According to Rinaldi (2004) documentation, does not mean to collect documents after the conclusions of experiences with children but during the course of these experiences. It is not about recording memories for archiving but a way to create and maintain the relationships and the experiences. In Reggio, “we think of documentation as an act of caring, an act of love and interaction”. When I think about documentation as an act of love, Rosalba Bortolotti’s documentation of the Tomato Project stands out. The annual tradition of making tomato sauce as a way to build relationships within the community is documented in Beautiful Stuff from Nature: More Learning with Found Materials edited by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini. Rosalba will have her documentation on display at the February 15th, 2020 event. We know that the opportunity for dialogue inspired by the documentation will be rich. Evident from these four examples, are the voices of the children as they theorize and narrate their understanding of the natural world.
When you visit the schools of Reggio Emilia, you are asked not to take photos of the indoor environment, not only to protect children but to prevent others from trying to duplicate in an inauthentic way. As Howard Gardner said in 1997:
I think that it’s a mistake to take any school approach and assume, like a flower, that you can take it from one soil and put it into another one. That never works. This doesn’t mean at all that [we] can’t learn a tremendous amount from it, but we have to reinvent it. … We have to figure out what are the aspects which are most important to us and what kind of soil we need here to make those aspects thrive.
When photos are added there is another layer of documentation to interpret. Photos alone are not enough. Photos with interpretation of learning that includes the voices of the children should provide the teacher with enough data to reflect. The key is to be reflective and to interpret. Take initiative to go beyond making statements that the child enjoyed or had fun during the experience and consider what the child was thinking and what interested the child during the experience being recorded. What was the child curious about?
In some notes on the topic of empathy and belonging, Paterson discusses the way in which the focus is on celebrating the strengths, rather than focusing too much on deficits:
At a time of increased conformity and standardisation in education, I like to offer the Reggio Emilia approach as a different path of possibility. One of Reggio’s key aims is to look at what children can do, rather than what they can’t. In Reggio Emilia schools, children with disabilities receive first priority and full mainstreaming under Italian law. Instead of being labelled “children with special needs” they are labelled “children with special rights.” Every child is seen in terms of the resources and potential they bring, rather than what’s missing.
By messing about and getting messy, teachers learn the value of messy play. They see the potential of open-ended exploration with loose parts indoors and outdoors. Perhaps a belief in the Theory of Messing About will support the reconsideration of “Pinterest Pretty” and “Instagram Beautiful”.
One of the interesting things that I observed through the activity was the storytelling that naturally came out of the activity.
When the wall of old habits and customs is broken down the quest for the possible can begin.
Some simple ways to begin practicing documentation include:
Sharing a short video clip of documentation at the start of class or a meeting by displaying a brief clip and then asking students their thoughts about it. Taking a photo of an especially powerful learning moment to revisit with students by using the classroom walls to display the documentation. Jotting down a provocative or insightful quote from a student to share with the class via speech bubbles on the walls.
What might pedagogies for supporting civic agency look like? How do students investigate civic issues? What are the complexities of gathering information in a networked age? How do students learn to talk across differences, imagine new possibilities, and cultivate skills to develop a social change agenda?