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PYP Early years series: Documenting learning (ep. 3)

In the final episode of a series focused on the PYP support material ‘The early years in the PYP’, IB voices spoke to Anne van Dam and Kathryn O’Connell, two early years educators who have worked in local and global contexts, to explore some of the opportunities and tensions for educators around the subject of documenting learning. Read a summary based on the podcast conversation.

PYP Early years series: Documenting learning (ep. 3)

“It has to be joyful. It has to be manageable.  As a teacher, you are also a documenter and you have to put this information to good use. It has to inform our planning for individual children and for the whole group. We’re making sense of children’s sense making processes.”


The PYP assessment has four dimensions: monitoring, documenting, measuring, and reporting of learning. In the Early Years, they’re interconnected and evidence from one area can often support another. There’s an obvious link between monitoring and documenting, and we’ve discussed some of the tensions around this in a previous podcast. So, what I’d like us to do now is to dig into the process of documenting and explore some of the tensions and opportunities around this key practice. Anne, if you’d like to respond.


The first thing that provides tension is probably this idea of what am I looking for and what am I documenting? But to some extent, we also need to be systematic.  There’s the individual children; keeping track of their progress in all these different developmental domains. And then there’s the group and their inquiry process. So, how do we observe and document the approaches to learning and the attributes of the learner profile? How do we observe, document and measure that understanding of that big central idea?

So, we have to be systematic. It has to be joyful. It has to be manageable.  As a teacher, you are also a documenter and you have to put this information to good use. It has to inform our planning for individual children and for the whole group. We’re making sense of children’s sense making processes. When we do this collaboratively, I think it really helps us with keeping the child’s thinking connected to the group’s evolving thinking.

Another tension that I would like to highlight and I’ve heard this quite a few times, is that documentation may keep you away from children. And I have to say, I really feel it connects me with children. Over time you become more skilled in knowing how you can capture a very specific, beautiful moment that says something about the child, says something about the inquiry process of the group. So, I’d say be comfortable with that tension because it really does take time.

“Reflect on what you’ve created and where you want to go.”


I agree with Anne completely. And I love how she says it’s the identity of the teacher as inquirer or thinker. It’s really a way for you to do what we all want to do, which is living the learner profile. I like also what Anne said about being systematic. You’re going to need to have your classroom set up so that it manages itself so you can have the space and the time to sit back and watch, look and listen.

And I think with every step of documentation, teachers are on their own journey. Not only should you be an inquirer into where the kids are, but also be kind and gentle and be an inquirer with yourself, just validating whatever progress and success you have made. You have to realize that you just start with asking questions like what are the children’s intentions? What are they trying to make sense of? Have your goal being really knowing your children, their prior experiences, and what they’re thinking.

The next question or tension that’s going to come up is what do I do with all this stuff? The pictures I’ve taken and the notes I’ve taken. The answer I would say, is that is you reflect. And there is an inherent risk in this—that you’re going to get what the kids were doing wrong. And that’s okay because it allows for conversation and you can learn more.


Also, being more comfortable with this idea of subjectivity, right? Because if you think about teaching as an art, there are many different ways of looking at a certain situation. I think that the way to look at these tensions are as opportunities, along with the idea of working with others and appreciating these different points of view and learning with and from each other.


Anne, perhaps you’d like to talk a little bit more about documentation being a joyful process?

“Documentation is not what happens. It’s your point of view. And I think that it’s joyful to record what am I noticing, in addition to seeing patterns over time and reminding yourself that there might be other things to look out for.


Yes. It has to bring you joy, right? I guess this is very kind of Reggio inspired. There’s nothing without joy for children, but also for adults. If we enjoy our work alongside children, the documentation is giving us that feasible listening and giving us an opportunity to document what we see.  I know Rinaldi talks about this a lot, right? Documentation is not what happens. It’s your point of view. And I think that it’s joyful to record what am I noticing, in addition to seeing patterns over time and reminding yourself that there might be other things to look out for. Documentation really show us this competent child, not only among other educators, but also with parents. It gives me a lot of joy and hopefully the people listening to this podcast will start thinking about it that way as well.


I agree a hundred percent. When you’re in the documentation process and you have observed, have all your information and you are looking at where to go next to create a learning environment that will provoke thinking, I think you can really have fun with your kids and make that learning process fun for you. And when it’s fun for you, it’s fun for the kids. You may think, where am I going to go with the kids next? What am I going to put out? What environment am I going to create? What materials are needed to really stretch their thinking about the concept or idea is that they’re playing with?

Anne Van Dam

Anne van Dam has worked as a teacher, coordinator, head of school and vice-principal at international schools in China, Singapore and Switzerland. She joined Eton House International Pre-School in 2007, drawn to the school for its vision to centre learning around young children’s competencies in making meaning and establishing relationships. In August 2011, Anne became the Assistant Principal at the International School of Zug and Luzern(ISZL). At ISZL, she supported the development of a new shared vision for learning in the early years, placing a strong emphasis on relationships, play, learning spaces and documenting learning.

Anne moved back to the Netherlands in 2015. This has given her the opportunity to collaborate for two years with the PYP development team at the IB regional office in The Hague. She has been working on the IB PYP review focusing on learner agency, early years, inquiry and several aspects of ‘the learning community’. Anne still works for the IB as a workshop leader and collaborates with international schools as an independent educational consultant. Since May 2019, Anne also learns alongside 4,5 and 6 year olds at an inner city, local PYP school in her home town The Hague.

Kate O’Connell is a passionate educator and lifelong learner with 25 years of experience in teaching and leading. She has worked and consulted in 30 schools, in 12 countries on 4 continents. This experience includes teaching various grade levels and leading as a PYP coordinator, Principal, and Head of School. She is currently teaching at The Australian International School Phnom Penh.

She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from Michigan State University. She is currently pursuing a Certificate of School Management and Leadership through Harvard Business School and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

She leads and writes workshops for the International Baccalaureate, Compass Education, and online she has coached courses through Harvard Graduate School of Education’s WIDE World.

She is unapologetically passionate about children and education.

Kate O'Connell
Sue Tee

Sue Tee is a PYP curriculum manager with responsibility for early years and the arts, based in the IB global office here in The Hague. Originally from the UK, she has worked in a number of international schools in Hong Kong and The Netherlands as both a class teacher and administrator. Whilst she has worked across the primary age range, her heart belongs with the early years and it is here she has spent most of her time, learning from and with amazing educators and children.

The early years is designed for PYP students ages 3-6. To learn more about the PYP early years implementation strategies and Programme outcomes, please click here. 

One Response to PYP Early years series: Documenting learning (ep. 3)

  1. Kate Daniel 26 August 2022 at 7:20 pm #

    I loved that you brought out the importance of joy when documenting rather than it being seen as an add on to what is always a busy day in the early years. I know over the years it has also enabled me to see things I may not have seen as an educator, particularly when I reflect on the documention with others – child, teacher or parents. Placing documentation in the environment also enables all learners to revisit, reflect and feel valued – a metaphoric mirror as they make sense of their world.

    Kate Daniel – Richland Academy

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