Recently, I posted about thin-slicing data, particularly, thin-slicing student writing. Since then, some of you have requested additional ideas for reviewing assessment data, so this post is for you: Documentation Panels to Celebrate Growth.

Admittedly, documentation panels are a newer discovery for me. But once I learned about this Reggio Emilia inspired approach to assessment, I was hooked. Essentially, a documentation panel is a collection of artifacts to celebrate learning and make both process and pedagogical thinking visible. Reading and writing samples, artwork, photographs, snippets of comments and conversations, video and audio clips, teacher and student reflections and more are added to the panel. These panels celebrate authentic learning and narrate the story of learning in the classroom, offering depth and understanding that a score alone cannot provide.

The mere process of creating the panel facilitates reflection and research into the teaching and learning in our classrooms. We make choices on the artifacts we collect and choose, we make hypotheses about the teaching and learning in our classrooms and we ask questions about the discoveries we uncover, noting our learning publicly along the way. I like to think of these panels as a multi-modal learning portfolio of sorts, but it goes far beyond that and offers a platform to not only document learning, but to tell the story behind it, why it matters and become curious about our practices.

I recommend you do a quick Google image search for Reggio Emilia documentation panels to get a good visual in your mind for what documentation panels could look like. I once heard about a school who lined the hallways with living documentation panels to celebrate learning all year long. How amazing would that be to walk the halls of a school that celebrated teaching, learning and inquiry into practice?

So, how could this work in your coaching? Here are three ideas:
  • Partner with teachers to create documentation panels within each classroom. Dedicate a bulletin board or empty wall for the project and title it: What We Are Learning. Encourage teachers to create the panel with students, not just for them, and add items that celebrate learning in the classroom. This might be celebrated writing pieces, pictures of projects and cooperative learning and even video clips linked to QR codes. Add tracks of thinking on sticky notes and adhere them throughout the panel to tell the story of learning. I bet this will become a celebrated space in the classroom and it’s a great showcase to have on display for instructional learning walks and community events.
  • Partner with teachers to create a documentation panel for each grade level. Carve out wall space for each grade level or purchase tri-fold presentation boards instead and place them in your coaching space. Just as we did with the individual classroom panels, encourage teachers to bring artifacts that tell the story of learning across the grade level: artifacts, pictures, videos and tracks of thinking. Give teachers time to add to the panels at grade level meetings, professional learning sessions or even individual coaching conversations. As a coach, you can take pictures of the learning across classrooms and add to the board yourself. Teachers can bring student work, add captions and note reflections to collaborate as a team over time.
  • Partner with teachers to create documentation panels to celebrate individual students. I particularly love this idea to celebrate individual learning, especially those students who might learn differently or at their own pace. Rather than viewing the student through the lens of hard data and raw numbers, we can tell the story of that student’s learning through a documentation panel instead. You could create mini-panels on poster boards and/or collect artifacts into a folder portfolio instead. Think of this as a zoomed-in data wall. Use these documents to tell the story of the learner and how the instruction in the classroom might change the trajectory of that story. Analyzing student growth in this way makes it much easier to celebrate the uniqueness of each student, rather than simply track numerical progress.
While documentation panels are often created in-person with physical materials, you can easily create a digital documentation panel using Google Slides or Jamobard. I’ve gathered a few ideas to help get you started and think through the logistics:

I’m currently working on a project with my graduate students to create documentation panels for the young learners we work with in our intervention programs. Over the course of our time together, we’ve engaged in 15 weeks of coaching cycles and end with a celebratory analysis of teacher and student learning. This is usually a narrative report, but now, I’m thinking of how I could shift this to a multi-modal documentation panel to not only showcase student learning, but teacher growth, too. I’ll update this post as I go, but if this kind of thinking sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, let me know and we can think-tank together!

How might you use documentation panels in your coaching to better tell the story of learning in your schools and spark inquiry into practice? Share your ideas below!

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