A Guide to Documenting Learning: Making Thinking Visible, Meaningful, Shareable, and Amplified


Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano & Janet A. Hale

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    Praise for A Guide to Documenting Learning

    In A Guide to Documenting Learning, the authors seek to qualify, rather than quantify, what contemporary learning is all about: looking for, capturing, reflecting, sharing, and amplifying the learning that is taking place. In this text, they break down these actions and how they apply to before-, during-, and after-learning moments and describe a new way to approach contemporary work and self-determined learning.

    —Michael Fisher, Author and Consultant
    The Digigogy Collaborative
    Amherst, NY

    I love the idea that students can be aware of their learning. It can be documented, reflected on, curated, and shared in order to garner feedback, and the student owns the learning every step of the way.

    —Kathleen Rodda, Literacy Coach Affiliation
    Eucalyptus Elementary
    Hawthorne, CA

    This book touches upon information that would be useful to any school system because it scaffolds ways that educators can help students make their thinking known, which will only improve their future reasoning skills.

    —LaQuita Outlaw, Principal
    Bay Shore Middle School
    Bay Shore, NY

    Educators trying to create compelling learning experiences confront the daunting challenge of content-coverage requirements and expectations of teaching to the test. Students and their thinking are often invisible as the only representations of learning made public are marks and rankings. Tolisano and Hale take the inspirational Reggio Emilia approach and scale it into new contexts to create deep learning experiences for today’s learners, with an eye on the future of learning as well.

    —Cameron Paterson, Head of Learning and Teaching
    Shore School
    North Sydney, Australia

    This book will become an important guide for schools and educators to have on their shelves. The content is original and highly organized, and it presents many new ideas on documenting learning. This book takes what is happening in the world of teaching right now and elevates it to a coherent pedagogical process. The graphics are a fantastic resource.

    —Andrea Hernandez, Educational Consultant
    amplifiEDucation and edtechworkshop.blogspot.com
    Jacksonville, FL


    Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

    To my father, Jochen Rosenthal,

    who showed me the importance of

    where I come from and where I am going.

    Janet A. Hale

    To my lifelong friends,

    Lisa Frederick, Linda Isaac, and Rondi Little,

    who love and support me unconditionally.


    I am very proud to write the foreword for this book. Every once in a while, a really important, practical book comes along that can make a difference every day for a wide range of learner abilities. A Guide to Documenting Learning is just such a book. This step-by-step guide provides a framework for helping students and professionals to “learn how to learn.” Specifically, these pages can help students and teachers capture their learning, reflect on their learning, share their learning, and ultimately, amplify their learning.

    My own experience as a teacher, administrator, and now a consultant who has had the opportunity to visit schools around the world has convinced me that many learners are not aware that documentation is a valuable strategy or do not know how to document their learning well. As I am sure you are aware, there has been an explosion of tools and platforms available on every device that, when used creatively, can organize, share, and amplify learning. Silvia and Janet’s book provides educators with a framework for introducing these tools and platforms to learners and, most importantly, documenting phases and learningflow routine steps to use them well every day. Making sense of tools to purposefully capture learning and understanding how to manage the learning evidence can be overwhelming for even the most tech-savvy educators. Silvia and Janet have done years of experimentation with students and professionals and various tools to provide a clear road map for success.

    On a personal note, Janet and Silvia have shared these ideas at my summer conference in Boston for the past few years to educators from around the world. Teachers walk out of their workshops on fire.

    I have had the pleasure of collaboratively working with Silvia on the concept of the Digital Learning Farm where students have responsibility to research and create content that adds value to peers. Examples of the jobs associated with the digital learning farm that are specifically presented in A Guide to Documenting Learning are The Official Scribe, The Tutorial Designer, Global Communicators, and Collaborators. I have been working for years using an action research model for many of the main process concepts presented in these pages.

    Another concept that Silvia and I have been collaborating on is a powerful framework called the First Five Days of School where a specific skill set is frontloaded during the first five days of school that has a learning payoff throughout the year. Almost all educators agree that how you begin the school year can make a huge difference to the success of the entire school year. While there are applications for all five days, Day One and Day Five are of particular note. Day One is where the daily discipline of carefully documenting learning is introduced. Day Five is where students begin to understand the power of sharing their work authentically with a global audience. Authentic presentation of ideas can be highly motivating and provide invaluable feedback. I am always amazed at how some students will work harder and with more care for an authentic audience than if the work is only for themselves. Of course, the learning strategies of the first five days extend naturally to the first five weeks, the first five months, and throughout the school year. The documentation learning phases and learningflow routine that Silvia and Janet explain in detail and articulate through helpful examples and implementation suggestions are perfect for supporting and expanding all of the First Five Days of School skills and strategies.

    Although Silvia and Janet advocate the use of technology, their book is not about technology. They leverage the use of tools and platforms for the sole purpose to amplify learning and to share learning beyond an audience of one (the student or professional) or few classmates or colleagues. It is their belief that documenting OF learning becomes more than display of “What did we do?” and moves into the realms of documenting FOR learning and documenting AS learning.

    We need to help teachers make their students’ thinking visible. One of the most powerful results of implementing the ideas in A Guide to Documenting Learning is the constant opportunity to do just that—making learners’ thinking visible. As we all know, every student does not ask for help at the moment it is needed. Many students do not even know what questions to ask sometimes, or they think they do not need any help when they are heading down a wrong path. Once the concepts of this book are applied in any learning environment, teachers, administrators, and professional development leaders will have a deeper understanding of how their learners are making meaning. There will be very clear evidence of where learners need help and where learners can help one another! Silvia and Janet’s book is jam-packed full of ideas to use tools, platforms, and thinking routines that allow learners to make their thinking visible, reflect deeper, and prepare to share their learning-thinking artifacts with an authentic global audience.

    All of us are concerned about the ethics and moral ground of helping learners gain awareness of how to navigate the potentially treacherous course of social media. The majority of our students will not have been guided by an adult on how to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and more that are yet to come. For those of you who are concerned that our students must have the high moral ground of adult guidance, this book points out clearly and in detail how to provide students with sophisticated social media skills for learning opportunities.

    Ultimately, what A Guide to Documenting Learning is about a framework that can be applied to lifelong learning. The ongoing results of the documentation work can also inform teachers of the impact of their own work that can be in turn shared in Professional Learning Communities and Professional Learning Networks. This book should be essential reading for all veteran and prospective teachers, as well as administrators and educational leaders. Enjoy!

       —Alan November, Founder, November Learning

       Author, Empowering Students With Technology

       Marblehead, MA


    When you need to innovate, you need collaboration.

    —Marissa Mayer
    A Collaboration Invitation

    Silvia and I met in person for the first time in 2010 at a Curriculum21 summer conference. I knew of her innovative documenting work due to following her on Twitter, reading her Langwitches blog posts, and interacting with her virtually in preparation for the conference. I had been inspired (and still am) by Silvia’s forward-thinking around evidence of learning, and especially challenged by her stance on the act of documenting to go beyond merely displaying what had been learned at the end of a unit, lesson, or activity.

    About two years later, I made an offer to Silvia, “If you ever want to write a how-to book based on your documenting learning concepts, I’d love to coauthor it with you!” I knew that her ideas needed to be articulated and shared via a professional book and I felt I could be of service, given my professional-writing experience with Corwin and ASCD. Silvia shared that she was not ready at the moment, given her life was busy with moving to Brazil, teaching, coaching, consulting, and blogging.

    Fast forward to the fall of 2015. I received a phone call that began a virtual collaborative writing and image-creating journey that we would not trade for the world. You are about to embark on the result of our journey. Before you begin reading, we want to share a quick glimpse into our collaborative process.

    Silvia created the majority of the visuals based on our frequent Skype and Facetime calls, Google Doc comments, and text messages. Our decision-making process involved agreement on the placement of images and the written text for each visual.

    The majority of the QR codes in this book will take you to specific Langwitches blog posts for extended reading and viewing. Given Silvia has been working on the action-researched documenting learning framework we share in this book for over 10 years, there were plenty of posts for us to read through together to determine the one that best enhanced a particular key point.

    When I asked Silvia what she felt I contributed to our book’s collaboration, she shared insights that included:

    There is no denying that I am a blogger at heart. I love the immediacy of being able to link, embed, publish, edit, and add to posts at any time. I love my forgiving blog audience with my tri-lingual spelling and grammar errors that naturally occur. With Janet’s book-writing experience and meticulous attention to detail, I was reminded often throughout our drafting, revising, and editing process that her patience, explanations, and editing of my German run-on sentences and Argentine culturally influenced metaphors helped to make us the perfect writing team for this project.

    Just as the opening quote suggests, one learns and grows through collaboration with others. Growth for both of us as textual writers and visual communicators was invaluable. Our hope is that as you read through the chapters and begin to apply what you discover and realize about our documenting learning ideas, phases, and routine, you will find a colleague (or two) with whom to collaborate. Together, you can grow wiser as you begin or make advancements in your classroom and professional documenting learning journeys.

    A Guide to Documenting Learning Rationale

    We believe, and have found in practice, that the documenting learning framework—making thinking about learning processes visible, meaningful, shareable, and amplified—provides students and educators (as active learners) with an interconnected, metacognitive approach for creating evidence of their learning.

    Our framework aids learners in owning their learning process, as well as assisting others in their learning growth. When deep learning experiences are visible and involve students directly in the documentation process, it enables them to identify moments worth remembering. When teachers are co-creators with their students, both gain valuable insights that inform future learning and empower students as engaged learners.

    Educators will find the information shared in this book thought-provoking and invaluable for improving pedagogical and heutagogical practices, including those involved in

    • personalized learning and ensuring student voice,
    • contemporary learning and assessment alternatives,
    • competency-based classrooms,
    • technology integration that transforms teaching and learning,
    • social-media engagement to foster learning and teaching,
    • Reggio Emilia’s framework for pedagogical documentation, or
    • becoming a National Board Certified teacher.

    As the title indicates: This book is a guide: a how-to that provides insights into contemporary learning and teaching documentation practices in classroom and professional learning environments. There are other documenting learning books available that have a similar call for observing, recording, interpreting, and sharing to positively impact student engagement and learning. While we were inspired by Reggio Emilia’s early learning philosophy, and affirmed by the book Visible Learners, which shares practices for fostering K–12 learning through documentation, A Guide to Documenting Learning is unique because it

    • Extends the use of documentation for all learners—pre-K through lifelong learners
    • Uses the power of technology to amplify teaching and learning beyond the walls of classrooms and schools
    • Expands students and teachers sharing beyond displaying and discussing their learning with peers at the same school
    • Focuses on amplifying to reach from parents and a local community to a global community in dynamic ways
    • Takes advantage of transformative teaching and learning opportunities through authentic uses of social media
    • Encourages educators to document, reflect, and share their professional learning beyond same-site colleagues to inform immediate or future teaching and learning

    While the documenting learning framework is not meant to be considered an add-on,

    • we are not advocating you document everything every day, every lesson, or in every unit; and
    • we acknowledge that documenting is a process. There is a learning curve involved, and putting it into practice will help you and your students improve its use and application.

    Documenting learning is not the answer to all teaching and learning problems:

    • We do not have every answer related to documenting learning figured out. We are continuing to search, research, pilot, revise, retry, share, and ask for feedback to become better at our documenting work.
    • We will rely on your imagination and inspiration to tweak the examples and vignettes sprinkled throughout the chapters for you own purposes and personalized situations.
    • We will count on your willingness to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to observe, reflect, and share your work openly and transparently.
    • We will trust in your readiness to be (or continue to be) a globally connected educator who disseminates his or her own learning to collaborate, communicate, and connect with learners outside your zip code.


    • Thank you to Alan November for his vision that pushes our thinking. Thank you for being provocative and continually questioning the ways learning and teaching have always been done.
    • Thank you to Heidi Hayes Jacobs for being a mentor, coach, guide, and inspiration. She started it all with her collaborative book, Curriculum21. We are honored to keep the collaboration going.
    • Thank you to Mike Fisher for taking any idea we come up with, getting passionate about it, and adding your genius spin and out-of-the-box thinking to push our thinking even further.
    • Thank you to these educators and learners from around the world who have contributed their work, thinking, and curiosity to dive deeper into documenting OF, FOR, and AS learning: Claire Arcenas, Gabriela Bechmann, Catalina Behrens, Verónica Behrens, Andrea Berteloot, Joel Bevans, Jamie Bielski, Jocelyn Blumgart, Rivka Cohen, María del Carmen Correales, Ana Paula Cortez, Graciela Cusman, Mark Engstrom, Lily & Charlie Fisher, Florencia Gavelio, Marisa Gonzalez, Shana Gutterman, Karin Hallett, Marissa Heavener, Gaby Holm, Cata Horny, Maggie Hos-McGrane, Laurel Janewicz, David Jorgensen, Bena Kallick, Karin Klingspor, Deb Kuhr, Evelyn Mahler, Cristina Massen, Jon Mitzmacher, Mónica Müller, Heidi Musterós, Alejandra Oberbeil, Andy Raitt, Judy Reppert, Esteban Gonzales Rittler, Marjie Rogozinski, Edna Sackson, Mechi Schenzle, Uschi Schwartz, Melina Seifert, Mariana Sturmer, Laura Tagliabue, Stephanie Teitelbaum, Luciana Vallejos, Emily Vallillo, Arlene Yegelwel, and Shelly Zavon.
    • Thank you to my grandchildren, Elena and Benjamin, for allowing me to look for, see, and capture the wonders of learning through your eyes.
    • Thank you to Andrea Hernandez, Katrin Barlsen Jurado, and Silvana Scarso for always lending a listening ear when I spill over with thoughts, ideas, and plans.
    • Thank you to my teacher cohorts from the Goethe Schule in Buenos Aires for their dedication to building windmills instead of walls in times of change.
    • Thank you to my fellow bloggers, specifically Donna Miller Fry, Jackie Gerstein, Diane Kashin, and Angela Stockman, for their work in advancing heutagogical and pedagogical documentation and sharing it.
    • Thank you to my Langwitches blog readers who show me that documenting and sharing learning amplifies around the world.
    • Thank you to Janet Hale for suffering through my German run-on sentences, and for caring about the stories behind them.
    • Thank you to Silvia Tolisano for continually stretching my thinking and understanding. Drafting, revising, and refining our words, images, concepts, and examples so that educators and students around the world can grow from their own documenting opportunities has created special memories that I will treasure forever.
    • Thank you to Valerie Lyle for your willingness to drop everything multiple times to review and make recommendations that definitely improved our chapters.
    • Thank you to Mike Fisher for your friendship, laughter, energy, passion, and love for your family that continually inspires me and always makes me smile.
    • Thank you to my husband, Johnny Hale, for always encouraging me to grow in my learning, including the time-consuming world of professional writing.
    Publisher’s Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Michael Fisher, Author and Consultant
    • The Digigogy Collaborative
    • Amherst, NY
    • Andrea Hernandez, Educational Consultant and Co-Director of edJEWcon
    • amplifiEDucation.com and edtechworkshop.blogspot.com
    • Jacksonville, FL
    • LaQuita Outlaw, Principal
    • Bay Shore Middle School
    • Bay Shore, NY
    • Cameron Paterson, Head of Learning and Teaching
    • Shore School
    • North Sydney, Australia
    • Kathleen Rodda, Literacy Coach Affiliation
    • Eucalyptus Elementary
    • Hawthorne, CA

    About the Authors

    Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano is a Third Culture Kid (TCK). She was born in Germany, raised in Argentina, lived shortly in Brazil, and is now planted in the United States. Her multicultural upbringing fueled her passion for languages, travel, global awareness, and global competencies. Silvia holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a minor in International Studies, and a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in instructional technology. She has worked as a world language teacher, technology integration facilitator, 21st century learning specialist, social media coordinator, and professional development and educational consultant. She is a Curriculum21 faculty member, co-founder of edJEWcon, author of Digital Storytelling Tools for Educators (Lulu, 2010), and coauthor of Mastering Digital Literacy and Mastering Global Literacy (Solution Tree, 2013). Her passions include globally connected learning, technology integration, contemporary upgrades, amplification of curriculum and instruction, blogging as a pedagogy, developing and maintaining a personal learning network, and documenting learning. Visit Silvia’s consulting website: globallyconnectedlearning.com; amplifiEDUcation website: amplifieducation.com; documenting learning website: documenting4learning.com; and blog: Langwitches.org/blog; and follow her on Twitter @langwitches.

    Janet A. Hale grew up in a military family, which allowed her to see the world. When she was 12 years old she volunteered to teach swimming lessons to children with special needs and English to Korean children who were blind, while her father was stationed in Seoul. She was hooked and has been involved in education ever since. Janet earned a bachelor’s degree with dual majors in elementary education and special education, as well as a master’s degree in educational leadership with an emphasis in curriculum development. She also graduated from the Institute of Children’s Literature. She has worked as a special education high school teacher and a general education elementary teacher. Janet also worked as a seminar/workshop creator, presenter, and trainer for Teacher Created Materials, and authored or contributed to 40 books for Teacher Created Resources. She is the author of A Guide to Curriculum Mapping (Corwin, 2008), coauthor of its companion, An Educational Leader’s Guide to Curriculum Mapping (Corwin, 2010), and coauthor of Upgrade Your Curriculum (ASCD, 2013). She has been an independent educational consultant for more than 20 years. Janet presents at national and international conferences, and works with schools, districts, and dioceses as a consultant, trainer, and coach. She also assists for-profit companies and non-profit organizations to align their curriculum and materials to standards. Her passions include systemic curriculum design and curriculum mapping; standards literacy and alignment; modernizing curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and documenting learning. Visit Janet’s consulting website: CurriculumDecisions.com; documenting learning website: documenting4learning.com; and blog: CurriculumDecisions.com/blogs; and follow her on Twitter @janet_hale.

  • Appendix

    Image A.1

    Image A.2

    Image A.3



    Extending teaching and learning opportunities and one’s influence; make thinking and learning visible beyond own mind and zip code; make learning available to others by inviting them to contribute; action of impacting the learning of others


    To make larger or greater; increasing audience reach using social media


    Paper based; opposite of digital (e.g., analog chart versus digital chart)


    Act of adding notes or comments alongside text, image, video to aid in processing or explaining the media content


    Annotate digitally by overlaying text, directional arrows, and/or frames at specific moments on a still image or in a video


    Analog or digital media (e.g., text, visual, audio, video) used for documentation purposes

    Bite-size Information:

    Bite-sized nuggets of content that are easy to consume, sometimes they’re images or image-based, whose meaning can be grasped quickly, and often create deeper meaning by referencing shared experiences or stories (Gutierrez, 2014)


    Combination of a blog and portfolio characterized by providing learners opportunities to (a) develop writing skills, increase reflective practices, and connecting with authentic audiences; and (b) use as a platform that embraces creativity, communication, connections, and applications of digital citizenship (term coined by Andrea Hernandez)


    mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through one’s thoughts, experiences, and senses


    Group of people living in same area; group of people with common interests


    Obtaining information or input into a task or project by enlisting the services of a large number of people (Oxford Dictionary)


    Act of determining a resource’s or artifact’s value for current or future learning need or task


    The Critical Thinker’s collection, and involves several nuances that make it an independent and classroom-worthy task (Fisher & Tolisano, 2014)


    Electronic based; opposite of analog

    Digital Citizenship:

    Quality of habits, actions, and consumption patterns that impact the ecology of digital content and communities (Heick, 2013a)

    Digital Curation:

    Selection, preservation, maintenance, collection, and archiving of digital assets which establish, maintain, and add value to repositories of digital data for present and future use. (Wikipedia, 2017)

    Digital Portfolio:

    Compilation evidence of learner’s growth, development, and accomplishments over time that is usually collected, curated, and shared online


    Captured, collected, and/or curated evidence of learning

    Documenting AS Learning:

    Curation decision making for capturing and explaining purposeful moments as evidence of learning. Documentation is strategic, embedded, and ongoing, component of the learning process.

    Documenting FOR Learning:

    Explanations of selected artifacts to convey purposeful moments during and as a result of learning. Documentation is strategic and purposefully captures learning so that it can be reflected upon to support learning of oneself and/or others.

    Documenting OF Learning:

    Product or performance documentation display during or after learning has taken place, but no reflection is involved


    Prepare for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying


    Describing facts in a way that makes them understandable (LeFever, 2012)

    Global Literacy:

    Ability to understand how the world is organized and interconnected, including four global competencies: ability to investigate the world; recognize perspective; communicate ideas; and take action on issues of global significance


    Hash or pound sign directly followed by a word or phrase that conveys topic or concept used strategically on social media platforms

    Heutagogical Documentation:

    Documentation focused on self-motivated and self-directed learning that aids self-awareness, fueling motivation, and supporting decision making concerning desired learning


    Self-motivated and self-directed learning


    Clickable online image- or text-based link that transfers user from one location or another

    Hyperlinked Writing:

    Multilayered writing that takes advantage of the power of hyperlinks to connect personal writing to further content, concepts, ideas, or other sites on the web; writing that transforms static, linear, one layered writing into multilayered, connected, non-linear writing

    Information Literacy:

    Ability to filter and find information, analyze, evaluate, tag, categorize, organize, archive, store, find again, connect, curate, present, re-mix, and create new types of information

    Institutional Memory:

    School’s or district’s analog/digital collection and curation of events, experiences, best practices, values, and beliefs accessed by local and global audiences

    Learningflow Routine:

    Series of steps that creates a fluidity, and ultimately a habit, within the three documentation phases designed to create a flow from documenting initiation to completion based on content-specific focuses and articulated goals


    An attribution via a web link or offering (Levine, 2006)

    Media Literacy:

    Ability to express informed and critical understanding of mass-media purposes and influences, both explicit and subliminal


    Thinking about one’s thinking; refers to processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance

    Network Literacy:

    Ability to obtain a basic understanding of network technology, being able to craft one’s own network identity, understand network intelligence, and understand network capabilities (Hellweg, 2012)

    Orbit of Ability:

    A given person’s knowledge, talents, or expertise (Hale & Fisher, 2013)


    Methods, techniques, and strategies used by teachers to facilitate learning

    Personal Learning Network (PLN):

    Group of people who interact (most often) digitally based on common interests and passions


    Social media environment enabling a community to meet, share, communicate, and learn together


    Four-level taxonomy (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) developed by Ruben Puentedura that classifies technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge infusion based on teaching and learning impact


    Education-specific platforms and tools, purchased through a vendor or online educational company


    Act of recording and producing a video of what is transpiring on a screen, which can be recorded via screencasting tools and voice-overs through the device’s microphone


    Act of taking a screenshot


    A form of taking notes wherein the sketchnoter visually represents his or her thoughts and ideas, which can be created using a digital screen or analog paper format (Rohde, 2014)


    Act of combining what is known to create a new or more complex understanding


    Device or implement used to carry out a particular function (Oxford Dictionary, 2017b)

    Transmedia Documentation:

    Narrative that extends beyond multiple media forms that also plays to the strength of those forms (Heick, 2014b)


    Decision-making regarding the usefulness of captured documentation; analyzing media to determine and inform learners of their current capabilities


    Denote materials that are created and marketed mainly for purposes other than teaching and learning, but which are also used for teaching and learning (Ehrmann, 1995)


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