How Can We See Thinking?
Making children's thinking visible to themselves and others: how is this possible? Thinking is invisible, true. But, in the same way we recognize the wind in leaves rustling, we can recognize thinking in children's play and explorations. Their thinking about balance becomes visible when we observe their various and creative attempts to balance the three-foot tall scale on the playground. Their thinking about perspective becomes visible when they draw their own magnetile structure on paper. Their thinking about real versus pretend becomes visible when they engage in deep discussion about why it is acceptable to push wooden dolls through their block-built "shredder" - because "they are not real people!"
Because seeing (and making visible to others) children's thinking is our passion, we spend a great deal of time listening to them, photographing their explorations, writing down their conversations with each other. Reggio Emilia educators call these observational activities documentation. We literally make a document of the children's individual and group thinking throughout the course of their time at Wildflower Preschool & Kindergarten.
Documentation is also a living record of children's thinking and development. It is not assessment, although by making children's thinking visible, we can begin to see their learning and theories at work. Documentation is, above all, an essential path in helping children redeem their rightful place as citizens of the world, as competent beings full of ideas and as self-directed learners.
Documentation includes photographs, transcripts of conversations, drawings and other art endeavors, and audio/video recordings of children at play. Teachers share this documentation with children, parents and other educators. This sharing and reflecting upon documentation is the process by which children come to be seen in the world.
How Do We Show Thinking?
Margaret Wise Brown once wrote The Important Book, a children's book about noticing and discerning. At Wildflower Preschool & Kindergarten, mindful presence with the children on a daily basis allows teachers to observe and notice the children. In doing so, we discover their thinking, curiosities, inquiries and theories about the world. We document these discoveries in a variety of ways: portfolio boxes, Shutterfly Sites, Classroom images, and Shutterfly digital portfolios - one for each child and one for the class community
Every student at the preschool receives a portfolio box that belongs only to him/her. This box is home to all manner of creations designed by the child. Children at times will request to add something to the box, view the box's contents or take a specific piece of art out to continue working on it.
Another tool we use is Shutterfly Sites, a safe and secure online sharing site for schools and parents. Using Shutterfly Sites, Wildflower teachers are able to communicate with families, providing photos and text of their children's activities in a story form.
Classroom images placed at a level the children can view is an ideal way to help them (and their families) see their competence, reflect on their explorations and tell stories about their past activities.