Documenting Young Children’s Learning Through a Froebelian Lens

Considering the documentation of children’s learning in a play based P1 setting

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

An observational study to discover how to support children’s ownership and documentation of their own learning within a Primary 1 play-based classroom setting.

Child shows off drawing of fish

Introduction

This project considers Froebel’s principle of ‘autonomous learners’ which states, “Children learn best by doing things for themselves and from becoming more aware of their own learning.” (Froebel Trust, n.d.). Therefore, this project is seeking to ultimately support learner autonomy and ownership in the documentation of their own learning. Despite using Seesaw journals effectively to electronically share their learning and creativity with parents (video, photos, drawing, voice recording), my purpose with this project was to also have tangible, visual evidence of the children’s learning in class for them to readily access, reflect on, use, and show. Encouraging and supporting children to reflect is, as mentioned in the Froebelian Principles, a core component of a Froebelian education (Froebel Trust, n.d.).

Previously, the mindset in classrooms has often been that teachers select children’s work to display, and I wanted to move away from this. I aimed to gather pupil voice and views on how they wanted to document learning and what area(s) of learning it is they wanted to highlight. The hope was to equip children to be able to then manage this independently.

This project also took into account related literature in this field such as the Froebel Trust ‘Guidance for Practitioners on Digital Documentation’ pamphlet.

Context

Prior to undertaking this project, wall displays were mostly used to display learning. However, this was not always being completed with children in mind, and that rather, these could be deemed as being for the attention of adults. They were also predominantly created by, and the items on display selected by the adults. Additionally, I became aware that children were not showing interest in the displayed materials. Jotters documented children’s learning too but again, this was learning stemming from adult-initiated or led learning tasks.

With this in mind, I wanted to move away from this by including children in the process and allowing them to document learning in the way they decided.

On the other hand, Seesaw journals were being used effectively and independently by children to share their learning and play with their parents. There is a designated place for iPads in the environment and the children could easily access these. Seesaw is user-friendly, and the children use a variety of media to capture whatever they choose. However, there are limitations- there are only 5 iPads between 25 children, and they run out of battery and require time to charge which can be easily forgotten in a busy classroom environment.

Key to this project was realising there is no one best way to document children’s learning and that my setting is unique from others. With this in mind, it was important to not simply attempt a strategy I had seen in another setting or during CPD and expect it to be popular with the children in my setting or to work for us. Therefore, a large part of my project was trial and error. I would introduce various ways of documenting learning and supply children with what they needed. Through gathering children’s voice and observing, I could then reflect on what strategies were purposeful and would continue and which others were not as impactful. Seesaw journals would continue as normal as these are part of our whole school approach.

Due to the time frame for this project, I selected three methods of documentation to try with the children. The first was introducing floor books, the second a display wall where each child has a section with their photo and name to display learning of their choice, and the third was a ‘say, make, write, do’ wall, which I had seen on CPD which follows the process of following the children’s interest in a specific area e.g., animals.

A tricky element of this project was selecting a number of children to focus on. I did not want to select children who were not showing an active interest. This did prove difficult because interest could be fleeting. I chose the children who were most consistently interested in this project (4 children).

As I got underway with the project, I did make changes. I had planned to create a questionnaire for parents but realised documentation could be an unknown concept to many parents. I also wanted my main focus to remain solely on the children’s voice and ownership. Therefore, I decided to amend this to a next step.

Ethics

In regard to the children, I explained I was doing a project and would need their help. I also shared with them that they did not have to take part if they didn’t want to and could change their mind. For those who showed an interest, and were then selected, I asked them to verbally confirm that they had understood they were taking part in a project and were in agreement with participation. Due to the age of the children this was a verbal yes/no answer to my question.

Additionally, in considering the ethical aspects of this project, I was careful to only take evidence photos of the resource elements used and, if in view, only the profile of the children from the back. I also amended photos to anonymise visible names.

As a gatekeeper for this project, my line manager also completed the necessary ethics form.

“Don’t forget to put our art scrapbook out for parents’ night!”

Child O, age 5

Findings

Wow Wall (Wall display)

When creating this wall for the project, I realised that the vast majority of wall display boards in the school are not located at child height on the wall. This would have been advantageous and allowed the children to put up and take down their own work independently. However, for the time scale of this project, it was not feasible to have this changed. The wall was sectioned into 25 parts and a photo of each child, alongside their name added to each section. I discussed with the class how they wanted to use the wall and what to display. The routine was to simply alert me if they wanted something added (due to the height of the board). Additionally, I explained how I could photocopy a piece of learning too and allocated a folder for them to put the learning in they wanted photocopied. Initially, the wall remained bare for the first week or so but as soon as one child added a piece of work other children soon followed. The children used pegs, so each section became like a miniature flip chart as they added more and more work on top. The children added learning from across the curriculum and their play. By the end of the time frame of this project the vast majority of children had used this wall, with just five pupils without any learning pieces added to the wall. As to be expected, some children used it more than others and had a large portfolio visible on their wall section. With the photocopier being situated far from the P1 area, this option was not visible and therefore not well utilised. It was also not easy to manage from a staffing viewpoint. Despite having some limitations, I felt this method was engaged with and successful.

‘Make, Do, Write, Say’ wall

This idea stemmed from the concept of making the children’s learning and progression through their current interest visual. During the time frame of this project the children were demonstrating an interest in animals and their habitats. This wall was used to gather pupil voice on what they wanted to make (create/build), do (e.g., physically engage in something like an experiment), write (or draw) and say (e.g., ask questions) related to this topic area. As we worked our way through these sections and ideas the children had shared, we added ticks to say we achieved it and photos as evidence of this. It also visualised what we were doing ‘now and next’. Despite the children’s input in creating this and positive feedback from colleagues, I observed very little pupil engagement with this documentation stimulus. It was hoped it may be used for reflection on prior learning, but this was not the case. Therefore, I did not find this an effective documentation strategy with this cohort.

Floor book

An A3 floor book was purchased and introduced to the children as a way of gathering their learning. My idea/assumption was to use this for documenting the children’s current interest, however, this class are particularly artistic and decided they wanted to use the floor book solely to showcase their artwork. Therefore, it became the class art scrapbook. A place in the classroom was designated with a folder containing items the children would need like scissors and glue sticks. They could also store art in the folder if they wanted to stick it in at another time. After some initial support with organising this the children began running this independently. Four children in particular took on a leadership role in this area due to their keen interest (Child O, E, S, and R). I observed them multiple times helping others access the materials and using the floor book more regularly than others. I also observed these four focus children open up the scrap book and look back, reflecting on previous pieces of work. Overall, the children were most enthusiastic and engaged with this method of documentation so I would use this again from the beginning of the year.

Conclusion

Conducting this project has led to a number of realisations. Firstly, in gaining consent from the children, it made me consider how much more I should be seeking and including children’s viewpoints in decision making, within my practise, planning and classroom environment. Secondly, going forward in my practise, I would seek the children’s feedback at the start of the academic year on how they would like to display their learning so that this can be embedded into the routine early on. Moreover, encouraging children to be decision makers throughout the wider school community is something I have shared with my line manager as something to aim for as a next step. Thirdly, this project has reminded me that just because an idea sounds good to an adult does not mean the children will feel the same. It was a stark reminder that the learning is achieved by the children and the documentation should be for them.

Dissemination/Impact Report

Since completing and submitting this project further steps have been undertaken to make sure this work has been widely shared in order for an impact to be felt.

Firstly, the project has been shared with the parents of the class who were involved in this project with me. Feedback was sought and a parent described how they had enjoyed reading the article and that, “it was nice to see the help and support for primary 1 developing more from the kids and amazing also that individual kids get support and recognition for the talent and what they are good at”.

Secondly, the project was shared via e-mail with the whole school staff team, including our ELC. My principal teacher who completed the leadership section of this project with me, encouraged all staff to read it. The project has also kindly been shared throughout the local authority by our Froebel Network on Twitter.

Thirdly, the successful elements of documentation from the project within my classroom (wow-wall and floor book) have been added to the school improvement plan for next academic year (2023-24) and are to be expanded across P1 as a stage.

Finally, I will be staying in P1 next year and hope to take forward what I have learned from undertaking this project.

 

Research implications

Giving learners autonomy and understanding over their own learning, next steps, etc. is not just something focused on by Froebel and in the early years but is in fact core to the Scottish curriculum, Curriculum for Excellence. Therefore, this project is hugely relevant not just in the early years but beyond.

Workload is a huge issue across the early years and the wider school environment, and if documentation is only being created by teachers and EYOs, for adult eyes, then it does not serve the purpose that it set out to serve. Therefore, if we able to successfully have children take ownership over the documentation of their learning, this both supports teachers and practitioners while at the same time ensuring that our young people are more confident and better able talk about their own learning and their successes.

Findings such as most children being engaged with their own wall display, together with the idea that these should be at child height so children can both access it and see it more easily, is something that as a setting, and in particular in the early years, we can try to implement over the coming months more widely. This also means that what is on display for the children is more relevant to them and gives them much more ownership over their own learning space, showing that we value them as individuals and that we are helping them with their independence and confidence.

Nurseries already do floorbooks really well but expanding this into P1 can prove to be really helpful for all P1 classes to do. This can give children something to be really proud of and help them to become more reflective learners, as it would give them something more concrete to show others and look back over at any point. It would also support when families are coming into the setting, as the children are then able to show their learning more effectively and be encouraged to develop the vocabulary of learning, as they would be expected to be able to explain what the learning was that was happening in the photos.

It is interesting, and unfortunate, that there was not much engagement with the ‘make, do, write, say’ wall. Though this was not necessarily a successful way to get children involved in their own learning, going forward it could at least be a helpful way for teachers and practitioners to collect children’s voice and visually display what is being learned now and what is coming up. This could be seen both as an aid as well as a tool to help add structure to the learning of our young children, particularly of those with ASN who require visual aids and more control over what is coming up next.

Practitioner enquiry

Our school and setting as a whole has always placed a lot of value on practitioner research and certainly this project has important messages for P1 and early years around how to document their learning. At our next meeting as an early level I will ensure there is time for these findings to be shared so that this can be enabled to have an impact next year. I hope that across P1 and our ELC next year we will see more evidence of children being actively involved in things such as wall displays and floorbooks that particularly proved to be useful and helpful.

Leadership learning

The key message from this research that I will ensure that I take forward – and share with the rest of our SLT team – is that so often the school in particular can be prone to limiting some pupil voice/engagement activities to older children, such as pupil council. This project reminds us that even the youngest of children are able to express an opinion, get involved in their own learning, and make an impact that shapes their own next steps and our wider school life. Ensuring their views are captured in a way appropriate to them to positively affect their own learning and our school community is something we need to ensure is always happening.

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Ashleigh Leyden
    Ashleigh Leyden
    28 May 2023 at 10:25 am

    Really enjoyed reading your project from a P1 perspective. It is so important having children involved in the journey.


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  2. Donna Green
    Donna Green
    31 May 2023 at 8:43 am

    Wonderful to see how this practitioner inquiry ‘Documenting Young Children’s Learning Through a Froebelian Lens’ has enabled greater autonomy through a rights base lens of valuing childhood in its own right. I like that you have explored this with the children within primary one and how it has unravelled your thoughts in relation to children’s participation and perspectives in the planning process. Good that this has enabled an ethos of learning with the children and them taken ownership and having autonomy where the adult child power balance / imbalance has been explored and reflected upon.
    The questions that are currently coming to mind are:
    What does planning mean to children/ each child?
    In what ways are children’s documentation of learning truly valued?
    How connected and meaningful is the documentation when children have been involved in the process in retrospect of the teacher documenting the learning?


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  3. Lee-Anne Harper
    Lee-Anne Harper
    13 Jun 2023 at 10:42 am

    I really enjoyed reading this inquiry as our nursery, P1 and P2 have started to use some of the approaches you have mentioned. The children love having their own space on the classroom/playroom walls and it has been interesting to hear that your pupils are benefitting from having choice and making decisions about their learning.


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  4. Linsey Hood
    Linsey Hood
    25 Mar 2024 at 5:16 pm

    What a really lovely read. Your project really highlights the power of considering child’s voice in everything you do as a teacher. It was interesting that the children more more engaged with the tangible ‘floorbook.’ I think the digital technology is great and it helps to capture children’s learning and share with parents, however I think your project demonstrates that children are reflective and we should provide them documentation that will help them to revisit their learning.


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