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

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

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

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

Cycle of planning

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

What is meant by an ongoing cycle of planning?

Children and adults alike are ongoing learners and we all develop and learn in different ways. The cycle of planning helps educators to purposefully support children’s continual learning and design meaningful learning opportunities.

The Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework and the Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care recommend that the curriculum/program decision making process be a cycle of:

  • information gathering
  • questioning
  • planning
  • acting
  • reflecting

Educators create learning opportunities by challenging and extending a child’s current learning and development. To do this, an educator must first gather evidence which involves observing and meaningfully documenting knowledge of the child’s current learning. The learning frameworks, National Quality Standard and regulations are not prescriptive about how documenting should be done. But it does need to be meaningful, relevant and helpful in making children’s learning visible.

Educators then question how they can use the evidence gathered. The practices, principles and learning outcomes in the frameworks can be helpful in guiding how educators further plan the environment, resources, teaching strategies and effective ways to monitor and assess children’s learning.

Further reading and resources

Educators Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework pp. 10- 13
Educators guide to the Framework for School Age Care pp. 11-20
Early Years Learning Framework, pp.9–19
Framework for School Age Care, pp. 5- 18
Department of Education and Children’s Services South Australia. Reflect Respect Relate
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Early Years Learning Framework in Action, Stories 13 and 31.
PSC National Alliance. How to Series.Effective Curriculum Planning and Documentation Methods in Education and Care Services
Early Childhood Australia. National Quality Standard (NQS) Professional Learning Program e-newsletter 57. Planning the program
Children’s Services Central, et al.What’s pedagogy anyway: Using pedagogical documentation to engage with the Early Years Learning Framework.
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority.VCAA Early Years Exchange includes a template for using the ongoing cycle of planning.