The role of the Atelierista; Documentation and supporting teachers

One thing I'm looking forward to in the new school year is figuring out more about collaboration on documentation. I find this very difficult because it involves a complicated kind of communication. As the studio teacher, I don't have a class of my own of course, and work with teachers and their classroom projects each day. The quality of the communication between the teacher and me is what determines how well we can support the project and the children. That means the Teachers have to trust me and let me borrow a little control of their classroom from them. In the oldest classes, Teachers hope that children will do more and more documentation themselves. It will be important for teachers to have a deep understanding of what documentation is to support the students in making their learning visible in this way.

At NAREA in Portland there was the best description I have ever heard of documentation as a process, as both a verb and a noun, in the words of Sabot's middle school math teacher Chris. I think it was Tiziana Filippini who described pedagogical documentation as "re-building the meaning (of an investigation) in a more complete way." So you have the project, and within it you use documents like observations, photographs, video and the children's words with the children. You use these artifacts to move things forward or to slow things down in order to find as much learning within the project as possible.
Next, the teachers use the same and maybe even more of those same artifacts to document the project. This is the part of documentation where it is very useful to gather a group together to go over the artifacts in dialog, and this might be the documentation that you put on the wall or display digitally for the children's parents. I think the part of documentation that can function as assessment also resides at this stage.

Finally, there is 'communicating the project'. This is the part where you might write something longer or more formal about the project. Maybe you will make it into a power point to present at a conference, or maybe you will design something that can be printed to hang in the communal area of the school. At this point, the project work has probably finished from the children's perspective, but the teacher and community can learn a lot from taking one more look at it all. So that final thing might be called 'a documentation' by some teachers; this is the noun way. The whole process is also called documentation, and that is the verb way of thinking of it.

I feel very comfortable writing about the parts of projects that happen in the studio, but it's hard to represent the children's investigations from only one vantage point. This means that I can't always use documentation really fully. Of course the picture of a project is much richer when it is made from more than one person's observations and reflections, and so is it's impact on my practice of teaching.

How can I set it up so that things that happen in the studio aren't separate from what happens in classrooms? I don't think the children see their explorations as separate- if they're thinking about wheels in the classroom, and they're thinking about wheels in the studio, it's just a lot of thinking about wheels, as far as I can tell. So if we are supporting the children's work, we can't create boundaries where none really exist. The key to making it work is trust and communication. For me, it's the hardest part of the Atelierista job!


  1. do you have time to meet with the teachers to talk about what is happening in each space when the other is not there? do you each make your own separate documentation or do you collaborate?

  2. It is too hard to me, i have to say, to keep up communication and the work as a team, the big fact here is, we need to increase the trust on what you're doing, is that you're expert in, and we all must understand this, just before starting projects study and development. These are sides of the coin that complete theirselves, when we understand that, we can work alone by ourselves on an individual project, or in the same way as a group like an integrated cell, both of these cases without a difference in terms of dense processes.

  3. First off -- Anna, I LOVE your blog! We met in Portland (I'm atelierista Mellissa from Washington, DC! :) Thank you for your always insightful posts!

    Second -- Being able to meet with all of the teachers we service as atelieristas can sometimes be difficult. Getting every teacher on the same page about their willingness to collaborate, creating documentation (on their own) and simply taking the time to have rich dialogues with their students poses a challenge at my school. How do you foster closer relationships with teachers to get them to understand that our role is imperative in developing the whole child; to get children to utilize all of their languages and also that THEIR role is the same? So much can come out of dialogues with children, but some of my teachers find it a challenge to fit that into their daily schedule?? Any suggestions or tips? Thank you!

  4. hi I hope u get this, but im currently doing an assignment on reggio Emilia and trying to understand what an atelierista does in a classroom I wondered if u could expand???? thx


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