Experiencing Documentation

The Turtle Project

Teacher: Linda Lundberg
Harlem School District, Machesney Park, Illinois

Judy Harris Helm
Brimfield, Illinois

Display is an efficient and effective way to share documentation of children's work in projects. However, few teachers have been trained in how to make effective displays or how to mount children's work for appreciation and reflection by others. In writing Windows on Learning: Documenting Young Children's Work, extensive time was spent investigating the art of display. The Turtle Project's exhibit, "Experiencing Documentation," shows the difference between a traditional bulletin board approach to sharing learning experiences and the documentation displays designed to encourage understanding of the complexity of the project and the learning which resulted from the experience.

The kindergarten project "Turtles" is shared through a traditional bulletin board format and then through documentation panels. The children's work and photographs used in the two approaches are similar in both methods of display. As the observer views the traditional bulletin board, the following questions can be asked:

  • What does this tell me about how students are learning?
  • What does this tell me about what students have learned?
  • How does this documentation help the teacher guide this learning experience?
  • What impressions do I have regarding the teacher's knowledge, skills, and effectiveness as a teacher when I view the bulletin board?
  • How might members of the community respond to this display if it were in a bank or mall?

The observer then moves on to the documentation panels and again asks and answers the same questions.

Some of the features of documentation panels that make them more meaningful than the traditional bulletin board are described here.


Webbing before the learning experience, during the experience, and after the experience documents growth in concepts and understanding of the relationship between concepts. It also documents vocabulary growth. In the Turtle Project, webs document the growth in understanding of the parts of the turtle, how to care for a turtle, and how turtles differ.

Time One, Time Two Representations

Drawings become more detailed as students learn more about the objects they are studying. Other forms of representation are paintings, constructions such as block structures, play environments, songs, or dictated stories. Older students' representations include drawings, essays, plays, books, or constructed models. In the Turtle Project, there are Time One and Time Two drawings of turtles. The teacher has pointed out the additional details in the second drawings.

Narratives of a Learning Experience

Step-by-step explanations of what happened in a learning experience show what students thought, what they tried, and what happened. In the Turtle Project, a narrative explains how the children's observation of changes in George's behavior led them to try a number of ways to "help George out." In the end they learned that George was going into hibernation.

Window on a Child's Development

This method shares one child's experiences and how that child developed new knowledge or skills, or how that child's disposition or attitudes toward learning changed through the project experience. A child's growth from fear and reluctance toward George, the turtle, to enjoyment and caring is documented.

Lists of Concepts or Words

Lists of words and concepts that the children have learned are added to as the project progresses. In the Turtle Project, an ongoing list of vocabulary words was displayed in the classroom and then became part of the documentation.

Explanation of Relevance of Project for Curriculum and Assessment System

Knowledge, skills, and dispositions which are part of a curriculum and which are monitored by an assessment system are displayed. In this display, a portion of the checklist that was relevant to the Turtle Project has individual items highlighted if they were achieved through the project experience.

Teacher Self-Reflection

Teachers' thoughts about teaching strategies, discoveries about effectiveness of various experiences within the project, and ways that individual differences were accommodated are highlighted in a Teacher Reflection Bubble. Consistent use of the bubble shape enables parents and other viewers to immediately recognize teachers' thoughts. In the Turtle Project, the teacher shares her thoughts about when and how to provide resources to the children about hibernation.


Helm, J., Beneke, S., & Steinheimer, K. (1998). Teacher materials for documenting young children's work. New York: Teachers College Press.

Helm, J., Beneke, S., & Steinheimer, K. (1998). Windows on learning: Documenting young children's work. New York: Teachers College Press.

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