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

Flewitt, Rosie; Cowan, Kate

There is a growing trend in early childhood education towards using commercial software to record learning in digital formats, where video, audio, photographs and writing can be combined. These multi-media forms of ‘digital documentation’ offer new possibilities to recognise, represent and value children’s multiple signs of learning in new ways, and to share these narratives with parents and children. Yet there is little research-based guidance on digital documentation, so early education assessment practices run the risk of being guided by commercial drivers rather than by child-centred learning theories. In this study, we worked with educators to develop an early childhood pedagogy of observation, documentation and assessment that brings Froebelian principles of the ‘uniqueness of every child’s capacity and potential’ and ‘holistic nature of development’ to documentation practices in contemporary early years settings. Fieldwork included case studies of children aged 3-5 years living with disadvantage and/or in the early stages of learning English in three diverse multicultural early years settings in London. The study design was framed by a multimodal social semiotic perspective on learning (Kress 2010) and an ethnographic approach to social science enquiry. Data generation included video recordings, examples of documentation of children’s learning, interviews with educators, parent questionnaires and video-prompted discussions with children. Fine-grained multimodal analysis of video extracts resulted in rich findings regarding the opportunities and constraints of different approaches used by the participating settings in their observation and documentation of young children’s learning.