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Saturday, 17 October 2015

Documenting Thinking

Visible Thinking (VT) routines open so many doors in an Early Years classroom. As educators of very young children, the simplicity of the VT routines enables us a variety of allowances. The most obvious; we find out what they know and want to know right now, so we can plan what we will learn next. The inquiry is created by students prior knowledge (and curricular structures), and framed by the teacher (this idea is developed in A Pedagogy of Listening, Fyfe and Forman, The 100 Languages of Children). The VT routine allows access to their thoughts in a structure that teaches them and makes explicit various thinking dispositions.

One of the challenges we find in an Early Years setting is that our children are (for the most part) pre-literate. In a class of older children, you can give a piece of paper, ask them to reflect and record their thinking, and then review and look for patterns. It can be done as a whole class, or independently. You can do front loading with homework (watch this video at home, reflect in your journal, etc).

In an Early Years class, this is more challenging. True, we can use drawing and pictures, but the meaning and deeper thinking is often lost during the process of drawing. As Early Years educators, we usually adopt the strategy of scribe, writing down their thinking. This is challenging when doing a whole class activity as the ideas come so quickly at this age. Keeping up is hard with the thinking of 5 year old is not easy to do, especially a whole class. We don't always have the human resources to keep up with smaller group work.

We found that during our SEE THINK WONDER and THINK PUZZLE EXPLORE sessions with our 5 year olds, we (teacher and assistant teacher) were focused wholly on recording and documenting their thinking. We found that we weren't being PRESENT, or IN THE MOMENT.

We decided to try something different, to set constrains on ourselves to open new possibilities. The new rule was simple; during the thinking routine, write nothing. Be present and involved. An active participant.

What we discovered:

- it was far more enjoyable for us!
- we were able to probe their thinking, to go deeper and ask follow up questions, get to ideas that were hiding below the surface
- we remembered the important bits, the big misconceptions, the interesting ideas; they spoke for themselves, we did not NEED to write them down until after when we debriefed (this, we think, is essential)
- the children were more engaged with each others thinking, not just their own; when we probe and ask follow up questions, other children jump in and share their thoughts on that idea, rather than just waiting their turn to share their idea; they were participating in academic discourse around thinking
- it was more interactive, children talking to each other, disagreeing with each other, etc.

This is not something we would do all the time, only occasionally, and possibly at the beginning of an inquiry. We are still working out when each method is appropriate.

To document, or not to document?

There is great value in recording thinking and documenting ideas as they happen. But we need to balance both approaches. Finally, the follow up debrief is essential. As a teaching team, we need to be communicating with each other, recording our impressions, and thinking of how we can frame the next step in the learning journey.


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