Our National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, looks at documenting learning, provides some pointers for educators and helps bust some of the surrounding myths.
The issue of planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning and the best ways of recording this cycle has been the subject of much debate and discussion during the more than two decades that I have been involved in children’s education and care.
We know from research and experience that documented plans, records of children’s assessments and evaluations can be effective strategies to promote and extend children’s thinking, learning and development.
One of the strengths of the approved learning frameworks, the National Quality Standard and related regulatory standards, is that while acknowledging the important role of documentation, they are not prescriptive about how it is done.
There are no mandated recipes or templates for documentation and for very good reason. Recognising the uniqueness of each service, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and educators are empowered to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, services and community.
This approach recognises the professionalism of the sector and allows educators to focus their energies on documentation that supports quality outcomes for children.
I recently visited a colleague delivering a kindergarten program in regional Victoria, and saw first-hand the professionalism, dedication and commitment to the children and their families. We spoke for many hours about the kindergarten program, the policies, the environment and the nature garden, the support for children and families provided by her team of dedicated and caring educators and committee members, among many other things.
We also discussed the challenges of balancing the need to document with our key focus of interacting and engaging with children and extending their learning. We agreed on a number of things relating to documentation that included:
- Documentation is an important part of our work with children and families, not just because it is a requirement
- Children’s voices and ideas should be captured in planning, documentation and evaluation
- Even experienced educators need to try different methods to find what is realistic, achievable and relevant for the children, families, educators, the setting and establish some benchmarks that are regularly reviewed
- We need to be selective in what we choose to document, because it is not possible to capture all of the rich experiences and learnings that occur every day
- We need to share our documentation efforts and experiences, and continue to learn, grow and develop
- We need to constantly review and remind ourselves why we are documenting and for whom
- We need to be clear about what the standards, learning frameworks and, if relevant, the funding agreements are asking us to do, as there are a number of myths emerging.
We also agreed that being open, honest and critically reflective in our self-assessment process and work helps to identify strengths in this area as well as identifying areas that need focus. This helps in identifying and informing families, other educators and professionals and authorised officers, how your documentation meets requirements and promotes each child’s learning and development.
My colleague’s service has just been assessed and rated and I was not surprised to learn they had received an overall rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard. The team are highly reflective educators and the authorised officer would have no doubt observed this in the assessment process.
So let’s revisit why we need to document, look at how services are going with this quality area, unpack some of the myths, explore the place of templates and programs, think about what the authorised officers might be looking for in an assessment visit and consider what resources are available to assist.
Why do we need to document?
Gathering and analysing information about what children know, can do and understand is part of the ongoing cycle that includes planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning. It helps educators (in partnership with children, families and other professionals) to:
- Plan effectively for children’s current and future learning
- Communicate about children’s learning and progress
- Determine the extent to which all children are progressing in their learning outcomes and if not, what might be impeding their progress
- Identify children who may need additional support in order to achieve particular learning outcomes, providing that support or assisting families to access specialist help
- Evaluate the effectiveness of learning opportunities, environments, and experiences offered, and the approaches taken to enable children’s learning
- Reflect on pedagogy that will suit this context and these children.
How are services performing against Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and practice?
The sector is to be congratulated for embracing the National Quality Framework (NQF) and the dedication and commitment shown to promoting positive outcomes for children and families.
While recent NQF Snapshot data shows most assessed and rated services are either Meeting or Exceeding the NQS in Quality Area 1 about 30 per cent are Working Towards NQS in this quality area.
This is recognised as the area where services require most support and ACECQA’s recent regulatory burden research has shown that documenting learning, although extremely valuable, is seen as one of the more time consuming aspects of the NQF.
Unpacking the myths
There are a number of myths circulating about the expectations for documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and records or to colour code them. For example, it is a myth that you need to write a report on every child, every day.
Another is that links must be drawn to the quality areas in plans and documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and research or to colour code them.
There are a number of websites (including ACECQA and Early Childhood Australia) and newsletter articles (for example Rattler editions 108 and 109) that de-bunk or bust these myths that you may want to review.
Do I need a template or a program to follow?
There are no mandated templates or programs for documenting children’s learning or educational experiences.
While templates and programs may be a helpful way to organise information, there is a risk that they can be limiting and as Wendy Shepherd, Director of Mia Mia Child and Family Centre at Macquarie University suggests in a recent article in the Autumn 2014 edition of Rattler magazine, there are no shortcuts and the complex process of documentation should not be reduced to a simple ‘fill-in-box’.
The reality is that mandating a certain way of documenting, for example the number of observations you must take of each child, would limit your ability to be creative in documenting the richness in the program and children’s learning.
There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.
The key thing to remember is that it is not the amount of documentation you have, or how immaculately or colourfully the information is presented, it is how the documentation is used to do all those things mentioned previously, such as planning effectively for children’s current and future learning and communicating about the children’s learning and progress.
What is the authorised officer looking for when they are assessing and rating?
The authorised officer will observe, discuss and sight supporting documentation to identify examples and evidence that your service is meeting the requirements. So it is important to be prepared by thinking about how you would talk about your documentation and what you particularly would like to show and discuss to demonstrate how you are meeting the requirements.
The Guide to the National Quality Standard provides examples, however, it is important to remember that the examples provided are not a checklist, but rather ‘paint a picture’ of what is expected at the Meeting National Quality Standard level.
Are there resources and examples of documentation available?
Many educators have generously shared their thoughts and ideas about documentation. For example, the Early Childhood Australia Professional Learning Program includes a number of newsletters that explore documentation and provide examples.
Another example can be found in the previously mentioned edition of Rattler where teachers from Mia Mia share examples of their documentation.
In addition, the Inclusion and Professional Support Program (IPSP) online library also includes resources, and the Professional Support Co-ordinator in each state and territory provide professional development and support in this area. Your peak organisation is also likely to have resources and professional development available to assist you.
As well as the learning frameworks the Early Years Learning Framework in Action and relevant Educator’s Guides are useful resources.
Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team.
For more information on documentation please visit:
This article was originally published in the Early Learning Association Australia’s Preschool Matters magazine.
The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care and in Victoria, the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework
 Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care (p.17)