Core French for many years (and will continue to do so) but after having over 400 students/year, I am loving the chance to have more time to get to know a smaller group of students.

A part of what I knew I wanted to explore and improve in my teaching practice was documenting learning. As I’ve become better at triangulation of data, using observations and conversations to consider the process of learning, not just the end product, I know that I have struggled with the best way to capture those moments. Something too detailed or complex means it doesn’t become enough of a habit. Something too simple means I capture a lot, but it’s not very organized and is not useful either.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-9-24-35-pmA team of four junior teachers from my new school submitted an application to the Ontario Teachers’ Federation Teacher Learning Co-op so that we would have a chance to explore pedagogical documentation together. We were lucky to have our plan approved and be granted $4000 to fund our self-directed learning. (BTW, the next round of applications is currently open and due by Sept. 30th.)

We had our first meeting last week where we talked about things we’ve tried in the past, our goals moving forward and potential options for digital tools to help us achieve our goals. We decided to initially try both SeeSaw and the Peel DSB Student Learning Notebook app (only available to Peel employees).

We’re using the Ministry monograph “Pedagogical Documentation Revisited” to help guide our inquiry.

“Because pedagogical documentation is intended to uncover the student’s thinking and learning processes, it has the potential to help us look at learning in new ways, to assess flexibly with particular needs in mind and to individualize and differentiate our response” (p1).

While working towards our learning goals and overall expectations, our students can be demonstrating their learning in different ways. Different aspects of the same overall topic may intrigue different students. That’s okay. Not all students need to learn the exact same things and “letting go” of that can be made easier through pedagogical documentation. Part of the struggle with promoting flexible assessments and differentiation has been “keeping it all straight”. In the past, digital badging has really helped me with this, but I’m also looking forward to the ways using digital portfolios co-created with students will help everyone’s journey be individualized but still accountable and reflective. I’m also looking forward to how creating a digital portfolio will be an authentic writing task for students to share their learning with their family (and beyond).

What is Pedagogical Documentation Exactly?

But – what makes “pedagogical documentation” different than just regular “documentation”? That’s something I’m still wrapping my head around, but some things that I will be focusing on as I begin are:

  • To document through the students’ eyes. Capture images, videos or verbatim quotes of what the student is thinking. Their thinking may still be in the early stages and that’s okay – it’s all part of the journey.
  • I don’t want to hold off and only capture the “ah-ha” moments, but also the cognitive struggles and the day to day reality.
  • Interpret later. In the moment of documenting, I will focus on capturing, not on figuring out what it means or what the next steps are. Later, it can be assessed and interpreted. In order to ensure accuracy and fairness, documentation needs to be part of the larger context – was today an incident in isolation or part of a larger pattern? Can we “zoom out” and get a better perspective on that particular students’ learning?
  • Documentation should be shared – between student and teacher, student and family, teacher and teacher, etc. The more visibly we are learning, the more we can learn from one another and see a fuller picture which can spur better dialogue. This is when we can focus on interpretation and next steps. This, in particular, really influences our choice of tool for documentation – what makes it easy to share?
  • Documentation should result in action, for example, “the importance of engaging students in a metacognitive process to discover who they are, explore opportunities, pursue their passions and design personal pathways to success” (p6).

Shifting Mindsets

Page three of the monograph focuses on ways that pedagogical documentation can enable shifts in mindset:

  • From teaching to learning…. the culture in the classroom will always continue to have aspects of a teaching culture. We have expertise as adults that we can use to share and guide. But more and more, we are also creating a culture of learning where students are given more agency. The monograph highlights that, “the role of students in their own learning has been understudied within the literature on effective classroom practices” and that thinking processes and metacognition are areas that need further exploration. Because pedagogical documentation involves making thinking visible, this is an exciting way to share not just for our own purposes but also to connect and discover successful classroom practices being shared from other classrooms.
  • From telling to listening… “visible listening”. Reconstruct and capture the learning journey. Listen to students – what they know, what they wonder, and then respond appropriately (vs. starting with telling and then having students respond to me). Involve them in the process – honour their individual goals and interests – and then help them get there.
  • From gaps to assets… “equity is not just about closing gaps and raising test scores, but about ensuring equity of opportunity and outcomes”. It’s looking at students for what they can do – not what they can’t. It’s not about ignoring weakness, but recognizing that we are all different. Everyone is capable and everyone has talents. When we can connect our learning in class to students’ uniquenesses or to what they care about – they’re going to be more invested in that learning.

The Journey Continues

As our team begins to delve into pedagogical documentation, I hope to share more to document our own learning around this topic. We’ll be tweeting with the hashtag #jgassess so feel free to follow along or join us.

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