Documentation and Inquiry in the Early Childhood Classroom: Research Stories from Urban Centers and Schools
reviewed by Cara Furman & Mackenzie Marles — August 10, 2018
Title: Documentation and Inquiry in the Early Childhood Classroom: Research Stories from Urban Centers and Schools
Author(s): Linda R. Kroll & Daniel R. Meier
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 1138206431, Pages: 298, Year: 2017
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Linda R. Kroll and Daniel R. Meiers Documentation and Inquiry in the Early Childhood Classroom: Research Stories from Urban Centers and Schools is a celebration of teacher intelligence and professional acumen. In bringing together the narratives of a plethora of early childhood educators from a broad range of settings, Kroll and Meier showcase what is possible when early childhood educators research and write about their own classrooms.
In a climate where teachers are increasingly told what to do and how to do it, the book makes a strong and much needed statement about the capability of teachers. And in a society that gives little respect to teachers who work with the youngest children, Kroll and Meier demonstrate how deserving these educators are of the highest regard. Finally, as more policy is focused on early childhood education, Kroll and Meiers advocacy on behalf of holistic and humanistic approaches to children and their teachers is valuable.
The editors and practitioners draw their inspiration from a tradition of teacher inquiry largely associated with primary and secondary teachers and early childhood teaching in Reggio Emilia, Italy. In their writing on teacher inquiry, Kroll and Meier achieve three significant feats. The first is to add new life to a marginalized conversation about teacher inquiry. While there are certainly teachers still engaged in inquiry, the movement, as documented by Kroll and Meier, has largely been pushed aside and silenced as teachers are pressured to follow directives and assess children through standardized metrics. The second is that Kroll and Meier make an important addition to the conversation: the work and voices of U.S. early childhood educators. The third is the centrality of school-based inquiry in the book. Much previous writing on teacher inquiry focuses on groups housed outside of the school. This is important work, but can mean that a teacher may find herself returning to an unsupportive daily environment. In contrast, nearly all of Kroll and Meiers case studies were school-wide initiatives.
The book is divided into four sections: school wide-wide inquiry, children and teachers conducting inquiry together, teaching teachers about documentation and inquiry assessments, and developing leadership through inquiry. Within these themes, each chapter zooms into a particular setting featuring the narratives of teachers from 12 different settings in the Bay Area. These include more commonly discussed programs such as public schools and head start programs, but also a parent cooperative, a migrant and seasonal head start program, and a preschool in a museum. This captures the range of settings in which early childhood educators and children find themselves. A commonality among the settings is a focus on those that served low-income minority children and, in many cases, those learning English. In keeping a narrow regional focus, the book can both transport the reader while remaining widely resonate. As readers practicing in rural Maine, we were able to learn about a different context while also reflecting on our own.
Each narrative took an asset-oriented view of children and a dominant refrain was that children can teach us much about the world. For example, in Las Americas Early Education School, a multi-age preschool with mainstreamed special education students, educators had to learn how to listen to children. This careful listening allowed the teachers to break down their own preconceived notion that they were the primary source of information as they came to see the children as holders of knowledge.
Another theme was the power of planning curriculum with and alongside children. In many cases, the curriculum was culturally responsive, several months long, and intellectually rich and challenging. For example, in the bilingual Mission Head Start Valencia Garden, the teachers developed an investigation of fish based initially on one child who was struggling with transitions and his positive response to the song Slippery Fish. Around this topic, the teachers carefully assembled a wealth of materials and manipulatives. In doing so, they drew in the rest of the children. The teachers kept the inquiry moving and rich by asking questions and documenting childrens knowledge. This specific journey allowed for parents and the public to join as well: Not only were families deeply engaged in the inquiry process, they had developed effective skills and strategies for facilitating their childrens inquiry outside of school (p. 69).
Reflecting the power of diversity, the differently voiced narratives draw the reader in and connect smoothly with one another, allowing the book to flow effortlessly. The visuals and the use of specific examples give the reader a window into how the children conversed, inquired, and learned from the inquiries.
Another asset is that in the strong case for teacher inquiry, the editors and teacher authors do not gloss over challenges. Emphasizing the importance of leadership support, the book acknowledges some of the very real difficulties of engaging in teacher inquiry: lack of time, funding, and resources.
As the book brings together the voices of teacher educators and teachers, so do we as reviewers. As a teacher educator and teacher respectively, we found the text interesting, inspiring, and highly readable. Showcasing the power and applicability of the text, Mackenzie was inspired to take a step back and observe her own students inquiries by listening more closely to their conversations. As the teachers do in the book, Mackenzie began taking notes more diligently and meaningfully in order to prepare herself for what she and her co-teacher should dive into next. Cara would use the book with preservice and inservice teachers to help them see the power of documentation as they work to build instruction with the children. The book could help teachers connect the dots between materials, children, and instruction.
As such, this book would be wonderful for a host of early childhood professionals, including practicing teachers, directors, professors, and graduate-level students. Documentation and Inquiry in the Early Childhood Classroom will inspire teachers to document with the intention of understanding individual children, as well as learn that inquiry can come from any topic that is important to the children.
As teachers, we need to actively listen, answer childrens questions, expand their knowledge, learn together, and follow their journey. Everything else will fall into place (and when it doesnt, documentation and inquiry give us the tools to start all over again). In the spirit of this constant inquiry which is teaching, we close with one teacher, Bethica Quinns, powerful description of a four-year-old inquirer: Reflecting on the unknown, he seemed to say, is more fun than just talking about what we already know" (p. 42).