By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.
Stories spiral in and out of my mind when I visit the pond near my house. These stories are woven together by threads of relationships. There are stories within stories that relate to my professional and personal growth in my final season. The pond is the backdrop to a documented story unfolding with my grandson that has created more threads to weave together as we play and learn from month to month. As I try to make meaning of my experiences with Griffen, over the course of four seasons, I see the cyclical nature of a Seasonal Pedagogy. I am grateful for the work of Hopi Martin, who has shared this way of documenting, of seeing and of being. It supports me in a profound way as I continue to grapple with the process of pedagogical documentation.
Pedagogical documentation is complex and not easily understood. I feel like I have been in a continued search for meaning and I am still searching. What I have come to understand is that without interpretation and analysis, documentation is not pedagogical. It still is data collected but to dig deeper I have sought help and guidance. The pond as a reflecting reservoir gives me pause to consider the importance of reflection. “Through documentation, reflection, repetition, and revision” I am “guided into deeper experiences” (Lee Keenan & Nimmo, 1994, p. 253). Returning again and again to the pond has afforded an ability to experience on a deeper level.
I love taking photos of Griffen walking confidently to the edge of the pond. I wonder about whether the accessibility, size and proximity of the pond helps make him feel powerful and in control. Sometimes we walk further to Lake Wilcox which is across the street and is much bigger and busier. I get the sense that he finds it overwhelming there in the time of COVID with so many masked strangers about. Does the pond feel safer because it is closer, isolated and smaller? Is it because we have developed a relationship to the pond? It is our pond. This experience of connecting to the pond is also a story about a strengthening connection to each other. Having Griffen with me two days a week has afforded me an opportunity to practise documenting. Documentation is a tool for an educator’s research. It requires continuous study and reflection on the data collected. I have amassed hundreds of photos of the experiences I have had with Griffen. I continually reflect as I review these sources of data, in order to make pedagogical choices that will support Griffen’s development and learning, bringing his interests into focus.
Pedagogical choices can be spontaneous or be embedded into a curriculum or program plan. With Griffen I keep a list of daily play possibilities. I constantly look for connections and future opportunities for deep investigation over time. I have always referred to these investigations as projects, but others call them inquiries. Loris Malaguzzi referred to them as “long stories” (quoted in Cadwell, 1997, p. 35). “He believed that these stories should offer both familiarity and possibility in order to engage the children over time” (Hill, Stremmel & Fu, 2005, p. 148). Ministories stand in contrast to long stories. According to Hope (2019), they provide us with an authentic way of documenting that enables us to link the everyday to the extraordinary. These everyday stories that are iterative in design can show thinking and action concurrently while located in a very specific context.
“Ministories are catching, in photographs and recordings of children’s words, a synthesis that gives the essence of the context and strategies children use and, more importantly, a deeper sense of what is taking place” (Vecchi, 2010, p. 134).
While ministories are brief visual narratives, their power is that the process of subjectively interpreting these over time can lead to long stories. Like so many other grandparents during the pandemic, I have been helping to care for my grandchildren. Exhausting as it is sometimes, I appreciate the chance to connect theory to practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to make meaning. The pond is meaningful. It is our pond, but we share it with the frogs, insects and cattails. We don’t actually own it. Rather, it is our Teacher. Land is our Teacher. It is a living sentient as Hopi has suggested. Sentient describes things that are alive, able to feel and perceive, and show awareness or responsiveness. We have a responsive relationship with the Land.
Applying the Seasonal Pedagogy that I have learned from Hopi has helped me in the process of creating pedagogical documentation. The start of the story is the Birth of our experience at the pond in the spring. Birth is a good beginning. In the summer Griffen became fascinated with the cattails. He picked one up from the ground and talked about the texture being smooth, furry and soft. Griffen is in movement with the Land. I encouraged him to break open the cattail and he explored the fluff inside. I had expected him to want to bring it home, but he walked back to the edge of the pond and returned it to where he found it. He returned it to the Land. Later he asked about the fluff inside and what it was. We did some research to learn that cattails are found worldwide. Cattails are grass-like erect leaves and stiff stems, which are topped with a sausage-like brown head of seeds. Many questions ensued and now we can’t walk by a dandelion without Griff making a wish and spreading the seeds. Griff is very interested in seeds. This gives us an opportunity to talk about the seasons and to notice the affordances of each.
While Sacred Circle Teachings are vast and vary from Nation to Nation, I have been so grateful to Hopi and his Auntie for sharing a Seasonal Pedagogy that can be applied by all Nations. For me, it simplifies the process of pedagogical documentation in a way that actually adds complexity. It is represented in a Memory Teaching Bundle as illustrated by Hopi below.
I am thankful for a continued opportunity for deepening reflection during The Land as Teacher: Foundations in Early Learning webinar with the York Region Nature Collaborative on February 13th. I am honoured and humbled to co-present with Hopi. We will be discussing this Seasonal Pedagogy! Come join in on a virtual conversation between us as we consider the foundations of early learning from both Anishinaabe and western worldviews. We will engage in a dialogue about relationships to Indigenous Knowledge and the Reggio Emilia Approach and relate it to how learning happens. What happens to our understanding of the four conditions of learning (Well-Being, Belonging, Engagement and Expression) described in How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years if we consider teachings from Mother Earth first? What are the practical applications of these teachings that can be applied by all nations through relationships, play, learning and documentation?