Slow pedagogical approaches through children’s documentation

Project author:

Project summary:

This study looks at children’s autonomy within the planning processes and how we enable children to document and reflect on their own learning.

Introduction

The purpose of this inquiry project was to deepen my learning and thinking around the importance of children’s autonomy within the documentation processes within our ELC. This project looks at what ways children have autonomy throughout the planning processes and how practitioners enable children to revisit and be aware of what they had learned. This enquiry matters because children should not only be leading but also reflecting and being involved in the documentation processes. This project takes into account different literature and methodology to provoke thinking and self-evaluation conversations amongst myself and the staff team to enact transformational change to improve outcomes for children.

Context

As a centre we are continuing to develop our Froebelian practice and upskilling of all staff on Froebelian knowledge, this is to ensure there is a shared vision amongst the whole staff team and Froebelian principles are embedded throughout all practice.  At Bonnypark our image of the child views children as unique, capable, curious learners and our pedagogy and curriculum reflects this completely. However as a full staff team we identified that our planning processes contradicted this as children never documented their own learning and very rarely revisited what they had previously learned. It became apparent that children were involved in the learning experiences, which stemmed from their interests  however staff were writing up what they would refer to as ‘my planning ’ during their non-contact time which resulted in children having no involvement in the documentation of their own learning. We reflected and identified that Froebelian principles were embedded in our day to day practice and interactions with children however our planning processes, at the beginning of this project, were not.  To ensure there was unity and connectedness to the learning experiences and then the documentation of them it was vital that children were involved in these processes.

Firstly to gather qualitative and quantitative data I had to arrange a focus group and schedule in meetings. The participants for the focus group had to be carefully considered ensuring there was a combination of staff across both rooms that consisted of a different range of skill sets and knowledge. I then scheduled meetings with the focus group which consisted of 5 participants, this enabled me to gain insight, through questions, the views which the staff had on children’s involvement in planning (see appendix 1). I then sent out anonymous questionnaires through Microsoft forms to the whole staff team to gain further data and insight. It was apparent that a change needed to be made in regards to children’s involvement in the documentation process and to achieve this successfully the whole team needed to be on board. This led to full team meetings which included self-evaluation conversations and the sharing of knowledge to upskill staff. I then carried out observations on both staff and children to gather quantitative data on the impact of this project.

Ethics

It was my responsibility as the researcher to act ethically throughout the research project to ensure the participants are met with a duty of care standard. It was necessary to ensure participants were kept fully informed and knew that they had access to all the appropriate information concerning them and their co-operation in this research project. It was of equal importance that the process must not damage them or cause any harm, and confidentiality, privacy, and data protection must all be upheld. To ensure these standards were met I received informed consent verbally from all participants within the focus group and participants understood their rights to withdraw from the research at any stage. I had an understanding that if using photographic or video evidence of children that I would have to receive written consent from their parent/guardian

“Children learn best by doing things for themselves and from becoming more aware of their own learning” – Froebel

Findings

This project inquiry enabled me as a practitioner to be an active learner and to take the lead within this project. This was done through leading focus groups, challenging thinking and discussions at staff meetings and then analysing research.
The project initially began by observing children’s involvement in the planning and documentation processes and then gathering the perspectives of staff through the focus group meetings. The focus group were asked questions in relation to children’s current involvement in the planning processes (findings can be seen in appendix 1) where it became apparent that 0% of children purposefully used the previous planning books to revisit and reflect on their learning. In line with our image of the child and Froebelian principles we had identified that children were capable of being the authors of their own learning, they just required freedom with guidance from knowledgeable, nurturing educators to enable them to be involved in this process. In order for children to be fully involved in the planning processes the focus group identified that the planning books had to be accessible to children, this then led to the planning books being changed in size to allow children to access them more freely. With the planning books being changed it was paramount that there was then a shared vision amongst the whole staff team to ensure staff knew the rationale behind the new planning books. Through team meetings I was able to share my project and knowledge with staff and also challenge staff narratives on planning being “their planning” as opposed to the children’s. This then led into self-reflection as a team on the importance of children being involved in these processes and having a slow approach when documenting learning to allow children the time to be involved and to reflect. This also ensured that staff were knowledgeable and able to inspire and encourage children to be authors of their own learning through the documentation processes. To cultivate leadership of change and leadership at all levels staff were given autonomy over how they wished to revisit and document the learning with children and how they encouraged children to take the lead within this. Through a further meeting with the focus group (see appendix 2) and through observing interactions within the play room there is now a reciprocal relationship between child and practitioner, where children are enabled and seen as capable authors of their learning. Children are now involved in the whole learning experience as they plan, lead, document and evaluate learning experiences, this in turn provides unity and connectedness to our pedagogical approach.

Conclusion

This project enabled our whole team to see the real importance of slowing down their approach in regards to documentation and how we as a staff team could enable children to make and document their own curriculum and learning. We now have a shared vision as a whole staff team surrounding children’s involvement in the documentation process and feel that children are now authors of their own learning. Children now experience freedom with guidance from skilled staff who use effective open ended questioning and discussions to enable children to revisit, record and document their own learning in a variety of unique ways. This project will continue to be developed, evaluated and strengthened over time with both staff and children through an adaptable, Froebelian approach.

Research implications

This research within this practitioner inquiry course came at the most opportune time for our centre as we were continuing our ongoing improvement work around embedding Froebelian Principled Practice. This research enabled us to continue to develop our Froebelian culture in a realistic and natural way and gave a real opportunity for inclusion and citizenship. This project enhanced our Froebelian thinking and Froebelian pedagogy. As a large setting, we had 20% of the workforce who were Froebelian certified through the Froebel in Childhood Practice Course. We envisioned though our improvement processes, that we would increase and deepen other practitioner knowledge and understanding of Froebelian principles. This practitioner inquiry enabled the lead practitioner to use the work within the focus groups to build on practitioner understanding and support our child-centred pedagogy. This enabled rich exchanges of dialogue between practitioners which supported the growing recognition of children’s rights and their autonomy. As a centre, there has always been a strong focus on leadership at all levels. However, this inquiry enabled the researcher to be an active learner and participate in the project, learning alongside myself, their colleagues, and the children.

This project enabled autonomy not only for children but practitioners and was underpinned by an ideology of children leading their own learning, reflecting on their own learning and being authors of their learning. The project enabled our whole team and setting to reflect on their time and being in the moment with children and how important that is. It enabled practitioners to see the positive impact of being slow in our documentation processes with children and how valuable it is to children for them to be the leader within that. The researcher was able to upskill the other practitioners within the team and challenge the narrative of “their planning”. Through practitioner research and rich dialogue, we acknowledged that planning and documentation of their learning, was in fact theirs. The learning and documentation was about them and they had the right to their autonomy to lead the documentation process and revisit what they had learned.

The findings of this research project have shaped our self-evaluation conversations around our curriculum planning, our learning teaching and assessment processes and securing children’s progress. We continue to reflect on our curriculum rational and policy for the centre and challenge what autonomy looks like within our Froebelian setting. Our early learning and childcare sector within our authority continues to engage in Froebelian courses and literature to enact transformational change for children. We have a strong network of Froebelian trained practitioners and I would like our local authority to continue to showcase and celebrate Froebelian practitioners work around projects they have led. There is opportunity within our sector to continue to enrich and grow our current Froebelian family. My immediate plan moving forward would be to continue to build on childrens autonomy but also to empower other practitioners to engage in future Froebel in Childhood Practice courses and practitioner inquiry courses.

Practitioner enquiry

I believe that the most successful settings are the ones who choose to invest in practitioner and professional inquiry. This enables a service to be a reflective one, which focuses on the value and capacity of its practitioners, who continue to strive for improvement to support best outcomes for children. Being a leader on this project has enabled me to see the value and impact that the practitioner has placed on children’s rights and the impact the project has already had within the setting. The practitioner demonstrated her unwavering belief of Froebelian principles, and it refocused the settings thinking in terms of living and embodying the principles within practice. Moving forward, I believe more inquiry can be undertaking in relation to children’s autonomy within documentation to continue to enhance the service we provide for children. As a service I would continue to support more practitioners to undertake this practitioner inquiry course in the coming sessions . I would also welcome our authority Froebelian network to showcase locally the projects that were undertaken to share others successes and learning.

Leadership learning

Being the supportive leader on this Practitioner Inquiry course, I have learned how impactful it is to embody and lead with relational pedagogy and relational leadership. I have learned that as a fellow Froebelian we are continually learning, continually connecting our research and views, and continually connecting with one another to enact transformational ideas and projects. This programme has enabled me to enrich the experiences of children within the ELC Centre by supporting the practitioner in her chosen project to challenge the thinking and conversation about children’s autonomy and their right to not only lead their own learning, but being an author of their learning and leading the documentation process. I have learned how to support and guide the practitioner within her methodolody and research. On reflection I have identified I should have been more time sensitive and built in more scheduled and protected time with the practitioner Through this Practitioner Inquiry I have learned that sustainability is key and time cannot be placed on the projects “end”. Our research and reflection on curriculum development and documentation with children will continue beyond this course, which will enable continued reflective research around children’s rights and their continued autonomy.

Author and role

Chelsey McClurg, Head of Centre

Comments from other network members

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

  1. Donna Green
    Donna Green
    16 May 2023 at 2:26 pm

    Wonderful to see how your practitioner inquiry provoked reflection around children’s participation of the documentation process and how the element of slow pedagogy enabled a deeper understanding of what this process means to children. Love this…“children are now the authors of their own learning” well done, fabulous Froebelian practice.


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  2. Karin Leitch
    Karin Leitch
    27 May 2023 at 10:57 pm

    Including children in evaluating and documenting their own learning is something I am sure we would all like to reflect on. This a great project that shows the importance of including everyone in this process and carrying out the research as a team. This will enable children to have ownership of their learning and value their own contributions. Thank you for sharing,


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  3. Ashleigh Leyden
    Ashleigh Leyden
    28 May 2023 at 10:29 am

    Great to see your children being involved in planning their own learning and the team all coming together for a shared vision.


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  4. Lynette Wilson
    Lynette Wilson
    31 May 2023 at 6:42 pm

    Fantastic to read how you involved your children to be active participants in documenting their own learning and connecting that with the opportunity to revisit their learning. That it’s an open ended process that doesn’t have to stop when the adult decides. Well done


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  5. Kelly Cameron
    Kelly Cameron
    06 Jun 2023 at 12:28 pm

    Amazing to see how involved the children became in documenting and revisiting their learning.


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  6. Ashleigh Gunn
    Ashleigh Gunn
    12 Jun 2023 at 7:27 pm

    Great project, it is lovely to see that your learners are involved in planning and documenting their own learning. It is clear that the principle ‘freedom with guidance’ is embedded within your setting.


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  7. Lee-Anne Harper
    Lee-Anne Harper
    13 Jun 2023 at 2:53 pm

    Really enjoyed reading your findings and just how involved the children became in the planning process.


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