Documenting Learning

Dictation has been a bit of a homework battle at our house until recently.  Despite the fact that writing, math and drawing are some of my 7 year old daughter’s favourite activities, homework is source of arguments at our house.  Each week, she has a French book to read, some math sheets to complete and dictation spelling words to memorize.  Her dictation words cause so many tears that I now leave them until Thursday – the night before the “test”, focusing on math and reading instead.  And despite my personal feelings about dictation and memorizing spelling words, we get them done.

I brought out my iPad a few weeks ago when it came time to practice.  I did hesitate to use it, fearing it might be launched during battle.  We used an app where she could draw the words and erase them easily called “Show Me”.  When it came to remembering the words she got wrong, I would try and have her focus on a pattern.  For example: “Look all the words that end in r do not have an e after them”.  That’s my way of doing it.  Turn it into a rule that you can remember.  This caused more anxiety and frustration.  Exasperated, she showed me how she sees the words and it blew me away.

She started turning each word into an image in front of my eyes.  She would explain to me what each word looked like to her and it was really quite amazing.  Each letter was part of the “drawing”.  For example, we just tried the word “learn” (her choice).  She turned the “l” into a clock, the “e” into her sitting at a desk, the “a” into a question mark and the “r” into a happy face when she understands something and the “n” into her brain with a thought bubble coming out of it because she is concentrating and thinking and “that’s how you learn”.

It’s not how I would have done it or remembered it best.  The whole time I just want to butt in and say “l” makes the sound “l” or you can remember the “n” because you hear it…  But sure enough, this is what helps the words “stick”.  Her dictation results have improved a lot since moving to this way.  It’s not my way, but her own way of seeing them that worked.  And most of all, we are not stressed and it’s an enjoyable way to spend time together.

It made me wonder, how many times when helping students out have I perhaps imposed my way of seeing the words, math problem, writing piece etc.?  It also made me think of articles on the dangers of “multiple intelligence tests” and student thinking they can only learn things one way (i.e. kinesthetically, musically, visually, etc.).  How does knowing this strategy help me move her towards more efficient strategies?

My thinking was then pushed a little bit further.

This week I had the pleasure of being a part of an FDK Network with ECE, Kindergarten teachers and Rose Walton, the Early Years Learning Coordinator with TVDSB.  Recently, Rose brought a new Ministry “Capacity Building Series K-2” publication to Instructional Coach team’s attention. Not the one printed in October of 2012 “Pedagogical Documentation”, a new one titled “Pedagogical Documentation Revisited” from January 2015.

We had a rich discussion around the revised edition. Here are some of the quotes that resonated with me:

“…pedagogical documentation is intended to uncover the student’s thinking and learning processes, it has the potential to help us look at learning in new ways, to assess flexibly with particular needs in mind and to individualize and differentiate our response.”

“what makes their team’s documentation pedagogical is (sic) the inferences they are making from it and where they need to go next in the learning”

You can find the rest of the article here:

It’s about figuring out how that child learns best through actively listening to the student, recording what they say, reflecting upon what they say and then also including parent or other teachers that work with that child as well.  How will this information help inform your next step?  Why is capturing this learning artifact important?  It’s not always about communication with home.  It’s about recording what they are learning, but more importantly how they are learning.  And on the very front page of the article it states that it’s the assessment as and for learning, not a summative assessment of learning.  Perhaps “Pedagogical Documentation” captures some of the things in this sketchnote illustrated by Sylvia Duckworth:


It’s no mystery to teachers that kids don’t think alike.  Nor do they learn alike.  It’s a matter of really listening to that student express what they were thinking and letting them have a voice in telling you how they learn best.  I’ve figured out how my daughter best learns those tough dictation words.  I also know that knowing this might be a help in other areas of difficulty as they arise.  What next steps can I take?  How could making her aware of this help her as a learner?  How might her visual way of memorizing words be applied to other areas such as math for instance?  I know I want to have more conversations with her about how she learns best.  What do I need to learn to support her further?

And one last note on homework – I know that being a parent has completely changed my outlook on homework!  I know what I would like to be doing with my daughter each night.  But I can’t help but wondering … if we think differently and learn differently, should that not also be reflected in homework assignment too?  But that is a blog for another day…

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