ERIC Identifier: ED393608
Publication Date: 1996-04-00
Author: Katz, Lilian G. - Chard, Sylvia C.
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
The Contribution of Documentation to the Quality of Early
Childhood Education. ERIC Digest.
The municipal preprimary schools in the northern Italian city of Reggio
Emilia have been attracting worldwide attention for more than a decade. The
reasons are many and have been discussed by a number of observers and visitors
(see Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1993, and Katz & Cesarone, 1994.) While
interest in what is now called the "Reggio Emilia Approach" is focused on many
of its impressive features, perhaps its unique contribution to early childhood
education is the use of the documentation of children's experience as a standard
part of classroom practice.
Documentation, in the forms of observation of children and extensive
recordkeeping, has long been encouraged and practiced in many early childhood
programs. However, compared to these practices in other traditions,
documentation in Reggio Emilia focuses more intensively on children's
experience, memories, thoughts, and ideas in the course of their work.
Documentation practices in Reggio Emilia preprimary schools provide inspiring
examples of the importance of displaying children's work with great care and
attention to both the content and aesthetic aspects of the display.
Documentation typically includes samples of a child's work at several
different stages of completion; photographs showing work in progress; comments
written by the teacher or other adults working with the children; transcriptions
of children's discussions, comments, and explanations of intentions about the
activity; and comments made by parents. Observations, transcriptions of
tape-recordings, and photographs of children discussing their work can be
included. Examples of children's work and written reflections on the processes
in which the children engaged can be displayed in classrooms or hallways. The
documents reveal how the children planned, carried out, and completed the
It seems to us that high-quality documentation of children's work and ideas
contributes to the quality of an early childhood program in at least six ways.
1. ENHANCEMENT OF CHILDREN'S LEARNING
Documentation can contribute to the extensiveness and depth of children's
learning from their projects and other work. As Loris Malaguzzi points out,
through documentation children "become even more curious, interested, and
confident as they contemplate the meaning of what they have achieved"
(Malaguzzi, 1993, p. 63). The processes of preparing and displaying
documentaries of the children's experience and effort provides a kind of
debriefing or re-visiting of experience during which new understandings can be
clarified, deepened, and strengthened. Observation of the children in Reggio
Emilia preprimary classes indicates that children also learn from and are
stimulated by each other's work in ways made visible through the documents
The documentation of the children's ideas, thoughts, feelings, and reports
are also available to the children to record, preserve, and stimulate their
memories of significant experiences, thereby further enhancing their learning
related to the topics investigated. In addition, a display documenting the work
of one child or of a group often encourages other children to become involved in
a new topic and to adopt a representational technique they might use. For
example, Susan and Leroy had just done a survey of which grocery stores in town
are patronized by the families of their classmates. When Susan wanted to make a
graph of her data, she asked Jeff about the graph displayed of his survey about
the kinds of cereal their class ate for breakfast. With adult encouragement,
children can be resourceful in seeking the advice of classmates when they know
about the work done by the other children throughout the stages of a project.
2. TAKING CHILDREN'S IDEAS AND WORK SERIOUSLY
Careful and attractive documentary displays can convey to children that their
efforts, intentions, and ideas are taken seriously. These displays are not
intended primarily to serve decorative or show-off purposes. For example, an
important element in the project approach is the preparation of documents for
display by which one group of children can let others in the class working on
other aspects of the topic learn of their experience and findings. Taking
children's work seriously in this way encourages in them the disposition to
approach their work responsibly, with energy and commitment, showing both
delight and satisfaction in the processes and the results.
3. TEACHER PLANNING AND EVALUATION WITH CHILDREN
One of the most salient features of project work is continuous planning based
on the evaluation of work as it progresses. As the children undertake complex
individual or small group collaborative tasks over a period of several days or
weeks, the teachers examine the work each day and discuss with the children
their ideas and the possibilities of new options for the following days.
Planning decisions can be made on the basis of what individual or groups of
children have found interesting, stimulating, puzzling, or challenging.
For example, in an early childhood center where the teachers engage
weekly--and often daily as well--in review of children's work, they plan
activities for the following week collaboratively, based in part on their
review. Experiences and activities are not planned too far in advance, so that
new strands of work can emerge and be documented. At the end of the morning or
of the school day, when the children are no longer present, teachers can reflect
on the work in progress and the discussion which surrounded it, and consider
possible new directions the work might take and what suggestions might support
the work. They can also become aware of the participation and development of
each individual child. This awareness enables the teacher to optimize the
children's chances of representing their ideas in interesting and satisfying
ways. When teachers and children plan together with openness to each other's
ideas, the activity is likely to be undertaken with greater interest and
representational skill than if the child had planned alone, or the teacher had
been unaware of the challenge facing the child. The documentation provides a
kind of ongoing planning and evaluation that can be done by the team of adults
who work with the children.
4. PARENT APPRECIATION AND PARTICIPATION
Documentation makes it possible for parents to become intimately and deeply
aware of their children's experience in the school. As Malaguzzi points out,
documentation "introduces parents to a quality of knowing that tangibly changes
their expectations. They reexamine their assumptions about their parenting roles
and their views about the experience their children are living, and take a new
and more inquisitive approach toward the whole school experience" (Malaguzzi,
1993, p. 64).
Parents' comments on children's work can also contribute to the value of
documentation. Through learning about the work in which their children are
engaged, parents may be able to contribute ideas for field experiences which the
teachers may not have thought of, especially when parents can offer practical
help in gaining access to a field site or relevant expert. In one classroom a
parent brought in a turkey from her uncle's farm after she learned that the
teacher was helping the children grasp what a real live turkey looked like.
The opportunity to examine the documentation of a project in progress can
also help parents to think of ways they might contribute their time and energy
in their child's classroom. There are many ways parents can be involved:
listening to children's intentions, helping them find the materials they need,
making suggestions, helping children write their ideas, offering assistance in
finding and reading books, and measuring or counting things in the context of
5. TEACHER RESEARCH AND PROCESS AWARENESS
Documentation is an important kind of teacher research, sharpening and
focusing teachers' attention on children's plans and understandings and on their
own role in children's experiences. As teachers examine the children's work and
prepare the documentation of it, their own understanding of children's
development and insight into their learning is deepened in ways not likely to
occur from inspecting test results. Documentation provides a basis for the
modification and adjustment of teaching strategies, and a source of ideas for
new strategies, while deepening teachers' awareness of each child's progress. On
the basis of the rich data made available through documentation, teachers are
able to make informed decisions about appropriate ways to support each child's
development and learning.
The final product of a child's hard work rarely makes possible an
appreciation of the false starts and persistent efforts en- tailed in the work.
By examining the documented steps taken by children during their investigations
and representational work, teachers and parents can appreciate the uniqueness of
each child's construction of his or her experience, and the ways group efforts
contribute to their learning.
6. CHILDREN'S LEARNING MADE VISIBLE
Of particular relevance to American educators, documentation provides
information about children's learning and progress that cannot be demonstrated
by the formal standardized tests and checklists we commonly employ. While U.S.
teachers often gain important information and insight from their own first-hand
observations of children, documentation of the children's work in a wide variety
of media provides compelling public evidence of the intellectual powers of young
children that is not available in any other way that we know of.
The powerful contribution of documentation in
these six ways is possible because children are engaged in absorbing, complex,
interesting projects worthy of documentation. If, as is common in many
traditional classrooms around the world, a large proportion of children's time
is devoted to making the same pictures with the same materials about the same
topic on the same day in the same way, there would be little to document which
would intrigue parents and provide rich content for teacher-parent or
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Gandini L. (1993). Educational and
Caring Spaces. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, and G. Forman, THE HUNDRED LANGUAGES
CHILDREN: THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH TO EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. ED 355 034.
Katz, L. G. (1995). TALKS WITH TEACHERS OF YOUNG CHILDREN: A COLLECTION.
Norwood, NJ: Ablex. ED 380 232.
Katz, L. G., and S.C. Chard. (1989). ENGAGING CHILDREN'S MINDS: THE PROJECT
APPROACH. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Katz, L. G., and B. Cesarone, Eds. (1994). REFLECTIONS ON THE REGGIO EMILIA
APPROACH. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education. ED 375 986.
Malaguzzi, L. (1993). History, Ideas, and Basic Philosophy. In C. Edwards, L.
Gandini, and G. Forman, THE HUNDRED LANGUAGES OFCHILDREN: THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH TO EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. ED 355 034.
Rabitti, G. (1992). Preschool at "La Villetta." Unpublished Master of Arts
thesis, University of Illinois, Urbana.