Unit 4: Building a Rich Picture of Children’s Learning

Section 4.1 Introduction

This unit continues to develop the concept of pedagogical documentation as an active, participatory process, and explores a number of key concepts that will support students to grasp the ideas underpinning an emergent and inquiry-based curriculum. Learners will explore ‘relational pedagogy’ and the concept of intersubjectivity as these are associated with our interactions with children, in support of their understanding and thinking. The role of co-constructed knowledge will be evidenced as we explore ‘sustained shared thinking’ and ‘communities of practice’. These two concepts further demonstrate the socio-cultural influence in our thinking about children’s early learning.

Learners will explore aspects of an early years programme that can support this emergent approach to pedagogy. This includes thinking about the environments in which children are present. We also consider methods for displaying and continuing to engage with documentation, and finally, how to develop narrations to continue the sharing and building of learning moments.

Module Learning Outcomes Addressed in this Unit

  • Outline the emerging Irish approach to pedagogy and curriculum development, situating this within a contemporary international context
  • Discuss the concept of co-constructed knowledge, the role of collaboration with stakeholders and the place and various modes of reflection within this approach
  • Apply this concept to recognise new ways of knowing and doing in ECEC as it concerns planning, implementing, assessing and extending the curriculum
  • Assess and demonstrate how to appropriately structure the learning environment to challenge and enhance/enrich children’s thinking
  • Examine the emerging approaches and purposes to documenting children’s learning for various audiences, including colleagues, families, relevant agencies and children themselves

Section 4.2 Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this unit, and the associated activities and readings, you should demonstrate the following learning outcomes:

  • Explain relational pedagogy
  • Describe the concept of intersubjectivity and its relationships to learning and teaching
  • Outline the concept of Sustained Shared Thinking and its underpinning principles
  • Describe aspects of the environment that support an emergent and inquirybased curriculum
  • Outline the important role of parents in the process of co-constructing learning and knowledge in the curriculum planning process

Section 4.3 Pedagogical Documentation as Part of the Early Years Curriculum and Practice Framework

Since 2016, Early Years settings providing the Universal ECCE Scheme have been subjected to the ‘Early Years Education Focused Inspections’ conducted by the Department of Education and Skills. The Quality Framework for Early Years Education (DES, 2017) guides the work of the inspection team and supports practitioners to offer rich early learning opportunities in well-planned environments. The Quality Framework is informed by the principles of Aistear: The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework and Síolta: The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood, and is made up of four specific areas:

  • Area 1 – Quality of the context to support children’s learning and development
  • Area 2 – Quality of the processes to support children’s learning and development
  • Area 3 – Quality of children’s learning experiences and achievements
  • Area 4 – Quality of management and leadership for learning

In Area 2, Outcome 5, the practitioner is asked to consider the extent to which children’s learning is regularly documented to build a rich picture of children’s learning and development (DES, 2017).

Documentation is not just about recording what you see. It is multifaceted, and a valuable process and tool in the context of accountability, embedded in a culture of collaboration and learning together. As an Early Years practitioner, you may have set outcomes for what you want to document and how this information will be used in your curriculum planning. However, it is important to remember that pedagogical documentation is more than a product. It is a way of working, and is reliant on the skills, values and theoretical knowledge of the practitioners to consider how and when to expand and grow new possibilities and opportunities for thinking and learning.

Fleet et al. (2017, p.22) point out that pedagogical documentation is often seen as the ‘wicked problem’. Instead, they urge, it should be viewed as living, inspirational and revelatory. To achieve this, the practice of documentation must consider the following:

  1. The Context – is it meaningful?
  2. Children’s perceptions and perspectives, and the fact that children’s interpretations of their world are wise and often less complicated.
  3. Authentic connectedness and the multiple opportunities to connect the children’s theories and understandings linked to everyday life and social justice issues around fairness and unfairness.
  4. Collaboration and sharing these opportunities with the families and communities.

Learning Activity 4.1

Access the Quality Framework for Early Education in the document available at the link below:


Table 1 on p. 16 sets out the four Areas and 20 relevant Outcomes. Appendix 1 sets out Signposts for Practice. Review these. Now consider the four points from Fleet et al. (2017) above; for each point, connect with the relevant outcomes and signposts of the Quality Framework document; write 100 – 150 words for each of the four points listed by Fleet et al., outlining their connection to the Outcomes and Signposts for Practice.


Reflective Point 4.1

Though designed to guide the EYEF Inspections, the Areas, Outcomes and Signposts for Practice set out in the Quality Framework can guide practice across a variety of age-groups and Early Years settings types, even those that are not part the ECCE Scheme.


Reflecting the perspective of Pelo (2006) presented in Unit 3, Fleet et al. (2017) also describe ‘Documentation as a verb’; they suggest that it means a way of being with children, and it reflects the intentions of the practitioner, underpinned by the vision for learning and the resultant curriculum approach. Not only is it considered active in practice, but it is also a participatory process. Together, the practitioners, with the children and families, represent their stories of the life lived in their community. Fleet et al. (2017) use the concept of a ‘curriculum board’ as a tool to demonstrate this process of collaborative learning, recommending the following defined headings:

  • Community happenings
  • Anti-bias learning
  • Social learning
  • Socio-dramatic play
  • Stories and emerging literacy
  • Art and symbolic representation
  • Sensory knowledge
  • Logic and mathematical

Section 4.4 Relational Pedagogy: The Conscious Educator

Síolta Standard 7 (CECDE, 2006) explains how learning is mediated through warm, complex, responsive, collaborative and reciprocal relationships. The practitioner’s respect and regard for children’s emotional state, by slowing down and adapting or tuning in to how they see the world, is crucial for all children, and particularly for young babies. Each child you work with will bring new questions and interests, and it is how you respond to these that will help the child to make meaningful and real connections between new and prior learning. Meade (2000, p.22) uses the analogy of ‘children’s decision chains’ and explains how a practitioner can use these chains as learning pathways to enable the child’s learning opportunity to become longer and more complex.

Reflective Point 4.2

Watch the following video: ‘The Hundred Languages Illuminated Poem By: Sarah McRoberts’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=174pYUcwn7w&feature=player_embedded


Learning Activity 4.2

The position of power and control that an Early Years Practitioner has in children’s early learning experiences can sometimes be misplaced in practice. Using the following prompts, discuss and debate the reasons why this may occur.

  • Does the practitioner have a clearly defined pedagogy for learning?
  • Does the practitioner understand and feel supported by the principles and standards of good practice?
  • Does the practitioner have a knowledge and understanding of the dynamic processes of how children learn through play?
  • Can the practitioner differentiate and achieve the appropriate balance between adult-initiated and child-initiated learning activities?


4.4.1 Intersubjectivity

The aim of teaching and learning is to create an environment where pedagogical inter-subjectivity can occur. This means that the interactions are the integral element where the practitioner is keenly aware of the level of knowledge and ownership a child has in various situations. Hayes (2007) refers to Bruner (1996) when she describes intersubjectivity as the ability to ‘read other minds’ amidst the process of actively participating in collaborative learning. The detail in the non-verbal and verbal interactions results in both the practitioner and child, or child and child, working together to think about and solve a problem. This process has been termed ‘sustained shared thinking’. It has been found to lead to a deeper level of learning and thinking in young children. The formal definition of sustained shared thinking is ‘when two or more individuals work together in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept or evaluate an activity. Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend the understanding’ (Sylva et al. 2004, p. 5).

Learning Activity 4.3

Log on to Blackboard, go to the learning materials section and access the folder titled: ‘Intersubjectivity’. In this folder you will read about a compelling moment that was shared between Laura, a 10-month-old infant, and her keyperson, Eluccia. This is a documented story from the book, The Diary of Laura by Carolyn Edwards & Carlina Rinaldi.

Reflect on the following:

What are the important interactions that occur between Laura and Eluccia? What makes the difference to this shared learning experience?

As you read further about the principles of sustained shared thinking, below, keep this moment of powerful learning and intersubjectivity in mind; see if these principles resonate in the shared story of Laura.


The following factors are considered Fundamental Principles of Sustained Shared Thinking:

Time to observe and get to know the children and their family: The act of documentation can help practitioners to slow down and read the rhythms of the child. Value is placed highly on getting to know the child and their family and what is meaningful and relevant to them.

The use of language and questions

To create and be engaged in a meaningful moment of interaction and conversation with a child, it is important that the practitioner respect what the child believes is possible and what the child knows already, and their perception of the situation. This invites the practitioner to inquire and to listen closely. Heshusius (1994) describes this as ‘participatory consciousness’. In pedagogical documentation, the practitioner wonders with the child, demonstrating emotional and intellectual empathy. This prompts the question ‘Can we show them what we think they are thinking and let them alter it?’ and is used as a scaffolding technique in the teaching and learning process.

To support sustained shared thinking in day-to-day practice, the practitioner must call upon their knowledge and skills and make use of reflective language and questioning with the children. Often referred to as ‘provocations’, the following are some examples of reflective language:

  • What if….?
  • What else do you know about….?
  • Let’s think about it
  • I wonder what would happen if……?
  • I wonder why?
  • What do you think?
  • What can we do with this? About this?
  • How can we find out?
  • Can you tell me more about……?

4.4.2 Responsive Interaction

Touhill (2012) explains how sustained shared thinking scaffolds children’s understanding of what is being discussed. It is about open-ended to-and-fro inquiry that encourages reflection, suggested solutions and enhanced learning. It is also concerned with responding to the child’s non-verbal cues to determine the level of engagement. In other words, knowing when to pause and wait and check: does the child want to do the activity, or does the child want more, or does the child need a break? Mirroring a child’s play is another non-verbal strategy. It is similar to parallel playing. This strategy can help you focus, to follow the child’s lead and let the child know that you are present, listening, interested and respectful.

The Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Wellbeing Scale (SSTEW) for two to five years evaluates pedagogical practice that supports children aged from two to five years develop skills in sustained shared thinking and emotional wellbeing. Originating from findings of the EPPE study, a longitudinal study by Sylva et al. 2004, the SSTEW scale is designed to consider some of the intentional and relational pedagogical strategies strongly associated with child outcomes. The findings from the study showed the highest performing early childhood settings with the best outcomes for children were those settings that supported and enhanced children’s developmental outcomes through high-quality interactions and sustained shared thinking (Marbina et al., 2015).

Learning Activity 4.4

Access a copy of the SSTEW Scale on Blackboard. Refer to the seven subscales and identify the pedagogical strategies that support sustained shared thinking.


Learning Activity 4.5

Sustained Shared Thinking in Action: Copy and paste the following link and read the case study by Luke Touhill ‘How to Draw a Mirror’, p. 3.


Answer the following questions.

  • What did the children learn from this experience?
  • What did the practitioners learn?
  • How would you document this learning experience?
  • What could you do to further enhance the children’s learning in your
  • curriculum planning?


Learning Activity 4.6

Watch the following video: ‘Quality Interactions Early Years’ available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efeizNuuEo0

Reflect on what you found useful in this video, what inspired you, what made you pause and reflect on your own practice. How might you adapt aspects of your practice, or what would you do differently in your role as an Early Years Practitioner, following your reflections?

Write out 200 words to capture your thoughts here.


Section 4.5 A Community of Practice

As introduced in Unit 2, the term ‘communities of practice’ describes practitioners who work collaboratively to reflect on pedagogical practice for professional learning and growth. From a socio-cultural perspective, the social context plays a vital role in children’s learning experiences. Therefore, the important place of parents and other people in a child’s learning experiences should be considered within our ‘community of practice’.

Learning Activity 4.7

Click on the link for Aistear Síolta Practice Guide (NCCA, 2009): http://aistearsiolta.ie/en/

Select Parent Partnerships – Building Partnerships with Parents, and go to the section ‘Examples and Ideas for Practice’. Here you will find Dr Nimmo’s video ‘Explaining an emergent and inquiry-based curriculum Dr. John Nimmo (Birth-6 years)’. Watch the video.

In this video, Dr. Nimmo discusses how documentation provides genuine opportunities to explain the emergent and inquiry-based curriculum to parents, supporting parents to be aware of the deep level of thinking their child engages in, through this approach. The following points summarise his key messages:

Documented observations, captions, visual displays and planning sheets can help you share children’s active learning experiences with parents.

Parents can become aware of the questions that you are focusing on with the children and the different ways you are setting up the environment, and why.

Nurturing children’s dispositions, their curiosity, perseverance, problem-solving and self-reflection skills will better prepare them to be life-long learners.

Write 150 words to outline Dr Nimmo’s view of what parents may think of the adult-directed approach to early years curriculum, compared to the emergent approach, through your collaboration and sharing.


Pedagogical Documentation should be seen as a reciprocal activity. It should provide the opportunity for parents to share what they know about their child, and their own observations and perceptions of their child’s theories and interests. Working like this, taking time to document and learn more about a child’s wider community, will strengthen the connections the children are making to understand the world they live in. ‘Rich documentation incorporates multiple perspectives and makes learning visible to the learning community. Multiple perspectives will include the voices of educators, children, peers, families and other professionals’ (Department of Education, Employment, Workplace Relations, 2010, p.37.) and brings families into our community of practice.

An example of collaborative practice

Documentation as a strength-based tool can help parents understand children’s experience and how this supports learning in the preschool setting. It is the ideal method to demonstrate the natural learning processes and the focus on moments that are sometimes undervalued or not seen by parents. Therefore documentation creates the opportunity for practitioners to share the intentional and relational pedagogy that is integral to children’s learning experiences and to learn about the parents’ perspectives.

Fleet et al. (2017, p.36) depict a scenario of an information meeting where practitioners show a slideshow of their documentation to parents, demonstrating the image of the child and how children learn best in their setting.

In one of the slides, a photograph is shown of two children walking together holding hands. The practitioners want the parents to see the intention behind this experience. The photograph tells the story that children often communicate more with each other without an adult walking between them, and the importance of trusting children. The parents are asked about what they think about the photographs the practitioners had chosen. They want the parents to feel valued as the major contributors in their child’s learning community and they ask the parents to share information about the places, people and activities that are important to them and their children. They discuss and devise ways about how this information would be used to further enrich the children’s learning as a whole.

Reflective Point 4.3

Parents may not always have the time to respond. However, Dr. Nimmo explains that asking or showing parents how the home connects to the children’s learning in the setting encourages parents to think in different ways about the curriculum.


Learning Activity 4.8

Watch the following video: ‘Child-led learning in the early years: Part 3: Working in partnership’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vhtp_zc4GVk

Reflect on the ways in which parents are involved in the ‘community of practice’, as demonstrated through this video. What ways do you and your setting include parents? What new strategies might you adopt, and why?

Write out 100 words to capture your ideas on this topic.


Section 4.6 Preparing the Environment for Documentation

The image of the child and the pedagogy for learning influences how the environment is created. The indoor and outdoor environments have the ability to tell the story of the children’s learning and support the process of meaning-making, reflecting and imagining. Van Leuwen (2005, p.219) discusses how the environment and the documentation should be viewed as ‘participants in a dialogue, or instruments in an orchestra’. To understand the process of documentation, you must also understand how the environment is used. Does the environment for learning nurture wonder and inquiry where children can explore, observe, question, and think about thinking?

Play is the central medium where children are the active agents in their learning, and creators of the meaning-making process. According to Johansson (2004), some children who have been involved in a pedagogical approach, where play and learning are integrated, do not make the distinction between play and learning when they are asked about it in primary school. This means that they describe learning as well as play as joyful. Elkind (1988) explains that the vital connection between play and learning is ‘creativity’ and the fundamental concept of ‘what if’ supports the children to challenge their thinking. The indoor and outdoor environments play a fundamental role in providing the space and concrete opportunities for children to be creative.

Reflective Point 4.4

Reflect on your indoor and outdoor environment, considering the following areas:

  • Do both environments provide natural open-ended and accessible resources that stimulate children’s inquiries and thinking?
  • Are the displays, journals, and photographs accessible to the children? Does the positioning of the documentation support children to see themselves as active participants in the curriculum and encourage recall and build on past experiences?
  • Do both environments provide opportunities for children to engage in different types of play?
  • Are there flexible spaces for children and practitioners to change and reinvent according to their interests and questions?
  • Are there spaces for children to independently display their own work?
  • Are there spaces where children can mind-map together?
  • Are there spaces where children can be independent and see themselves as capable learners and where the practitioner does not have to say ‘no’ to the children?
  • Are there spaces for children to revisit their learning?
  • Are there spaces for children to bring in new, familiar, and unusual resources?
  • Are there quiet spaces for children, and spaces to support large movement?
  • Are there spaces where children and their families can see themselves represented?
  • Are there spaces where children can engage in visual media and digital technologies?
  • Are there spaces where projects can be left and returned to later in the day or the next day?
  • Do you think about ‘temporal’ space? That is, space within your daily routine – or are children rushed on to the next activity even if they are immersed in deep thought?


Learning Activity 4.9

Look at the following slide-show video (Curtis & Carter n.d.): https://slideplayer.com/slide/3118349/

Consider the indoor and outdoor environment you work in. What is valued most in the design and layout of the environment you work in? What is working well in your environment and why? What would you like to change and why? Make notes.


Section 4.7 Visual Literacy: The Aesthetics of Display and Engagement

Displays are created not for entertainment but to educate others on what really happens in classrooms (Schroeder-Yu, 2008). In this module, you have established that pedagogical documentation is not a product. It is a living, active and participatory process. So you must consider carefully the way you display children’s work. Displays are also living, not finished, and are an inherent process in your practice. For example, a child can take down a photo and take it with them to the outdoors and be able to put it back again. This supports the children to make connections with old and new learning. The practice of having a reflection wall in the environment reflects the cyclical process of documenting, planning and reflecting.

The intersubjective nature of the pedagogical documentation process means the practitioner is tuned in and understands what is important in the child’s working theories. The way in which we document and display, and where we display, must ensure the working theory is authentically represented and can be reflected upon. In other words, if the focus is put on what looks lovely, but the display doesn’t represent the learning, then there is a missed opportunity to develop visual literacy skills amongst the community of learners.

Fleet et al. (2017) describe how, in a particular example, practitioners made a conscious decision to print photos in black and white, or in colour. This decision was often informed by their working theory. For example, they used black-and-white photos when they wanted to focus on a specific content and when the children’s colourful clothes were not dominating. They printed colour photos when they wanted to make the light shimmer in the water. Displaying the children’s hypothesis, inquiries and questions is a respectful activity. It is also paramount in the next stage in the cyclical process of interpreting and reflecting, and subsequently the instrument that is used to celebrate and show off what children are learning.

Learning Activity 4.10

Discuss the purpose of these three displays and their relevance in children’s learning.

Display 1: Animated posters of numbers and letters placed over the sand and water tray area positioned high up on the wall.

Display 2: The children’s names are written on stones with a writing pad and pencil placed on a table beside the door, the children use these stones with their parents and friends to sign in every morning.

Display 3: Beside the construction area, a low-level display is created by the children that has paper and textile strips of varied lengths with number measurements noted beside each strip.


Reflective Point 4.5

Before you move on to the next section of this unit, watch the video available on Blackboard: ‘Pedagogical documentation: a process of study’ by Professor Carol Wien’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-PvvLED5jY

This video will help you consolidate the process of pedagogical documentation and its essential ingredients.

A child's 3D representation of a lizard eating an insect

A child’s 3D representation of a lizard eating an insect

Lizard image: Public Domain image available at: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/827751

Lego image: Child’s representation in Lego of the lizard eating an insect. Copyright: Module author.

Section 4.8 Creating Pedagogical Narrations

The word ‘narration’ highlights the dialogical aspect of the pedagogical documentation process. It is the specific tool ‘to engage in critical reflection through observation’ (Government of British Columbia, 2009, p.13). It is important to remember that in the pedagogical narration approach you bring together both observation and the relational pedagogy. Dahlberg et al. (1999) state pedagogical narration is contextual, it involves children in a process of co-construction with teachers.

Creating pedagogical narrations should be built into the teaching and learning experience, therefore it not about setting time aside to observe and document. It is about noticing these moments together and thinking about what could be possible. Vivian Gussin Paley (1997), in her story of the ‘The girl with the brown crayon’, explains how the practitioner encourages a ‘Narrative Community’ in the playroom.

Noticing the Moments

A common question during the recording process is whether every child’s inquiry and interest is valued equally in the documentation. It is important to note that documentation is an accessible tool where a child’s discovery can also become everyone’s discoveries, where a child’s own curiosity is motivation for another child to pursue other possible directions. Therefore documentation has the capacity to capture both group project work and single learning experiences.

In some cases, a project may start with a question or a problem proposed by the children. This can lead to collaboration and idea-formation. It may also originate from how children express themselves dynamically, for example documenting children’s physical engagement with the environment and their movements. Fleet et al. (2017) provide an example of how a child’s love for music is documented: a question is posed for an inquiry – how do you remember the dance steps? The practitioner and child decide to design a movement map that demonstrates the child’s dynamic thinking and representations of how she moves.

I think we all put our boats out on a current, set our little sails, and when we hit something that impassions us, and our little boat begins to go there, the wind whistles through our hair, and we know we’re on to something… You become alive as you’re doing it, and you begin to develop gifts you just didn’t know you had.

Sister Helen Prejean (cited in Carter & Curtis, 1996, p. 62).

Reflective Point 4.6

Copy and paste the link below and read the article: ‘Learning to document in Reggio-inspired education’, by Carol Anne Wien, Victoria Guyevskey & Noula Berdoussis.

Available at: http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v13n2/wien.html


Learning Activity 4.11

Copy and paste the following link:


Read the two articles from pp. 6-11.

  • ‘The “What to Do” of Teachers’ by Loris Malaguzzi, pp. 6-8.
  • ‘A reflection on the fountains: from a project for the construction of an Amusement Park for Birds’ by Tonya Cole, pp.8-11.

The articles describe a long-term project called The Amusement Park for Birds that emerged and developed over time with the children and teachers at La Villetta school, Reggio Emilia, Italy.

After reading the articles, watch the video: ‘An amusement park for birds Clip 10-3, while rendering a fountain from drawing to clay’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChrVfA8gQyA

Take note of the processes that were shared between the children and teachers. In your reflections, consider the use of the arts and the different types of material that were used in this project. Reflect on how the creative representations, displays and documentation supported children’s thinking, knowledge and dispositions for learning.


Reflective Point 4.7

Reflect back to Unit 2, Section 2.3.3, to recall Mark’s story about the double-decker bus.

During circle time, Mark shares his story with the other children. Mark’s key person has considered intentional questions/prompts to help Mark and the children think about what they see on their way to crèche every morning. The children decide to create a mind-map, using a large blank piece of paper displayed on the wall near the circle-time area. The practitioner places pencils, crayons, magazines, postcards and photos of transport vehicles and local landmarks to help the children mind-map their stories and experiences. The map develops over time as new questions and ideas from the children grow and evolve.

Methods used to document and display the children’s pedagogical narrations:

Journals – hard copy & media Models/structures/textiles
Mind mapping – Spider diagram Narratives/conversations
Wall displays Audio/video recordings
Memory books/children’s portfolios Diagrams & sketches
Storyboards List of texts
Documentation strips Pictorial graphs and charts
Project books Samples of drawing/paintings: process art
Learning stories Interest/experiential
Learning showcases Progression table
Newsletters Gallery
Anecdotal notes Provocations
Digital technology Reflection wall


Learning Activity 4.12

Describe how you would document this observation

As a practitioner, you notice a baby looking at a spot of light reflected onto the carpet. You gather a few shiny reflective objects and paper and place these near the baby, talking about the light as the baby shows interest in the objects.


Learning Activity 4.13

Step 1: Creating Pedagogical Narrations

Use the following recording methods to capture a natural moment of a child or group of children in your setting. This moment could be during play or during a time of transition, or at snack/meal time. Your aim is to document the child or group of children engaged in a working theory (an ‘Island of interest’), exploring an issue or posing a question.

Consider using some of the following methods:

  • Anecdotal notes
  • Photographs
  • Samples of photographs of children’s drawings, paintings or constructions with the children’s words respectfully transcribed alongside their work
  • Your questions and responses
  • Reflections from the children’s families and siblings

Write a description of this moment in time to help expand the pedagogical narration.

Create a title for the pedagogical narration.

Consider how you will display the narration in the environment, in consultation with the child and/or group of children.


Reflective Point 4.7

Before you undertake this activity, read the article ‘Pedagogical narration: what’s it all about? An introduction to the process of using pedagogical narration in practice’, by Kim Atkinson. Note in particular the points in ‘Getting started with pedagogical narrations’, pp. 5-7: http://www.jbccs.org/uploads/1/8/6/0/18606224/pedagogical_narration.pdf


Section 4.9 Unit Review

In Unit 4 you explored in greater depth the process of creating pedagogical documents. It is important for learners to perceive this as a process rather than as a product – it is more than the document produced at the end, but rather, a process of planning, preparing an environment, observing, note-taking, consulting, and reflecting, amongst other actions. The unit stressed the importance of relationships and interactions to the co-construction process. The ‘telling’ of learning moments, as developed through pedagogical documentation, is known as pedagogical narration. This is the dialogical aspect of the process and the manner in which you, the child or children, the parents and other actors, give voice to their interpretation of what was occurring at the time. Pedagogical narration opens the process up to reflection, sharing and further construction, as we consider various stakeholders’ perspectives of the learning moments that were captured.

In Unit 5, you will begin the process of interpretation, where you will analyse the pedagogical narration with multiple perspectives to help you plan for future learning.

Section 4.10 Self-Assessment Questions

  1. How would you explain relational pedagogy?
  2. What is intersubjectivity and how does it relate to learning and teaching in the early years context?
  3. Describe the concept of Sustained Shared Thinking; what are its underpinning principles?
  4. What aspects of the environment support an emergent and inquiry-based curriculum?
  5. In what ways might parents contribute to the process of co-construction as it relates to the curriculum planning process?

Section 4.11 Answers to Self-Assessment Questions

  1. The term ‘relational pedagogy’ highlights the importance of having warm, supportive respectful relationships among practitioners, children and families. In order to develop meaningful early learning experiences, practitioners need to know the children well, share their experiences with family members, and ensure their responses to children’s questions, ideas and early theories are based on supportive, collaborative, reciprocal interactions.
  2. Intersubjectivity is concerned with how we relate to each other, interact and understand the other. Hayes (2007, p.10) refers to Bruner (1996) when she describes intersubjectivity as the ability to ‘read other minds’ amidst the process of actively participating in collaborative learning. In relation to learning and teaching in the early years context, during the process of co-construction of knowledge, we need to rely on intersubjective experiences, wherein we work together to solve a problem and/or work through an idea; this may occur between adults and children, or among children themselves.
  3. According to Sylva et al. (2004) Sustained Shared Thinking (SST) is defined as occurring ‘when two or more individuals work together in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept or evaluate an activity. Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend the understanding’ (Sylva et al. 2004, p. 6). In order to effectively engage in SST, you must give time to get to know the children, and their family, to find out about what is meaningful and important to them, so that you can draw on that knowledge; further, attention must be given to the language used to ‘scaffold’ the learning – this is not about quizzing the child about what they know, but asking provoking questions that will expand the child’s thinking, ways of knowing and meaning making.
  4. An environment that supports an emergent and inquiry-based curriculum should nurture wonder and inquiry and facilitate children’s exploration, observations, questioning, and thinking. It should be a richly resourced environment, with open-ended flexible materials, equipment and furnishings that can easily be adapted for many purposes, both indoors and outside. Consideration must be given to the different use of spaces, the daily schedule, and displays, amongst other considerations. It is important to ensure that all elements of the environment are nurturing rich play experiences, in small or larger groups, allowing quiet spaces, and time and space for extending play and the developing theories that emerge from play.
  5. We recognise the important role parents play in their children’s early learning, with the expression ‘child’s first educator’ very apt. Parents have particular insight into their child’s full world, the important relationships in and out of the early years setting, experiences the child has had, their dispositions, funds of knowledge and personal attributes. Sharing pedagogical documentation with parents provides opportunities for parents to share unique insight into the child’s thinking that might otherwise be missed. It is important to share with parents the ideas underpinning the process of ‘co-constructing’ through pedagogical documentation. By including the types of questioning you engage in with the child, you enable parents to appreciate the rich learning that occurs within your setting. This approach has the potential to extend this mode of learning in the home environment.

Section 4.12 References

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Carter, M. & Curtis, D. (1996) Spreading the news: sharing the stories of early childhood education. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education (CECDE) (2006) Síolta: The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education. Dublin: Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education. Available at: http://siolta.ie/media/pdfs/final_handbook.pdf

Cole, Y. (2014) ‘A reflection on the fountains: from a project for the construction of An Amusement Park for Birds’, Innovations in early education: the international Reggio Emilia exchange, 21(1), pp. 8-11.

Curtis, D. & Carter, M. ‘A study of early childhood program environments’. Available at: https://slideplayer.com/slide/3118349/

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Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) (2010) Educators Being, Belonging and Becoming: Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra, ACT: DEEWR.

Department of Education and Skills (DES) (2017) A Guide to Early Years Education Inspections. Dublin: Department of Education and Skills.

Edwards, C. & Rinaldi, C. (2012) The diary of Laura: perspectives on a Reggio Emilia diary. Saint Paul MN: Redleaf Press.

Elkind, D. (1988) ‘The resistance to developmentally appropriate education practice with young children: the real issue’. In Wanger, C. (ed.) Public school early childhood programmes. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Fleet, A., Patterson, C. & Robertson, J. (2017) Pedagogical documentation in early years practice: seeing through multiple perspectives. London: Sage.

Government of British Columbia (2009) Understanding the British Columbia Early Learning Framework from Theory to Practice. Victoria, Canada: Crown Publications, Queens Printer for British Columbia.

Hayes, N. (2007) Perspectives on the relationship between education and care in early childhood: a background paper. Dublin: National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Heshusius, L. (1994) ‘Freeing ourselves from objectivity: managing subjectivity or turning toward a participatory mode of consciousness?’, Educational researcher, 23(3), pp. 15-22.

Johansson, M. (2004) Barns syn lek och lärande i skolans praktik. Children’s conceptions of play and learning; in Swedish. Göteborg: Sweden.

Malaguzzi, L. (2014) ‘A reflection on the fountains: from a project for the construction of An Amusement Park for Birds’, Innovations in early education: the international Reggio Emilia exchange, 21(1), pp. 6-8.

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McRoberts, S. ‘The Hundred Languages Illuminated Poem By: Sarah McRoberts’. Available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=174pYUcwn7w&feature=player_embedded

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Pelo, A. (2006) ‘At the crossroads: Pedagogical documentation and social justice’, Insights, Chapter 10, pp. 173-190.

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Wien, C.A., Guyevskey, V. & Berdoussis, N. (2011) ‘Learning to document in Reggio-inspired education’, Early childhood research and practice, 13(2). Available at: http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v13n2/wien.html


‘An amusement park for birds Clip 10-3, while rendering a fountain from drawing to clay’ [Video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChrVfA8gQyA

Wien, C.A. ‘Pedagogical documentation: a process of study’ [Video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-PvvLED5jY

‘Quality Interactions Early Years’. [Video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efeizNuuEo0

‘Child-led learning in the early years: Part 3’: Working in partnership: [Video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vhtp_zc4GVk&feature=youtu.be


Understanding Children’s Early Learning Copyright © 2019 by National University of Ireland, Galway. All Rights Reserved.

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