The Three Elements of the Documentation Process – Moving beyond Display to Interpretation

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Documentation is now in the mainstream of education literature, research and practice. The Ontario government supports the use of documentation in early years settings and this is evident on the OELF (Ontario Early Learning Framework) website:

When you look at this website and the words used to describe the process of documentation, the word “DISPLAY” is not used. As shown in the diagram below, there are three essential elements to the documentation process– OBSERVE, DOCUMENT and INTERPRET(ATION). The word DISPLAY does not appear!!


I have been noticing a lot of Pinterest action about Reggio inspired documentation but we find it disturbing that the word DISPLAY is used so often. When we were in Reggio Emilia for the 2011 Study Tour, the educators there always spoke of the process of documentation as including the three elements of observation, documentation (making learning visible) and interpretation. Documentation is supposed to lead the curriculum but it can become stagnant and static if it stops at the point of DISPLAY.

Invite interpretation of your documentation from colleagues, families, children and others. You will gain insight and multiple perspectives that will help you make authentic and meaningful curricular decisions. Reggio inspired early learning professionals are committed to documentation that is open to interpretation. Make documentation inviting, make it interactive, share it and take joy in the interpretations of others as it will give you direction. Where the process will go cannot be determined. In Reggio Emilia, the image of knowledge is seen from the metaphor of a tangle of spaghetti (rhizome)– with no beginnings and no end, but always  an in between, with openings towards other directions and places. Knowledge as spaghetti and the pedagogy of listening produce the concept and practice of progettazione (Moss, 2006).  For the educators at Reggio, teaching and learning becomes an art that is expressed through the use of progettazione, project curriculum constructed with documentation (Rinaldi, 1998). Planning for children needs to involve a flexible approach to curriculum involving the development of hypothesizes that are subject to modification and change of direction. By inviting interpretation through your documentation your projects will take flight! For more information:

Language is powerful. Should we be thinking about refraining from using the word DISPLAY? What do you think? Does the use of the word display in relationship to documentation run the risk of creating very pretty and visually appealing bulletin boards that are not really Reggio inspired. To be Reggio inspired, documentation must include the three elements – OBSERVE, DOCUMENT and INTERPRETATION. Can we move beyond DISPLAY?


Inviting Interpretation through Documentation 


What Gives Soil it’s Soil-ness? 

Moss, P. (2006). Early childhood institutions as loci of ethical and political practice. International Journal of Educational Policy, Research, & Practice: Reconceptualizing Childhood Studies. Volume 7.

Rinaldi, C. (1998).Projected curriculum constructed through documentation-progettazione: An interview with Lella Gandini. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, &
G. Forman (Eds.), The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education (pp. 113 – 125). Norwood, NJ: Albex.

10 thoughts on “The Three Elements of the Documentation Process – Moving beyond Display to Interpretation

  1. This makes so much sense…our perspective is only one of many. Inviting the voices of our learning community into the cycle of documentation allows the magic to take flight and meander in so many directions, with so many possibilities. Take away the ‘display’ factor and it becomes so much more meaningful and relevant. Thank you for sharing.


  2. I definitely agree that “documentation” as we use it in our classroom is more fluid and dynamic than a typical “display”. However I find myself still using the word display to describe what you might find on the walls of my classroom and here’s why – grouped with that changing, developing documentation, may be examples of the provocations that sparked the project, a variety of children’s work related to the project, materials for the continued use of children throughout the project, feedback from parents or other adult participants in the project, quotes that support the learning that takes place during a particular project, all “displayed” in a way that uniquely reflects the journey of the project.

    You’re post has, however, reminded me to get documentation up on the walls more quickly to maximize the opportunity to get multiple interpretations along the way. Our entire staff will be attending the 21st Annual Reggio Emilia Inspired Institute at Lesley University in Cambridge Massachusetts, focused solely on documentation, at the end of the month. We are looking forward to expanding our perspectives and challenge our existing approach to documentation!


  3. Perhaps the word ‘display’ could be replaced by ‘representational pieces of the thinking and learning’. Display gives the documentation a feeling of ‘staging’ and ‘adding kitsh’ and ‘baubbles’ to show the learning.
    Thoughts? Jane


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  8. The challenge for me is how to engage people in dialogue and interpretation of the documentation. Moving beyond display can be a challenge when comments are invited but no one comes forward with anything. My curiosity is this: how do educators invite interpretation and interaction so that it moves beyond display? I do agree that different language is helpful but will that be enough to really engage in interpretation? How do we get to that end?


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