What’s The Value In Those “Traces Of Learning?”

Yesterday, something quite remarkable happened. A student that rarely chooses to write in the classroom was very eager to do so. We have a little shelf on our carpet space that has many small compartments in it. Most of the compartments are empty. This child took the bin of dinosaurs and sorted them into different compartments. Then he got some sticky notes, and decided that before playing with the dinosaur groups, he wanted to label them. Then he’d know what was there. Not only did he count the number in each space, but he used letter-sounds to write the words. Initially, my teaching partner, Paula, got involved in the writing process, but then, quietly, other students joined the discussion, and Paula removed herself from it. The students started to support each other in counting and writing. Throughout the day, we documented a lot of this learning, and even provided a few mini-lessons related to areas of need (at the time in which they were needed).

I share this story because at the end of the day yesterday, as Paula and I were conversing about the learning that we saw, we spoke about what happened here. We also talked about how some “empty space” not only invited this sorting but allowed the children to keep their work there to re-explore next week. I can’t help but think about Joanne Babalis‘ recent @ctinquiry challenge about “traces of learning.”

New Reggio Emilia inspired @ctinquiry challenge for the next two weeks is traces of learning ! “Traces of learning such as notes, transcripts, slides, photos, and videos are examined by teaching teams and with parents, but they are also shared with children so that they can examine their own work, experience, actions, and comments.” Pg 275 Brenda Fyfe – The Hundred Languages of Children ✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨ Hosts are @creative_explorations and I plus our guest host/judge of the challenge and this week’s follow Friday is @fairydustteaching !!!! She will post her favourite entries on Friday Dec 16th (in two weeks) just before the next challenge is shared. If you want to participate use our #CTInquiry hashtag and have the chance to be featured on our @ctinquiry page !!!! 📷: @joannebabalis *You may also wish to tag older posts that match this week’s focus.

A photo posted by ✨ ✨ ✨ TransformEd ✨ ✨ ✨ (@joannebabalis) on

In the past, these traces would have never existed in the classroom. I do love cleanliness and organization in a room, and I’ve always been big on putting everything back in the right spot. I used to use labels and images to ensure that all items were sorted correctly, and I think that I often stressed out both myself and the students in an effort to ensure that everything was tidied up properly. Please don’t get me wrong: I still like organization, and I think it helps students know how to easily access materials around the classroom. A large mess can also act as “visual noise” and be very dysregulating for some adults and children. But this year, I think that Paula helped me find an important middle ground. We have spaces around the room where items belong, but the children help organize these items in these spaces. This allows for some incredible things to happen.

    • Children take worlds that they made on the carpet, and pack them up onto individual shelves so that they can rebuild them the next day. Re-building also results in changes and additions. Many students also save the labels that they write, and then add more based on the changes that they make. 

    • Children use empty shelf space for creating imaginary worlds that they re-explore, in different ways, over multiple days. Oral language skills, social skills, math skills, and problem solving skills are all addressed in these child-created spaces.

  • Children make sense of how items get stored together so that they can easily find and use them again. Sometimes, as adults, I think that we believe we know the best way to store materials, but our systems do not always make sense to the children. While we might separate all items (e.g., animals in one bin, dinosaurs in another, and people in a third), children may decide that they tend to use all of these items at the same time, and putting them together, allows for easier access. 

Our classroom is used daily for After School Care, so it’s hard not to do a full tidy-up each day, but some empty shelf space and the creative storage of items, allows for those “traces of learning” to remain. I know that I’m speaking from a Kindergarten perspective, but I wonder what’s possible in other grades. 

  • What are some “traces of learning” that you find around the room?
  • How do we create an environment that allows for these “traces of learning” to stay?
  • What impact do these “traces of learning” have on the learning that happens the next day? 

I know that I’m eager to see what becomes of this dinosaur shelf space come Monday. I’m glad that even a clean classroom can include a few of these traces. What about you?


2 thoughts on “What’s The Value In Those “Traces Of Learning?”

  1. In my classroom today, there were a few things that students didn’t quite finish up. There are traces remaining for them to pick up another day. As they go along and learn new things, they change and alter what they were working on to make it better. I just got my class a couple days ago, but when they come in, they have the first half an hour to do one of a number of choices, one of which is catch up on their work where they can pick up one of those traces and keep going with it. As teachers we try to build on students’ prior knowledge and experiences, including the things they did the day before to make those connections and help them grow. It might look a little different as they get older, but at least in my room, those traces of learning are still there (I hope).

    • Thanks for your comment, Melanie! This is so wonderful to hear. I think these traces of learning can be so valuable for all grades, and it’s great to know that you let your students go back, re-explore, build on prior knowledge, make changes, and truly extend the learning. I would love to hear what others do.


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