The Early Days: Can Routines And Documentation Co-Exist?

The other night, I had some errands to do on the way home. When I was at one of the stores, I ran into a kindergarten teacher from another school. We started chatting. I mentioned that I needed to get going as I still had some documentation to finish writing up and sharing. She replied to me by saying, “You document already? We’re just working on routines right now.” At the time, I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all. Her response though has been weighing on me ever since, and I wondered if blogging might help me process my thinking.

I completely agree with this teacher’s comment around the importance of routines. In fact, my teaching partner, Carey, and I have been careful to stick with consistent routines since the beginning of school, knowing that routines can help reduce stress. Even as we reflect and make changes to our classroom program, we do so while still attempting to adhere to the routines. Making changes can be very important, but I think that if changes happen too quickly, sometimes an attempt to make things better can actually make things worse. It takes time for both adults and children to adjust to changes in routine.

So where does documentation come into this discussion? I think that documentation is actually part of these routines. In a play-based kindergarten program, it’s what we capture through the photographs, videos, conversations, and observations of kids that drive where we go next. This documentation can impact on how we respond to children and the experiences that we provide for them. I thought about this even more when Karen Wilkins, one of our prep coverage teachers, share these photographs and this email with me.

As I shared in the Instagram post, without what she captured, we would probably be providing kids with the same light table experience next week. But our previous provocation was going nowhere, and drawing very few children to it. Our routine required some new insight to allow us to think about a space and an experience differently.

As someone who’s taught kindergarten to grade six, I know that kindergarten provides the most open learning opportunities. That said, I keep thinking about what role documenting might play in the early days in different grades. Would documentation tell us …

  • what kids think?
  • how they think?
  • what they know?
  • their misperceptions?

Does it provide us with a starting point for instruction without the additional pressure that might come from a test of a more formal assignment? Pedagogical documentation is often viewed as a kindergarten assessment practice, but it’s actually recommended from kindergarten right up to grade 12. It’s not about a mark. It is about …

  • the child,
  • the myriad of voices,
  • and the learning.

It’s about where we go next. Even while establishing routines, I wonder, how do you plan with the child in mind if you don’t document? At what point, do you move from routines to documentation? Does this movement then change some of your routines? This is my 19th year of teaching. I’ve had these conversations around routines for a very long time, and I’ve responded before as the other teacher did that night at the store. Now I know that I think differently. What about you?


12 thoughts on “The Early Days: Can Routines And Documentation Co-Exist?

    • Thanks Debbie! I agree. The SK students can definitely support the JK students. It’s why I love that kindergarten is a two-year continuum. This year was a little different as I have a new teaching partner at a new school. We’ve made some changes to the routines and flow of the day from last year, so it’s new for both the JK and SK students. That said, kids do really support each other a lot. It’s great to have this student mentorship, and in many ways, this helps children settle into the routine a lot faster (in my opinion).


  1. I did document a few things this week. And I started doing running records. But I find that when I am documenting I am focused on that. This week and last week I just wanted to focus on watching. Next week I’ll continue with the running records. I will also being doing reading and writing engagement inventories. So far we have been reading in a way that is helping us with expectations and routines. But by grade 2 and 3 these should be familiar to children. I’ll be looking to see who is struggling with these routines so I will know who to target first for some 1:1 or small group chatting about what might be keeping certain people from being productive during those times. So I guess even though I am not documenting much yet (except in math lessons!) I am still assessing and planning next steps.

    • Lisa, your comment has me thinking. Even without necessarily recording or writing things down, your observations had you determining some next steps for kids. Is the process of documentation also about this observation? I love hearing about what you did as a teacher of a multi-grade primary classroom. I’m also intrigued about what assessment and evaluation looks like, and can look like, in different grade classrooms. I wonder if the key piece is finding out what works best for you and for kids.


  2. One of the reasons I have decided to be serious about spiralling math, and following a plan, (blogged about it today a bit!) is because I tend to get lost on little rabbit trails. We do something, which leads me to something else based on what the children have mastered or floundered with, and what they have show interest in. It’s fun! And responsive! And keeps people engaged. BUT…at the end of every term I realize that I actually have things I haven’t done well enough. I have spent a lot of time on multiplication, for example, but have nothing to add to report cards about probability. I have done a few things to combat that, but feel I need a more structured approach for my own self-reg around report card time. No more panicking for me! 🙂

    All that to say that my assessment and decision making is so in the moment that I often don’t get too worried about writing much down. I plan week to week, and rarely plan for Fridays because I know that it will happen on it’s own. But, I do need to be better at writing stuff down.

    • Thanks for sharing what you do, Lisa. Your comment about math planning is interesting. I need to check out your blog post. While it’s important to recognize what we might be doing a lot of, and might be doing less of, I also wonder if it’s okay to not balance each strand (in math for example). In the long run, what might be more important for kids: multiplication or probability? Is it okay to spend less time on one, knowing the importance of the time devoted to the other? I love the child-centred approach to planning in kindergarten, and the intersection of so many of the expectations. Yes, we need to meet each expectation, but what we report on, and how much time we spend on each expectation, is up to us. It’s great that this is actually mentioned in the document.

      As for planning, I do tend to write a lot of stuff down, but rarely look back at it. The process of writing things down helps me remember what I wrote down in the first place. Then when it comes to the Communications of Learning, I just close my eyes, picture the child, and write. I can do a quick search for quotes (through my blog) if I need them. Never have I felt better about really knowing kids, and I think that I have documentation to thank for that!


  3. I’ve documented lots but have also have made sure that there was plenty of time that I had no device in my hand as I’ve noticed a big difference in engagement of both my students and myself when my face is not on the device. The back and forth is so much more natural when I’m not trying to capture it. I learned last year that the learning still happens even if I’m not capturing it! I think I’ve also gotten better at knowing when I see a moment that needs to be captured because it reflects real growth or change. My one current concern is gathering DRA scores prior to reading experiences. I assume based on the previous year we will asked to make data predictions about our readers getting a B so I’m collecting this data way earlier than ever before. Up til now in Gr 1 my first experiences with students have been watching them read books they have chosen. Gathering observations on what strategies they are using. Sitting with them and going through the reading experiences. Modelling lots, reviewing strategies and working on oral language skills. I’m only gathering DRA on those not yet reading according to the mandate. So level 3 and under. Every student has dropped and many significantly. This happens every year with one or two students but so far every single one has dropped. In my heart of heart I know this is because I’m gathering data earlier, I’m testing without instruction and most of all the whole process of being called to the teachers desk to read the infamous green books can’t be a stress-free one to these new to me students. Also I’m missing valuable opportunities to be on the floor guiding young readers and writers. I asked myself all week what am I giving up to get these scores and what am I doing to kids by formally testing rather than gathering information through observations and providing guided instruction. Ugh! So many questions!

    • Lori, it’s so interesting that you mention about when you have and do not have a device. While I often have my device nearby to use when needed, I also put it down a lot. Then I can pick it up when I want to use it. I tend to try to keep eye contact with the child even as I’m capturing things, so that the children stay focused on our conversation and/or on what they’re doing, and not on the device. This helps. In time, I’ve found that kids start to ignore the device. I wonder if others find the same.

      Your comment about DRA is interesting. For kids that are a Level 3 or below, I’m just wondering if you find DRA that effective for them. I found that I learned very little about the children as readers using DRA for these levels. This is when I tended to access the screener the most. The screeners you can use in conjunction with play, so you don’t have to pull kids, and you get more of this authentic assessment. I really appreciated that, and then found myself better able to support and observe kids, instead of just testing them. Now I realize that levels in kindergarten would often be lower than in grade one, but I’m just curious if something like this might work for these kids. Are formal assessments always necessary? I love your questions and thinking about this.


      • When I’m documenting kids come up to talk to me and go on and on and on oblivious to the fact I’m doing something. I do believe it’s because they are just used to myself and the other adults in their life always with our eyes down. I will continue to work on being more present. DRA scores at the start of grade one are a great predictor of end of gr one scores. I find those pre-reading levels the only time I get good information on the child. I find so much information on DRA A through about 10. After that not so much. But mostly it’s up til DRA 4 that it really helps guide me. The screener is fine (it guides instruction), but over the past 17 years I’ve been pretty bang on with my predictions based solely on DRA. It was something I’ve noticed over the years. Scores at end of K predict with almost 100 accuracy where they will be at the end of 1 for the past many many years. Just not sure how valid it will be this year as I think “the panic to do it and get data” has in the end skewed it. I know kids need time to adjust to the new year yet i felt the need to do it anyway. Why do we do this to ourselves!?

        • Thanks for sharing, Lori! It’s so interesting, as I find very little new that I learn about kids from the DRA, until they are at least a 6. I actually find the screener more beneficial for these lower levels. I do think that giving a little time can be beneficial, but having an idea about where kids are at, so that you can program and plan to meet their needs, also makes sense. (Like you, I do find that there is a strong correlation between K and 1 reading results.) I wonder if we find more of the stress in this testing case than kids. Hopefully though, you are almost done now, and can then move past the testing to the observation and instruction piece. Good luck!


  4. Hi Aviva – I’ve absolutely started documenting…I think that sharing the learning that comes along with establishing routines is critical and connected to competencies and curriculum. Planning time and space for learners to co-create classroom routines and expectations (when possible) creates an environment where children feel like they belong and where their voices / ideas matter.

    • Thanks for your comment, Melanie! From your comment, I’m not sure what grade you teach, but I love your point about co-creating the routines with the learners (regardless of the grade).


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