Documentation – what, why and how

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest. 

Documentation is a subject of extensive debate in the children’s education and care sector in Australia and internationally.  ‘How do we document? and ‘How much do we document? are common questions; with time constraints often raised as a key challenge.  The evolution and widespread use of digital technologies has raised further issues to critically reflect on, such as the impact of devices on meaningful interactions and respect of children’s rights.

It is important to remember that documentation is a professional responsibility and there are no recipes or regulated formulas. The outcome-focused standards encourage educators and educational leaders to use their professional judgement and to be creative and innovative in the way the standards are met. Recognise and respond to the unique context of your service and your community members.

You may want to take the opportunity at your next team meeting to think about the theories that inform your practice, and how these influence decisions about what and how you document.

Have the confidence to be courageous, creative and reflective. There are multiple ways to document and meet the standards. Ensure these reflect your unique team, children, families and community.

What is ‘documentation’?

Documentation is the practice of recording and creating evidence of learning and learning progress, helping make it visible. Documentation takes children’s and educator’s thinking, and the experiences that educators observe, hear and feel into written or other records that can be shared, revisited and extended over time. Rich documentation incorporates multiple perspectives, including the voices of children, educators, peers, families and other professionals (Educators’ Guide to the EYLF, p. 37).

Why document?

Documentation supports the provision of quality children’s education and care by:

  • deepening the shared understanding of each child
  • identifying and analysing learning and learning progress
  • informing the educational program, and
  • making learning visible and able to be shared with others.

It also helps educators and educational leaders to reflect on their pedagogy and practices.

From a compliance perspective, documentation is both a regulatory requirement and integral to Quality Area 1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS). From my experience working in the sector, educators work diligently to support children and families and often set high benchmarks for themselves. I am aware that there is a lot of misinformation about how much and what documentation is required, so I think it may be timely to reflect on what the NQS actually requires.

What documentation is required?

The regulatory requirements for educational program documentation are in Part 4.1 of the Education and Care Services National Regulations and include three key components:

  1. the educational program;
  2. child assessments or evaluations; and
  3. information for families.

In the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), assessment for learning is the process of gathering and analysing information as evidence about what children know, can do and understand (EYLF, p.19).

In the school age education and care context, evaluation for wellbeing and learning is the process of gathering and analysing information about how children feel and what children know, can do and understand (FSAC, p. 17). Assessments and evaluations inform the educational program and form part of the ongoing assessment and planning cycle.

  1. The educational program

The educational program must be on display and in a location at the service premises that is accessible to families (Regulation 75). Importantly, information about the educational program must include detail of both the content and the operation of the program. It is not just a list of experiences, but how the program is being implemented. A copy of the educational program must also be available for inspection upon request.

  1. Child assessments or evaluations

Regulation 74 requires documentation of child assessments or evaluations for delivery of the educational program. The emphasis on ‘delivery’ highlights the role of child assessments and evaluations in shaping the educational program. The educational program should evolve and reflect the current learning needs and interests of the children at the service, and be based on ongoing assessments or evaluations.

For a child of preschool age or under, this documentation must include assessment of:

  • developmental needs
  • interests
  • experiences
  • participation in the educational program, and
  • progress against the outcomes of the educational program consistent with the learning outcomes of the approved learning frameworks.

For a child over preschool age:

  • evaluation of the child’s wellbeing, development and learning are required in some jurisdictions – ACT, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

Services that educate and care for school age children in the Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW are not required to keep documentation of evaluations of individual children’s wellbeing, learning and development. However they must ensure evidence about the development of the educational program is documented.  A helpful ACECQA Information Sheet explains this.

  1. Information for families

A copy of the child assessment or evaluation documentation specified in Regulation 74 must be made available to families on request (Regulation 76):

  • information about the content and operation of the educational program, as it relates to their child; and
  • information about the child’s participation in the program.

Why do you document?

To provide reflective insight into your own documentation practices, take a moment to consider why you personally document the way that you do.

Is your practice driven by regulations, the learning frameworks, the NQS, workplace procedures, training, habit, family needs, hearsay or experience?

Pausing to question ‘why’ and unpack these influences will support you to critically reflect and examine your practice, enriching your professional decision-making.

Documentation reflects each unique service

Reflecting the unique context of each service, documentation will not look the same from one service to another. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. One of the best ways to know if you are on track is to consider practice in terms of the outcomes for children and families.

Regulation 74 reminds us to consider:

  • the period of time the child is being educated and cared for
  • how the documentation will be used by educators
  • ensuring it is readily understandable by educators, and
  • ensuring it is readily understandable by families.

It is important to ensure documentation is genuinely understandable by the educators and families at your service. Procedures need to be in place to determine or evaluate this, for example, through input and ongoing feedback from families and reflective practice discussions with educators.

Children also demonstrate their learning and progress in many and varied ways. Therefore the methods of gathering, documenting and analysing evidence to assess learning also need to be varied.

Learning evidence needs to be collected over time and in a range of situations, rather than making judgements based upon limited information or a ‘tick-the-box’ approach.

Documentation should be meaningful, purposeful, sustainable and promote positive outcomes for children and families.

Questions for reflection

  • Are your documentation processes meaningful?

Consider if documentation is simply a ‘task’ to be completed each week or month, and if documentation is part of a meaningful pedagogical process you undertake to gain a deeper understanding of each child.

Some key questions to discuss with your team are:

  • Is your documentation being used to analyse each child’s learning and learning progress; to shape the educational program; and to make children’s learning visible to families?
  • How does documentation support understanding and assessment of each child’s learning progress?
  • How is each child’s participation in the program recorded and acted upon?
  • How does documentation support quality outcomes for families?
  • How are the voices of children included in documentation?
  • How are the voices of families included in documentation?
  • How does documentation meaningfully shape the educational program?
  • Do documentation processes impact educator interactions with children?

Research has confirmed that process quality, “the direct interactional experiences of children in ECEC, the daily back‐and‐forth exchanges they have with educators and other children, and their participation in learning experiences”, has the greatest impact on quality and positive outcomes for children (Torii, Fox and Cloney, 2017).

Social-emotional development is particularly enhanced by process quality.

High quality interactions and relationship-building with children can be compromised if the recording of observations and/or images on digital devices becomes a priority:

  • Engagement with a device can limit time and genuine, two-way and sustained engagement with a child or group of children.
  • Capturing the ‘perfect image’ can be perceived as being what is of value, not the learning or the child.

Consider the Early Childhood Australia Statement on young children and digital technologies and ‘model self-regulated digital technology use…that recognises the importance of sustained social interactions’ and relationships. (ECA, 2018)

In guiding your reflection, you might ask yourself:

  • Is device use impacting interactions and relationship-building with children and between children?
  • How does my service monitor digital technology use for documentation?
  • How does digital documentation promote positive outcomes for children?
  • If devices weren’t used to record observations and assessments/evaluations, what would be the benefits and challenges?
  • How could limited device use promote positive relationships and outcomes for children?
  • What message is sent to children about the ‘photo-worthiness’ of their learning?
  • Does documentation respect the rights of the child?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms children’s rights and provides an ethical and legal framework for their realisation. The Convention acknowledges the obligations and responsibilities that society, communities and families must honour and respect. The 42 Articles specifically affirm children’s right to an education, to privacy and to be protected from any activities that could harm their development.

Review The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and consider:

  • How do documentation processes respect children’s right to privacy?
  • Are children aware of their rights?
  • Is a child’s permission sought before taking images of them or their learning?

Further reading and resources to guide your practice

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Documenting programs for school age children

ACECQA – Resource – Educators Guide: Belonging, Being & Becoming

ACECQA – Resource – Educators Guide: My Time, Our Place

Early Childhood Australia – Resource – Statement on young children and digital technologies

Mitchell Institute – Research – Quality is Key in Early Childhood Education in Australia

United Nations – Resource – Convention on the Rights of the Child

Understanding critical reflection

Donna Morley, Director of KU Lance Children’s Centre, explains why educators should embrace professional learning opportunities to inform the way they critically reflect. 

KU Lance was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA in March 2018. 

‘Critical reflection’ is a common phrase in early childhood education that can often be misinterpreted and underestimated. As a Centre Director, I have run into experiences where staff have advised me that they have completed their critical reflection on children’s learning and the program, when in fact they have simply stated what happened during an activity or perhaps observed some progress in the child’s development and planned a new experience based on their observations. While these are all expectations of the planning cycle, critical reflection involves higher order thinking, drilling down and using multiple perspectives and creative thinking. These aspects are often missed by educators and are sometimes challenging to understand and use.

In my experience, it takes both time and getting to know the other educators in your team, to develop the skills, understanding and motivation to truly embrace and undertake critical reflection. Critical reflection in an education and care service is multifaceted, and involves thinking about all of your practices and procedures with honesty and purpose. There is a level of bravery required to be able to identify the need for change within your service environment. As humans, we are sometimes content with familiarity, predictability and some of us do not like change. Critical reflection means being ready for change, willing to challenge yourself and others and being able to adapt.

So how have I developed the skills to critically reflect, and how have I promoted these skills within my team? One example that I’d like to share with you, is when I eagerly snapped up the opportunity to join a group of educators from a range of services in a KU Professional Learning Community (PLC). We initially came together to learn about the work of Ann Pelo and use her methods to examine our work with children. Ann is known amongst early childhood educators for her unique perspective on challenging predefined practices and shifting the focus ‘from instruction to inquiry’. With a facilitator in the group, we began sharing the same children’s book with each of our classes to explore the practice of ‘researching with children’. At our meetings we would share our critical reflections of the children’s responses. Essentially, we told the stories of what the children had developed around the book, the stories of their artworks, their buildings and their discussions. As the PLC got to know each other, built trust and confidence and settled into this new meeting and sharing routine, we were encouraged, challenged and sometimes unsettled by provocations from our PLC facilitator. The PLC facilitator provided academic readings that assisted us to drill down deeper into the critical reflection of our work, and the work of the children. As there was a heightened level of trust between members of the PLC, we drew inspiration from each other and found that having a group who respected, listened, considered each other’s perspectives and looked to external sources for challenge, was very valuable in the development of our own critical reflection strategies.

After seeing Ann Pelo at the KU Conference, and spending an intensive five days at a writing workshop with her, the PLC plunged into some intense critical reflection around children’s learning as well as our own practice. Ann gave us permission to become involved in the children’s learning stories, to make this work personal and to think outside the square.  At times it was terrifying, and I was thankful that we had each other for support.  We took our learning back to our service teams, inspiring them to think beyond the obvious, to dig deeper, and to be brave in their own critical reflection of their teaching practices.

Some of the PLC changed jobs, or took on new roles within KU, however, we committed to make our PLC meetings a priority. The meetings continue to renew our purpose and vigour, and provides us with the ability and support to think differently about working through various issues and obstacles.

The reality for many early childhood professionals is one of professional isolation, where the opportunity to discuss children’s learning at a level of deep understanding and theoretical exploration is rare. It has been a privilege to be involved in a group who can share stories, experiences and insights so generously. My involvement reinforced the value and benefit of professional learning communities. The value of working within a trusted community of learners who are similarly educated and have a range of perspectives and experiences has been incredibly positive.

The benefit to my own team and the children of the service has also been extraordinary. Our ability to critically reflect on a more profound level continues to develop. The initial work with Ann Pelo’s approaches empowered staff to be brave and to dig into the unknown, to explore practitioner research alongside children and trust each other more, in a combined effort towards improvement in our practice. The results have been amazing, and in 2018 our service was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA which I believe was a direct result of continued critical reflection instigated by a small group of educators who formed a PLC and embraced courage.

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 3

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the final instalment, we wrap up the series by considering the way self-reflection informs continuous improvement and the practical strategies for creating a service culture that supports it.

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Effective and authentic quality improvement is informed by critical reflection on practice, shaped by meaningful engagement with families and communities, and is embedded across the service. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies “ongoing self-review that results in informed judgment about performance is fundamental to an effective cycle of improvement” (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 178).

Essential to this self-review is the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), which should be a living document, leading up to assessment and rating and beyond. The QIP provides an opportunity to share how a service engages in deep-level reflection as part of a quality assurance process that supports the realisation of its vision as well as the objectives of the National Quality Framework.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement involves developing and sharing reflective practice, gaining different perspectives, creating a respectful culture and seeking educators, families and children’s ideas. This culture is reflected in regular engagement with quality improvement to support accountability and to communicate what services are achieving and why.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Standard 7.2 of the NQS requires services to make a commitment to continuous improvement. When we consider what this looks like in practice, it means creating regular touch points with the QIP, opportunities to regularly critically reflect on progress, and outcomes and opportunities for deeper collaboration. This level of reflective practice ensures the planning process informs decision making and provides accountability and direction, while being equitable and reflective of the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders. It also provides a springboard to celebrate achievements and communicate to all stakeholders the reasoning and purpose behind what is happening at the service.

A meaningful quality improvement planning process involves services reflecting on and assessing their performance against the NQS, as well as drawing on data or evidence gathering as a trigger for reflection. Examples might include:

  • Australian Early Development Census data to inform curriculum decision-making and resourcing priorities
  • maintenance registers – replacement of or upgrading resources
  • attendance trends and fluctuations to inform staffing
  • frequency and nature of incidents and accidents
  • workflow or staff scheduling challenges
  • regular surveys or questionnaires for families and staff about the service.

The NQS promotes an outcomes focused approach. As such, many of the elements and standards require education and care professionals to critically reflect on the decisions being made at a service level. This is an opportunity to consider questions of social justice, fairness and equity, cultural competence, acceptance and honouring diversity and inclusion, and to think through whether the ideals expressed in the service philosophy are being realised in day–to-day experiences.

A great question to prompt some deep reflective discussions at a service level is found in the approved learning frameworks (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?

Self-assessment and reflection are most worthwhile when they lead to action and it is important to record or reference progress towards the goal or even a change in focus of the original goal. Key pieces of evidence to identify decision making leading to action include:

  • linking the areas identified for improvement and the strategies to address them
  • demonstrated action reflecting the identified improvements
  • amendments to the philosophy of the service and the resultant change to policies and procedures
  • evident change in practice leading to improved outcomes for children
  • documented outcomes of the service’s self-assessment. Examples of this might include:

* meeting agenda noting the proposed discussion

* staff meeting minutes where practice is discussed

* minutes of a committee or parent meeting indicating topics      discussed and outcomes proposed

* collated survey results from children, parents or staff

* notes or drawings detailing children’s ideas, suggestions and feedback.

Education and care services should consider a holistic approach when planning for quality improvement, creating cohesion and direction by connecting all service plans together, including performance, inclusion and reconciliation, strategic and business plans. Opportunities arise here for adopting a more shared or distributed approach to leadership. For example, consider the role the educational leader plays in developing individual development plans that are in place to support performance reviews.

Questions for further reflection:

  • How is continuous improvement included in the induction process?
  • How and when is quality improvement discussed and documented?
  • How does the self-assessment process work and who contributes to the strengths of service practice?
  • How is the leadership and responsibility for QIP goals distributed?

Conclusion

We hope that we have challenged your thinking, broadened your practice and helped you to develop greater confidence in making professional judgements and articulating the reasons behind those decisions. It is important to recognise confidence emerges from drawing on professional standards, best practice, contemporary thinking and research.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider the way critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

Further reading and resources

Early Childhood Australia – Critical reflection as a tool for change: Stories about quality improvement

Early Childhood Australia – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 2

During  June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the second instalment, we consider teaching, learning and how we reflect within a holistic approach. 

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Critical reflection involves educators analysing their own practices – thinking about how their language, their level of involvement in play, their support of children to communicate and resolve conflict and how the organisation and environment impacts learning, relationships and interactions.

These insights should be used to inform the development of plans for children’s learning and development, both as individuals and groups of children. The focus should be on learning and outcomes rather than activities and resources.

Being a reflective practitioner means embracing multiple perspectives, your own unique approach and process as well as considering what might need to change. This process of reflecting on actions, intentionality, programs and children’s learning is one that educators engage in every day.

The approved learning frameworks provide some questions to reflect on: (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

  • What are my understandings of each child?
  • What theories, philosophies and understandings shape and assist my work?
  • Are there other theories or knowledge that could help me to understand better what I have experienced?

A holistic approach

It is important to reflect on the learning across all aspects of the program including routines, transitions, planned and spontaneous play and leisure experiences. Children’s learning is constant and happening everywhere and it is up to educators to reflect on how time, resources and access to learning environments is facilitating sustained shared thinking.

Who should be involved?

Everyone! Critically reflecting on children’s learning involves all educators talking, questioning, challenging and affirming each other. Two key questions to consider here might be:

  • Are planned experiences reflective of children’s knowledge, interests and identity?
  • Are experiences, environments and interactions supporting children’s learning and development across the learning outcomes?

Children and families are important participants in the reflection process, from setting goals to analysing and sharing the learning from the program and informing the direction of group and individual learning. Community expectations and context are relevant considerations to inform curriculum decision making.

How do we reflect and what should be recorded?

While there is no legislative requirement for educators’ reflections to be documented, it is a useful way for services to track and show how critical reflection influences their practice and contributes to continuous improvement and the cycle of planning.

The emphasis is on the process of critical reflection, not the product, so there is evidence the program is informed by these reflections. Children can be active participants in critical reflection, and in documenting their learning progress. Documenting this reflection can be completed in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in the minutes of team meetings.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Supporting reflective practice

The educational leader plays a role in developing and supporting a culture of reflection by :

  • leading and being part of reflective discussions
  • mentoring other educators
  • discussing routines
  • observing children and educator interactions
  • talking to families
  • working with other education and care professionals
  • considering how the program can be linked to the community
  • establishing effective systems across the service.

Anne Stonehouse suggests the use of concise questions when reflecting on children’s learning and analysing information to focus on the process of their actions rather than the product:

  • What is this child learning?
  • What does this child know or understand?
  • What level is the learning? For example, emerging, beginning, practicing, consolidating, exploratory or mastery.
  • What learning dispositions are evident? For example, persistence, confidence, resourcefulness, curiosity or problem solving.

Assessment and rating

In terms of assessment and rating, a crucial factor in assessing quality practice relates to educators’ understandings of the process and the purpose of critical reflection as opposed to gathering evidence.

During an assessment, the authorised officer might:

  • observe educators having discussions with team members, children and families reflecting on how the program is supporting children’s learning in groups and as individuals
  • discuss how educators make decisions on the program and the process for considering the effectiveness of the program
  • sight documentation of decisions, how and why they came about, information in policies, parent information and staff induction that explains the process of how reflection guides the program.

Questions for further reflection:

The Educators’ Guide to My Time, Our Place describes the process of self-reflection as:

  • Deconstructing practice – What happens?
  • Confronting practice – What works well? What is challenging?
  • Theorising about why – What literature/research/experience helps you to understand this?
  • Thinking otherwise – What do you need to change? What is the first step?

These questions may prompt a robust discussion on what is working and how well practice aligns with philosophy and ethics, as well as creating a positive culture and professional learning community.

Further reading and resources

Cartmel, J. – ‘Techniques for Facilitating Reflection’, Reflections (43): 12-13.

Early Childhood Australia – Thinking about Practice: Working with the Early Years Learning Framework

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

Queensland Studies Authority – Reflecting on my teaching practices

Stonehouse, A. – ‘Assessing children’s learning—work in progress! (Part 1)’, NQS PLP eNewsletter (73).

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 1

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the first instalment, we explore meaningful self-reflection, what this looks like in practice and the importance of the process not the product.  

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

We know being reflective educators allows for greater self-awareness, drives continuous improvement, improved outcomes for children and families, as well as being a feature of high quality education and care. We also acknowledge a culture of learning, reflection and continuous improvement are driven by effective leaders. A culture of learning is fostered in an organisation that empowers educators, promotes openness and trust, and reflects a space where people feel heard and valued.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Reflecting

We often hear educators ask ‘What am I supposed to be reflecting on?’ There are a range of professional standards educators can draw on to analyse their practice:

Considering the prompt questions from the approved learning frameworks can be useful tools to prompt more analytical thinking (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11). A great starting point or points to revisit regularly include:

  • What questions do I have about my work?
  • What am I challenged by?
  • What am I curious about?
  • What am I confronted by?

One way of ensuring meaningful self-reflection could be to discuss issues educators have been considering during performance review processes, opening up professional conversations at team meetings, and facilitating educators to affirm and challenge each other as a ‘critical friend’. Research by the University of Melbourne identifies key factors for supporting educators to critically reflect, allowing for deep reflection of their practice:

  • guidance and structure to allow for critical reflection and change
  • effective mentoring for additional resources and perspectives
  • adequate time and space
  • professional development opportunities.

Documenting

Another common question is ‘what do I need to record or document?’ When it comes to reflective practice, the most important aspect is that it is about ‘process not product’. It is about being able to articulate why and how you made decisions and changes. Documenting key decisions may occur in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in minutes of team meetings.

Documenting in this way has the potential to promote in educators a sense of responsibility and accountability for their self-reflection and professional development. At this level, you may prefer to keep your reflections private.

Effective communication skills are crucial to creating a positive culture of learning. As part of the self-reflection process, you may identify further learning and professional development is needed. This could be added to your individual development plans. However, not all learning needs to be formal, such as attending a workshop. There may be opportunities to build on people’s strengths through mentoring, sharing professional journals or by accessing learning online.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What opportunities are available for educators to reflect on their practice?
  • What opportunities are created for educators to discuss and identify achievements, issues, challenges?
  • How does self-reflection inform individual development plans?

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Documentation – Are we there yet?

In this month’s We Hear You Blog, we encourage educators to develop confidence in their own decision making.  

Do you sometimes feel you’re on a never-ending quest to identify the best way to document the cycle of planning?

In the search for the ultimate template which specifies what to document and when, how will you know when you have arrived at the strategy that works best for your service, children, educators and community?

While there is a lot of guidance available to support providers, educational leaders and educators to make informed choices about meeting the requirements of the National Quality Framework (NQF), there is no magic template that will suit all educators, services and contexts.

Educators reflecting on their practice, who constantly strive to ‘do it right’, may ask questions such as ‘how much information is required and what methods should we use to collect information about children’s learning?’ There is often a call for a template or a list of ‘must haves’.

It is a myth that the answers to these questions might be found in a template or a prescriptive list.

A strength of the NQF is that it supports educators to feel empowered and develop confidence in their own professional judgement and decision making. One of the best ways to know if we are on the right track is to consider the outcomes of our practice for children and families.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) helps to focus on outcomes, and acknowledges all children as capable and competent learners. It requires educators to draw on their pedagogical knowledge, the legislative framework and quality standards, as well as the understanding they have of the children, families and communities within the unique context of the service.

The approved learning frameworks encourage educators to draw on their own skills, knowledge and understandings. In making professional judgements, they weave together their:

  • professional knowledge and skills
  • knowledge of children, families and communities
  • awareness of how their beliefs and values impact on children’s learning
  • personal styles and past experiences.

Educators also draw on their creativity, intuition and imagination to help them improvise and adjust their practice to suit the time, place and context of learning. (Early Years Learning Framework, p.5/ Framework for School Age Care, p.7)

So the answer isn’t in a template, but instead will be based on your knowledge of the National Law, National Regulations, NQS and the approved learning frameworks. It will involve discussing, questioning and reflecting as a team and considering how you are working to improve outcomes for all children, families and communities. This should be happening as a part of your service’s continuous improvement journey.

By adopting a more analytical approach it actually has a win-win effect. As educators develop confidence in their own professional judgement, they are more likely to critically reflect on and question statements like ‘this is the way we have to do it’ or ‘that’s the way we have always done it’.

Connecting with the intent and rationale behind practice assists in the process of articulating to families, the community and authorised officers, why and how professional judgements are made and how they support quality outcomes for children.

Further reading and resources    

Review and reflect on the new version of Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics.

Unpacking the planning cycle: Part 3

During the month of September, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring the ongoing planning cycle and documentation – ‘Unpacking the planning cycle’.

In the final instalment of our series, we close the loop on the planning cycle by returning to documentation and records, as well as the practice of evaluating children’s learning and wellbeing using the learning frameworks and educator guides.

Unpacking the planning cycle - blog graphic

Unpacking the planning cycle

Part 3: Closing the loop: Planning, implementing and evaluating

In part two of our series, we looked at Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning. We considered some questions to reflect on about the effectiveness of methods used to capture children’s strengths, interests and relationships over time and to consider whether Element 1.2.1 (Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation) was visible in this process.

This article closes the loop of the planning cycle by returning to children’s records and evaluating children’s learning and wellbeing as well as reflecting on the effectiveness of pedagogy.

The learning frameworks emphasise assessing, planning and documenting children’s learning, development and wellbeing, enabling educators in partnership with children, families and other professionals to:

  • plan effectively for children’s current and future learning/wellbeing
  • communicate about children’s learning and progress
  • determine the extent to which all children are progressing toward realising learning outcomes and if not, what might be impeding their progress
  • identify children who may need additional support 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/ wellbeing
  • reflect on pedagogy that will suit this context and these children (Early Years Learning Framework, p.17/ Framework for School Age Care, p.16).

The Educator guides to the approved learning frameworks support educators to engage in the planning cycle, with a particular focus on completing the cycle by assessing and evaluating learning and wellbeing. This is a key component of the process and involves educator decision making about the educational program and practice. It involves setting goals and planning experiences, interactions and environments that build on children’s interests, abilities and identities in relation to the learning outcomes.

At this stage, it is helpful to revisit the series of vignettes from article two in this series, which presented examples across a range of different ages. Here, each example showcases a number of methods and techniques to collect information as well as the addition of goals, plans and the evaluation of learning and wellbeing.

unpacking-the-planning-cycle-part-3-fdc-case-study

unpacking-the-planning-cycle-part-3-bihn-case-study

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Thoughts and ideas for your next team meeting:

  • Where are we in terms of our individual and collective team skills and knowledge about the planning cycle?
  • What does this mean for individual and collective professional development plans?

Resources and further reading

Early Childhood Australia – Planning and documentation video series

Gowrie – Early Years Learning framework –  Assessing children’s learning

ACECQA National Education Leader – Cycle of planning

We hope you have found this blog series informative, thought provoking and a catalyst for quality improvement. If you would like to further investigate Quality Area 1, the webcast of the ACECQA National Workshop Educational program and practice is a great place to start. It provides information and resources, as well as prompts for educators to reflect on their professional development needs.

Read the complete series:

Part 1: Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development

Part 2: Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning

Part 3: Closing the loop: Planning, implementing and evaluating

Unpacking the planning cycle: Part 2

During the month of September, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring the ongoing planning cycle and documentation – ‘Unpacking the planning cycle’.

In this second instalment, we extend our discussion about documentation to consider the information you are collecting and the way it is used to understand and add value to learning outcomes for children.

Unpacking the planning cycle - blog graphic

Unpacking the planning cycle

Part 2: Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning

In our last instalment, we looked at Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development. We left you with some questions to reflect on how you document, plan and critically reflect on children’s learning/wellbeing in relation to Element 1.2.1: Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard highlights what the National Quality Standard (NQS) aims to achieve with this Element:

Educators use a variety of strategies to collect, document, organise, synthesise and interpret the information that they gather to assess children’s learning. They search for appropriate ways to collect rich and meaningful information that depicts children’s learning in context, describes their progress and identifies their strengths, skills and understandings (p. 38).

ACECQA’s Using the early years planning cycle takes educators through the process of critical reflection, providing practice examples as well as linking the planning cycle back to service philosophy.

In part two we ask you to consider the information you are collecting, how meaningful it is and the way it is analysed and used to interpret each child’s learning. It is important to remember the reason you are collecting information – it needs to add value to outcomes for children.

The following series of vignettes present examples across a range of different ages. Below each case study are questions to encourage educators to focus on the meaningful aspects that might inform the planning cycle. They showcase a range of methods and techniques of collecting information as well as questions and ideas to draw out learning. Remember, there is no one way of documenting – these vignettes are presented as just one example of the planning cycle.

unpacking-the-planning-cycle-part-2-fdc-case-study

Questioning and interpreting the learning:

  • What does this information tell us about the way children under three learn?
  • How does this learning affect the way we plan opportunities and environments?
  • How can we further support Jade in transferring and adapting learning and support her agency and interactions?

unpacking-the-planning-cycle-part-2-bihn-case-study

Questioning and interpreting the learning:

  • What does this information tell us about Bihn‘s sense of belonging, connectedness and wellbeing?
  • How can we build on the knowledge and understandings that Bihn has developed?
  • How can we support Bihn’s increasing capacity for self-regulation and provide opportunities for him to engage independently with tasks and play?

unpacking-the-planning-cycle-part-2-oshc-case-study

Questioning and interpreting the learning:

  • How can we support these children to find effective ways of communicating their concerns and to collaborate with others?
  • In what ways are we supporting children’s understanding of interdependence and how can we facilitate this sense of ownership and belonging within the program?

Thoughts and ideas for your next team meeting:

  • How do we know what is meaningful information and what is not?
  • How effective are your processes for capturing and recording information about children’s strengths, interests, relationships and learning over a period of time?

Resources and further reading

Child Australia – Effective Curriculum Planning and Documentation Methods in Education and Care Services

Early Childhood Australia – Case studies: Documenting children’s learning and development

ACECQA – We Hear You – How we document: Albury Out of School Hours Care

Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework: Practice Principle Guide – Assessment for Learning and Development

Read the complete series:

Part 1: Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development

Part 2: Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning

Part 3: Closing the loop: Planning, implementing and evaluating

Unpacking the planning cycle: Part 1

During the month of September, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring the ongoing planning cycle and documentation – ‘Unpacking the planning cycle’.

In the first instalment, we consider the challenges and requirements of Quality Area 1 and Element 1.2.1 and the why, what and how of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development.

Unpacking the planning cycle - blog graphic

Unpacking the planning cycle

Many educators are finding Element 1.2.1 – Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation – one of the most challenging, according to national assessment and rating data analysis.

Is it because educators struggle to articulate practice and why we document? Or could it be that they are not sure about what is required in relation to Quality Area 1: Educational Program and Practice? Or is it a question of not being sure about how to assess children’s learning and development as part of a cycle of planning?

We hear from some educators that, at times, they feel documentation is onerous and time consuming. ACECQA is keen to share examples of practice such as those showcased in EYLF in Action: Educators’ stories and models for practice and celebrate the wonderful work that educators are doing to contribute to children’s learning and wellbeing. We recognise there is a wide variety of experience within our readership and we encourage you to engage with the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework and Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care to take a deeper look at the planning cycle involving questioning philosophy and theory.

Over the course of the next few ACECQA blog posts, we will present a series to assist in unpacking and clarifying the requirements of the National Quality Framework (NQF), revisiting and building familiarity with legislative requirements under Quality Area 1. We hope this series will be used by educators to feel empowered and increase their knowledge and understanding of the requirements of the National Quality Standard (NQS) in relation to Element 1.2.1 and the cycle of planning in particular.

Part 1: Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development

When we think about planning, we should be thinking about the full planning cycle and keep in mind that documentation is only one part of that process. The focus should be on gathering, analysing and interpreting information that is:

  • rich and meaningful, and not simply a description of what children are doing
  • relevant to individual children, while capturing their identity, culture and what they are investigating and exploring
  • focused on achievements and children’s strengths, what children know, can do and understand.

Often we hear about educators, nominated supervisors and approved providers being caught up in the myth of what documentation and the planning cycle should look like rather than knowing or understanding the requirements. While these are not new concepts, for some, the purpose of documentation may have been lost along the way.

Let’s revisit why it is important to engage in the cycle of planning, starting with the requirements of the NQS. Quality Area 1 and Standard 1.2 especially require educators and coordinators to be focused, active and reflective in designing and delivering the program for each child. This involves a wide range of practices including:

  • observing children and gathering meaningful information about children’s current knowledge, identity and culture to assess their learning and progress, a crucial step in planning meaningful learning experiences
  • interpreting the learning and setting goals for individual and group learning
  • involving families in decision making
  • planning for further learning that supports children as capable, competent people with agency and the ability to make choices and decisions
  • engaging with the principles, practices and outcomes of approved learning frameworks
  • critically reflecting on children’s learning and development in a collaborative way with colleagues to affirm and challenge practices.

Now let’s move to what is required under Quality Area 1 to inform the planning cycle.

The Education and Care Services National Law requires services to deliver a program that is based on an approved learning framework and takes into account the learning needs and interests of each child (Section 168). Assessments or evaluations are also expected to support the delivery of the program for children according to the Education and Care Services National Regulations.

For children preschool age and under the focus is on:

  • assessments of developmental needs, interests, experiences, participation and progress against the outcomes of the program (Regulation 74(1a)).

For school age children the focus is on:

  • evaluation of the child’s wellbeing, development and learning (Regulation 74(1b)).

In either case, the amount of documentation depends on how often and for how long children attend a service (Regulation 74(2a)). The program must be displayed (Regulation 75a) and information about the content, operation and the child’s participation must be provided to parents on request (Regulation 76).

The Early Years Learning Framework in Action: Educators’ stories and models for practice provides a wide range of examples and techniques for recording and documenting the planning cycle, including journals, jottings, electronic records and online programs.

In thinking about why we plan and document the way we do, you might want to consider the following questions at your next team meeting.

Thoughts and ideas for your next team meeting:

  • How do you currently document and why do you do it the way you do?
  • What theories inform the ways you organise your documentation? (Refer to the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework, 54-57 and Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care, p.21-24.)
  • How have you critically reflected on and evaluated the program?

Resources and further reading

ACECQA – Occasional Paper 1 – Educational Program and Practice: An analysis of Quality Area 1 of the National Quality Standard

ACECQA – We Hear You – ACECQA helps unlock the door on documentation

Read the complete series:

Part 1: Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development

Part 2: Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning

Part 3: Closing the loop: Planning, implementing and evaluating

How we document – Albury Out of School Hours

Educator Will Nichols , Tilly Mitchener and other Children votingV2This month, Cathy Northam, Director of Albury Out of School Hours (OOSH) writes about her team’s innovative approach to documentation, reminding us there are many ways to approach this responsibility.

My colleagues and I had a light bulb moment when we sat down to review the documentation policy for our service. We felt the diverse and transient nature of out of school hours care required a different approach to the documentation framework used in long day care.

We asked ourselves: What does documentation in OOSH look like? Is what we record relevant and how can we improve it?

Once we stopped to think about the ‘how’ and ‘why’, we were able to identify a method of documentation that works for our children and their families.

At Albury OOSH we have a strong focus on respecting children’s rights, particularly a child’s right to have an opinion and be heard, and a child’s right to privacy. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child underpins our work and we consult with both children and families on documentation requirements.

Children at Albury OOSH can choose how to document their time here and if they don’t want to participate in projects, they are free to tell us. We do this by formal discussions, conference and democratic voting. These processes allow the children’s voices to be heard.

So, how do we meet our NQF requirements and honour our children’s rights? This is a question that we continue to think hard about as we change, refine and develop new ways of encouraging children’s growth while ensuring we document our own journey and show the meaningful collaboration, documentation and reflective practice.

Our approach

Taking a holistic view of each child and what they bring to OOSH is fundamental in how we support them. Our current documentation process consists of the following practices:

  • Use of a staff-only diary that documents significant events for individual children each day. This usually relates to social and emotional development. Each Friday we discuss the entries of three or four children and work on consistent strategies for the team and individual child. We also focus on opportunities for “teachable moments” as outlined in My Time Our Place. We’ve found this helps us in communicating with families around how to support their child.
  • Once or twice a term we document a learning story (as described in the My Time Our Place Educators’ Guide). These are written in collaboration with the child and are a significant piece of documentation. We try to select and reflect something that has made educators and parents go ‘wow’. One example is the invention and self-umpiring of group games that the children run themselves. Another example is the ‘Welcome to OOSH’ Video Project. Read more about our video project below.
  • Our weekly reflective diary documents the children’s experiences from the week in text and photo form, linking to the Outcomes in My Time Our Place. An example is documenting the children in Year 5 supporting and playing with our new Kindergarten children. This may be the only thing we reflect for the week, but over a term we cover all the outcomes and most of the children.
  • Each year we have two celebrations that our children help organise – winter solstice and an end of year performance. The children plan and direct these events with our support. We document these events in a variety of ways, using art work, invitations, notices and video.

We also have art work, messages, projects and other historical works of the children displayed at our service. When they walk into Albury OOSH, children and families can see their changing lives reflected in our space.

If there is one last idea that may help other educators, it’s to reflect deeply on how and why you do things and note the children’s ideas and interests. Every service is unique. Remember to listen to the children’s opinions on what they feel is acceptable and how you can best document their time. If you can do this, then you will aid the success of your documentation plan.

Case Study: Welcome to OOSH video project

Cathy shares a learning story that captures the children’s creativity and develops their connection to Albury OOSH. 

The biggest project for the children has been the development of an orientation video to introduce new children to the service. We felt the children who start with us mid-year often receive less of an orientation experience than those who start at the beginning of the year.

Our Year 4 girls expressed a keen interest in drama and acting activities and were keen to get involved. They drafted a script and story board for how they saw the video working. They asked the other children what they thought was the most important thing to know ‘child to child’ about coming to OOSH.

The video covered everything that the girls scripted and a lot more. Overall, we recorded more than an hour of footage.

The children were very excited to see themselves in the video. They made small changes to make it more appealing to the target audience and everyone was amazed with the product.

The project supported the children’s interest in drama and video production, and linked to Outcome 4 in the Framework for School Age Care (page 32). Children were able to freely follow their interests, investigate their own ideas, take control and make their own choices. They demonstrated leadership and direction, and persevered with the task until they were satisfied with the finished product.