Documenting Teaching and Learning: A Teacher Action Research Project to Elevate Thinking and Learning in the Inquiry Process


Sylvia Gentile, Judith Kantor (Co-Investigators) as of 1/2019 prior C.Wilson





UCLA Lab School





Megan Franke


Gabriella Cardenas
Mayra Carrasco
Erika Garcia
Ding Kong
Alanah Ntzouras
Jane Parkes
Linnea Paul
Nicole Mancevice, Graduate Student Researcher
Christine Lee, Graduate Student Researcher


Documenting Teaching and Learning is a teacher-initiated action research project to study the relationship between documentation and learning during the inquiry process. The project goals are two-fold: to increase the types and use of documentation throughout inquiry, and to evaluate how these changes affect teacher planning and students’ thinking and understanding of science, social studies, and math concepts.


This year, the Inquiry Pedagogy Vision Committee is continuing its focus on the role of documentation to support teacher planning and enrich student learning, specifically in the area of science, social studies, and mathematics. We are investigating how documentation enhances the inquiry process at UCLA Lab School.

Often documentation is used at the end of the learning process to make learning visible. We believe documentation should be an interactive tool throughout the process that provides opportunities for students and teachers to reflect on and refine their work. Documentation should not be limited to the final student product. Our goal is to elevate the role of reflection by teachers and students and investigate the impact of using documentation in this interactive way.

The action research project will help us to identify ways documentation impacts teachers' and students’ thinking about the content, the product, and the process of inquiry. We will analyze data from student work and documentation to look for shifts in student thinking, evidence of understanding of science and social studies concepts, and patterns of group interactions. We will analyze data from teacher work and documentation to understand how teacher moves relate to student participation and learning, as well as to identify best practices for documentation.


The project goals are two-fold: to increase the types and use of documentation throughout the inquiry process, and to evaluate how these changes affect teacher planning and students’ thinking and understanding of science, social studies, and math concepts. We hope the project findings will encourage more teachers and students to use documentation.


As an action research project, the work will directly inform researchers’ and participants’ practice. It will also generate knowledge and resources that we can use in future internal professional development and outreach.


We plan to disseminate the research findings in multiple ways. First, the Committee could share the research activities and findings as part of UCLA Lab School internal and outreach professional development programs. Second, the Committee plans to research potential conferences and publications that could be relevant outlets for sharing this work with a larger audience.



This project is open to any teacher who would like to participate. The only criteria is that we aim to include at least one classroom from each level.



Survey: We will distribute a brief, survey to all teachers to learn about current documentation practices and obstacles to documentation. We will ask that teachers identify their level (e.g., EC, Primary, Intermediate, Upper, or Specialist). We will not ask them to include their names on the surveys.

During the 2017-2018 school year, we will also include 2 open-ended questions on the feedback forms that the team already distributes during internal professional development institutes.

Rationale: This survey will allow us to gather information about: current practices across the school, how practices might differ across levels, and the reasons why teachers might not currently document during the inquiry process. It will inform planning discussions with colleagues.

Participant Observation

Teacher meetings: We plan to audio or video record teacher professional development, lesson planning, and debrief meetings. We may transcribe all or part of these recordings.

Rationale: The recordings will provide us with a record of: the ways teachers intend to document, and involve students in documenting, during the inquiry process; teachers’ conjectures for how these practices will affect student learning; and teachers’ reflections on how the practices did affect student learning in the classroom. This information source will provide an “audit record” of the planning process.

Classroom lessons: In addition to recordings that teachers and students make as part of classroom activity, we will video record lessons.

Rationale: These video recordings will provide us information about the larger instructional context for inquiry, and patterns of teacher and student interaction and participation. The recordings will also allow a classroom teacher to later reflect on what took place with colleagues. In addition to being part of our analysis and planning, we can use the recordings in future professional development programs.

Field notes: We will keep write field notes during research team meetings, teacher planning meetings, and classroom observations.

Rationale: The field notes will help us to document information about planning decisions and classroom instruction, and informal conversations with students about their work. At the conclusion of the project, we can use these notes to construct a narrative of the action research project.

Artifact Analysis

Classroom documentation and student work: We will collect samples of classroom documentation and student work. Documentation will include summaries of investigations, student questions, student conversations and reflections, student work samples throughout the process, and teacher plans, reflections, revisions, and assessments. Students and teachers will explore different media platforms. We envision students using technology and tools to create movies, photos, posters, sculptures, or mixed media projects that would show their learning process.

Rationale: In this project, documentation is both a learning tool and a data source. We anticipate that teachers and students will use the information to guide inquiry. We will also use the information to look for shifts in student thinking and understanding of science and social studies concepts, as well as to look for connections between teachers’ practice and student learning.

Group Interviews

Focus group/Group interviews: We plan to convene teachers in small groups to hear their reflections on the role of documentation in their classrooms.

Rationale: We want to get a sense of the teachers' perceptions of changes that occurred in their classrooms.

Other data

We may request basic descriptive demographic information about the school.

Rationale: This information is important to describe the study context to a broader audience.





We have attached the teacher survey, professional development institute feedback questions, and group interview protocols.


We have incorporated a rationale for each of the methods of data collection listed above.


We anticipate that the main teacher participants will also be study team members. We are planning to conduct participant observation and collect artifacts in study team members’ classrooms. However, we would like to survey all staff about their current documentation practices, and we would like to film at faculty meetings and PD workshops related to inquiry and documentation. Due to the collaborative nature of teaching at the school, it is also possible that a non-study team member teacher will be in the classroom while a lesson is being filmed.

For those who are not study team members, we are requesting a waiver of signed consent for teachers and instructional staff. We will distribute a brief summary of the project to all levels. (See attached.) We anticipate sending this summary via email and will distribute it as a handout during a fall teacher workshop. At the beginning of this workshop, we will remind teachers that we are conducting an action research project, and plan to use the survey and any video/audio recordings of meetings as data sources. (See attached sample script.) Teachers can choose whether they will complete the survey. All teachers can indicate whether they prefer to not be video or audio recorded. Teachers always have the right to review their participation in any video or audio recordings, and they can request that we delete all or part of any video or audio recording.

We are requesting permission to waive signed parent consent under the school’s blanket consent agreement. We will include a description of the project in the “Backpack Notes,” and we will orally explain the project to students before we start video recording in classrooms.


This project is teacher-initiated and teacher-driven. Our colleagues have a choice to participate. It is an opportunity to improve practice and to learn. We understand that some teachers may not be comfortable being video recorded, which is why participating teachers can decide whether, or how much, they are video recorded. We also understand that some students may be more or less comfortable with being video recorded. When filming in small groups or independent work, we will not focus the camera on students who appear shy or reluctant. Students’ well being and learning are always our first priority as educators.


The project will not involve deception.


The school will be named in future reports and dissemination efforts. Teachers will have an opportunity to decide whether they are named as co-researchers or participants. If teachers agree to be video recorded, then we cannot guarantee confidentiality. We will remove students’ names from work samples before sharing them with groups outside of the school (e.g., presentations or publications).

We will store video clips, samples of student work, and other data in a separate Box folder for the research team. We may backup data on the CONNECT server at the UCLA Lab School. We may also have data on our school computers and laptops. The team has also discussed using Dedoose this year to support data analysis.



This is a teacher-initiated action research project.


We anticipate that the main teacher participants will also be study team members. For those who are not study team members, we are requesting a waiver of signed consent for teachers and instructional staff. We will distribute a brief summary of the project to all teachers and instructional staff. By choosing to participate in the project, teachers and staff are agreeing to participate in research. All teachers who participate in the project will be able to decide whether or not they would like to be video recorded.


Lab School Personnel are directing this project. The project will involve any teachers and staff who are interested in becoming involved.


We do not currently know all of the room numbers that might be involved in the project.


This project will focus on teaching and learning science, social studies, and math through inquiry.


We may request basic descriptive demographic information about the school.


The work will be done by UCLA Lab School Faculty and CONNECT GSRs.