Valuing young children's signs of learning: observation and digital documentation of play in early years classrooms


University College London, Institute of Education

This study will work with early years educators to develop an early childhood pedagogy of observation, documentation and assessment that brings the Froebelian principles of the ‘uniqueness of every child’s capacity and potential’ and ‘holistic nature of development’ to documentation practices in the contemporary early years classroom. The study focuses on children aged 3-5 years who are living with disadvantage and/or in the early stages of learning English in multicultural classrooms, and recognises that children’s learning through play is often expressed in subtle ways, through their silent actions and interactions as well as through language.

Observation and documentation of play are central to supporting children’s development, informing day-to-day teaching, planning and the reporting of learning. Typically, observations are documented in paper-based formats (e.g. scrapbooks, written notes, printed photographs), but there is a growing trend towards using commercial software to record learning in digital formats, where video, audio, photographs and writing are combined. These multi-media forms of ‘digital documentation’ are significantly different to traditional paper-based forms, potentially offering new ways to record children’s multiple signs of learning and to share them with parents and children themselves.

The current lack of research-based guidance for policy and practice regarding digital documentation risks practices being shaped by commercial drivers rather than by child-centred learning theories. Working with practitioners and children, this study will develop a participatory pedagogy of observation, documentation and assessment that is informed by Froebelian principles. It will directly benefit children and practitioners in the participating settings and it will inform the early years workforce more widely by developing practical resources and guidance for early years educators. It will also have important implications for theory and policy regarding the valuing of all children’s often subtle signs of learning through play, at a time when early years assessment is under particular debate.

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