Pedagogical Documentation in ELD Classrooms

Area(s) of Focus: technology, curriculum
Division(s): Intermediate, Senior
Level(s): Grade 9, Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12

Using pedagogical documentation, portfolios and collaboration to support language and literacy acquisition, inclusion, and reflection in the secondary ELD (English Literacy Development) classroom.

Our team will co-create student electronic portfolios that will highlight a student’s English language learning journey over one year. We will use materials from the student’s ELD (English Literacy Development) course and at least one other class. Students in ELD programs have limited prior schooling or gaps in schooling. We are going to use this portfolio to support pedagogical documentation in the classroom. This will help us to triangulate data and support assessment of, for, and as learning for the students in our classes, as well as implications for teaching.

Team Members

  • Katie Ritter

    Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

  • Ann-Marie Reid

    Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

  • Reuben Hartgerink

    Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

  • Amanda Valiquette

    Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • Used cycles of inquiry to deepen our understanding of language acquisition for students with limited prior schooling. The STEP framework provided an anchor for the idea of language acquisition and observable language behaviours.
  • Used technology efficiently to document student growth, learning and experience in a way that allows for inclusion, reflection, collaboration and sustainability
  • Reflected on the implications of student work for both learning and teaching, using a learning conversation protocol
  • Reflected on the implications of using pedagogical documentation to support inclusive classrooms and school environments

Activities and Resources

The team met three times, with release, over the course of a semester. We also met informally and virtually. We all work in the same school in a congregated ELD (English Literacy Development) site with students, ages 14 to 21. We used our time to collaboratively investigate pedagogical documentation, our chosen digital portfolio platform (Seesaw) and to set the parameters for what we were going to document, how we were going to document, and why we were going to document. We focused on literacy-based activities in ELD class and in a computer class. We chose marker students whom we all knew, who represented a range of proficiencies (or STEPs) in English language acquisition, and who had significant gaps in their education or had never been to school at all.

After each lesson cycle in our own classrooms, we met to discuss student work and identify the implications of our observations on student learning and on our own teaching. The focus of the discussion was not simply on assessment: we looked at student work, and the hows and whys of documentation; our conversations became a way to uncover how learning is taking place in our classrooms and how we can support a broad range of learners through interaction, task creation, and supporting reflection and metacognition. Once we were able to collaboratively consider the student evidence, we continued with another series of lessons to improve, enrich, personalize or extend the learning. We tried to develop a shared understanding of how the student was progressing. Documentation and discussion were ongoing. Student sharing and reflection were encouraged using our digital portfolio platform.



“Creative Tools for Student Engagement.” Seesaw,

Pedagogical Documentation: Leading Learning in the Early Years and Beyond (Capacity Building Series), October 2012

Pedagogical Documentation Revisited (Capacity Building Series), January 2015

The Learning Conversations Protocol (Capacity Building Series), July 2016

Edwards, C., et al. The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – Advanced Reflections. Ablex, 1998.



Student A: The student participated in a number of activities relating to writing about a sequence of events. First, he was asked to predict what he would do on March break, then, following the break, to write about what he actually did, and finally, to identify similarities and differences between his predictions and what he actually did.

The student completed a number of prewriting tasks for each stage of the project. The use of prepositions of time, the past tense and the future tense were emphasized. The student’s progress, including rough work, was documented on Seesaw. The student is demonstrating oral language behaviours at a STEP1 and STEP 2 level.

Student H:  The student was working to develop reading comprehension.  The student’s reading responses were documented and discussed in terms of ability to retell and summarize a story, identify and explain some of the main elements of a short story, make a personal connection to the story, and identify personal learning as an extension of the story. Multiple attempts were made to express this information verbally, then in writing, and then the final product was submitted. The student documented her process on Seesaw and uploaded a series of photos to the platform. The student’s work overall reflects STEP levels 2 to 4.

Student AK:  This particular student was in ELD DO at this time. He was working at a STEP level 3. The student was instructed to write a three-paragraph response to a book they had read independently. The personal response discussed a short summary of the book and the student’s thoughts and emotions. The student was able to upload a PDF of the document to Seesaw to show an example of the final product. In addition, the student recorded a video of himself discussing his writing process.  He reflected on how he went about creating the personal response. He also provided a short synopsis of what his response was about.

Unexpected Challenges

  • Finding and using devices that supported the documentation process and our digital portfolios (Seesaw) – not all technology was useful in this regard
  • Initial learning curve for students and teachers when using the digital platform for documentation
  • Incorporating/merging timely documentation and discussion in a meaningful way in the classroom in an already rich learning environment  
  • Logistical challenges which were beyond the control of the team
  • Long-term goals as outlined in our proposal were not realistic in terms of the project’s timing

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

  • We were able to see distinciive growth over a period of time especially in oral communication (speaking – fluency, accuracy, use of grammatical structures, confidence, vocabulary control) because we were able to capture multiple examples using our digital platform, Seesaw. These were organized chronologically.
  • We were able to home in on or attend to language characteristics (observable language behaviours on the STEP chart) that could be overlooked in the day-to-day of the language learning classroom and, as a result, we could address the need, and give specific feedback and use this to inform further instruction  
  • Students felt confident using the digital portfolio platform, especially students who may not be as confident “sharing” in class in a more traditional sense. As a result, this enhanced feelings of inclusion in class because everyone had equal access to discussion, were able to share their own ideas and received equal feedback.
  • Students were able to reflect on their learning and language acquisition in ways we have not observed previously – their metacognition was more precise, more tangible, and more thoughtful  (given their language proficiency) and allowed them to take ownership of their own learning processes
  • The documentation of the work, the observations of the student, and the discussions we had as teachers led to more effective triangulation of student data, and more effective identification of areas of strength and need. This allowed for more efficient lesson design, implementation and assessment.
  • We were able to showcase and celebrate the work of students in ways that we hadn’t previously. Students engaged in these opportunities and they shared the work with their families, which we also did not expect.  


We will share our learning, samples of student work, samples of documentation, resources, and information about the digital platform during the PD portion of a staff meeting in the fall.

Project Evaluation


  • We were able to observe oral language acquisition milestones (according to the STEP chart) over time, even if it was incremental 
  • We were able to appreciate growth in student confidence
  • We were able to engage some families in discussions about student learning and growth
  • We were able to have colleague support in terms of carefully observing student work and documenting learning, as well as co-designing lessons and next steps in direct response to student need. The learning conversation protocol was helpful in this regard.
  • We were able to provide specific, descriptive feedback over a period of time
  • As individual teachers, we all noted different aspects of student growth over a period of time, which allowed us to develop a very comprehensive learner profile
  • We were able to navigate the digital platform more effectively by the end of the school year
  • Pedagogical documentation allows students to pause and reflect on their learning and it shifts the focus to the learning process as opposed to the final product
  • We became more comfortable taking on the role  of “observer” in the secondary classroom

Next Steps:

  • Continued use of pedagogical documentation and digital platform over a longer period of time, and across subject areas. Will this give us a better understanding of long-term literacy development and language acquisition?
  • More intentional merging with daily classroom routines
  • Use to enhance applications of STEP framework in classroom planning and assessment
  • Sharing of student work and growth with all teachers across semesters and with teachers who are new to teaching in the ELD program and who teach in content areas (math, geography, etc.). Making the documentation more visible to a wider audience.
  • Becoming more discerning in evidence collection and supporting students in choosing their own “best” or “‘most revealing” evidence  
  • Creation of rich, holistic lessons which allow for metacognition
  • Honing the learning conversation protocol to facilitate discussion