By CELA on 14 Jan, 2018

Sarah Riddell, early childhood teacher and blogger, returns to Amplify with this consideration of technology in documentation. While some in the sector remain vexed about the use of image captures for documenting children’s learning stories, Sarah takes a strongly practical approach and examines how educators could make technology work harder for them. With most of us walking around with better video equipment tucked inside our phones than a TV news crew possessed two decades ago, Sarah looks at video, pulls apart the problems and benefits of written documentation and proposes a meaning-rich approach which combines both words and moving images.

Written expectations

In the past, when people made the decision to invest in a career of early childhood education, they were expected to write some anecdotal observations, like a timeline here and there, and to capture a certain number of running records.

Since the introduction of the national quality framework (NQF) in 2012 (2013 in WA), educators are required to document children’s progress in a more meaningful and accessible way through learning stories.

Technology has a significant influence within this documentation process and, specifically, the photography tools and software we now use to capture still images.

In the past, a a service would rarely consider using video unless it was developing a marketing campaign for a particular event or to increase attention for its  business video. It was still an important and influential piece of media but the cost of professional videography and even home video equipment was beyond most service budgets.

This perspective has shifted. Almost all of us carry in our pockets or backpacks a handheld device capable of capturing better quality still and video images than professionals could manage two decades ago. The fact that we’ve embraced the change is shown through the increasing presence of videos across the various social media platforms. But, how can educators use this media as a strategy to enhance their observations?

Not everyone is a writer

As we know through our work with children, everyone is an individual. This means that we can acknowledge that some people have strengths in areas that others face with difficulty.

When we ask educators to capture observations to analyse children’s learning and development, we can assume a great deal about their ability to do so. Documentation is a clear responsibility if you choose to be an early childhood educator, after all, yet it doesn’t come easily to all of us.

As technology increases its presence in our lives and workplaces, it is becoming easier to see how video can be used as an element to helping capture information about children in the busy play environment.

Let’s face it, not everyone can make quick, accurate, post-it sized notes for each child’s learning story. Whether it’s about literacy, organisational skills or concentration, some people are less able to capture children’s information in written form than others.   Even those who are good at written notes tend to wind up with a week’s worth of jottings in the back of a notebook, waiting for their release time to try and reconstruct their thoughts.

In this context, video is both an alternate documentation tool for reluctant writers, and a memory saver for all of us. As much as we try to think we are good at remembering the bits in between our post-it note jottings, there is always something significant that we miss.

Can documentation differences affect children’s learning?

The goal of utilising digital technology in this sense is to reduce the stress that many educators experience when they set out to capture observations on their children.

Why this stress affects some more than others can be the result of various circumstances, changing between individuals and contexts on a regular basis.

Like we said earlier, some educators find it easy to write an observation down on paper while sitting alongside the play they are observing. Others need to take themselves out of the room for a few minutes to quickly note the thought down without the noise in the background.

Some find sleep or quieter times perfect for them to piece together their significant moments from the day. Others require visual reminders and longer blocks of time to unpack and craft these same moments in time.

With so much variance in the skill of writing observations, is there a gap in our interpretations and planning that we miss because we are overloaded with the stress of having to write the initial observation?

A major stress is the balancing act:  trying to convey as much information as possible for the reader, yet not too much because we also only need to convey what is necessary and significant.

Let’s also consider the writing barriers faced by some adult learners – present in every employment sector. This also means there is a big question about whether having to write is the best option to maintaining quality educational outcomes for our children.

Make video work for you

If video takes the pressure off to write about learning and development in the busy play environment, educators can really pull apart what it is they are observing.

Video isn’t a way of shirking documentation. The analysis of learning captured in a video requires the same amount of written work as needed had the observation been written by hand. Yet, educators may find it much easier to articulate why they captured a piece of video, taking comfort in knowing that you (the reader) will more easily understand the meaning of their written words by combining them with the moving image.

When video is added to a reflection, there is no pressure to write up the full context, and the description of functional movements and skills can be easily shared.

For example, it is much easier to show than to write about the positioning of a child’s elbow as they attempt to write their name on a piece of paper, or how a toddler manipulated small pieces of lego between their index finger and thumb with precision.

Descriptions of movements can require a vocabulary that many educators are continuing to build professionally, but is documentation time the best way for educators to improve this skill?

Working with babies

The cues that babies express often occur quickly and because of a particular environment. This can make capturing their learning difficult because you need to be detailed with your language to paint a picture of how the event occurred. By the time this is done, educators may be mentally drained and lose the focus and drive that is required to analyse the learning that just occurred.

Using video as an observation tool helps educators working with babies to analyse their development because we miss so much of our babies attempts to connect with their world. A simple head turn can often be overlooked for the ‘cooing’ sounds that might have followed when we are using writing as the only method for observing. A playback of this type of example would put emphasis on the cooing in context with what occurred beforehand.

Collaboration tool

Video observations don’t take the place of written observations, but they can offer educators greater opportunities to think more critically about the children’s development.

For services who use mentoring programs or for those educators who like to talk out their observations with a colleague, video pieces can be much more significant to improving the skills of the educator.

Working with others to analyse children’s engagement in your programs? What a great way to build the professional learning community within your service.

Meet the author

Sarah Riddell

My name is Sarah Riddell and I have worked within the early childhood profession for 12 years. In this time I have progressively attained my qualifications, from a trainee doing my Certificate III to my university degree in early childhood education. I have a dedication towards trauma informed care and practice within an early childhood context and with this passion I seek to advocate for the inclusion of all children. With this passion i like to drive innovative solutions in attempts to enhance the outcomes of children in my care. Additionally, empowering educators to develop toolkits of success that sees them feel more comfortable in supporting the developmental needs of their children. My number one goal in my career at the moment is to share my knowledge and bring value to those in the early childhood profession.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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