Inspiration Zen

Course 3 final project:

To apply some of the Presentation Zen principles in my pedagogical documentation to make the learning of young children visible. My intention is to create a movie with accompanying paper documentation to tell the story of one child’s commitment, delight and learning through a project about dinosaurs. The audience of the finished presentation is intended to be principally the family and the child.

Documentation as a tool for promoting the construction of respectful learning

Pedagogical documentation is a cooperative process that helps teachers listen to and see the children with whom they work, thus opening the possibility to construct meaningful experiences with them. Documentation, interpreted and reinterpreted with other educators and children, gives the option of drafting scripts for action that are not arbitrary but instead respectful of all involved. Documentation makes the learning visible, showing the enormous potential of children.

Digital documentation

The digital narration, stories and experiences lived and constructed by the children, uses new integrated languages of the digital world: sound, movement and animation. This allows new ways of telling about ones own experience at school. Now we use digital technology to follow children’s constructions and gather images that we use to communicate children’s growth. I wished to create a digital piece of documentation as this would best show the learning as much of the collected story was in the form of video as well as photographs and transcripts.

Principles from presentation Zen

Garr Reynolds discusses aspects of traditional Japanese aesthetic ideas and the principles of Zen aesthetics found in the traditional Japanese garden, in his post, 7 Japanese aesthetic principles to change your thinking . I felt that five of the many principles could be re-interpreted from the point of view of documentation.

Kanso (simplicity or elimination of clutter) – things are explained in a simple manner that gives clarity through omission of the non-essential.

Fukinsei (asymmetry or irregularity) – the idea of controlling balance in a composition via irregularity and asymmetry.

Shibui/Shibumi (beautiful by being understated) – elegant simplicity, articulate brevity.

Shizen (naturalness) – there is an absence of pretense or artificiality, a full creative intent that is unforced.

Yugen (profundity or suggestion, rather than revelation) – such that a Japanese garden can be said to be a collection of subtleties and symbolic elements.

Seijaku (tranquility) – an air of energized calm, stillness and solitude.

In his post, What is Good PowerPoint Design, Garr Reynolds writes about slide show presentations. From the perspective of documentation, I feel that the suggestions made could apply to the presentation and design of many formats of documentation, including written, displayed, blog posts, video and images. In all of these a simple but more effective, beautiful, balanced but not decorated methodology could be applied, with thought given to the following points,

  • Have a plan – What is the story? What is the message?
  • So what? – Think about the audience, cut out superfluous images, text and video footage.
  • Create a thorough accompanying document.
  • Do the messages stick? – Simplicity, unexpected, concrete, emotional. Engaging and thoughtfully designed.
  • Edit, edit, edit.
  • Simplicity, clarity, essentialness, minimalism.
  • Reduce noise – remove irrelevant information, fewer elements as possible, include empty space.

Collegial Collaboration

In our setting, discussing children’s learning through our documentation is a valuable experience is an indispensible tool in facilitating professional growth and communication for us.

Lella Gandini reminds us,

“Documentation is not considered here as the collecting of data in a detached, objective, distant way. Rather, it is seen as the interpretation of close, keen observation and attentive listening, gathered with a variety if tools by educators aware of contributing their different points of views. In fact, our views about childhood and our personal theories influence what each of us sees and hears; that is why we need to compare interpretations among colleagues.”                             


We held a meeting to discuss the data collected so far on one particular project with one child that I needed to ask everyone’s interpretation of. My purpose of the meeting was to clarify what the message was that I wished to convey about this child’s learning and which images and recordings would best illustrate this. As usual working collaboratively with my colleagues, who also know the child very well was very useful. Helpful advice was given, thoughtful analysis offered and technical help provided.

The Beginnings of a presentation

I originally intended to make a slide show to illustrate the child’s learning in an ongoing project and accompany the slide show with a two page written document. After showing my slide show to my colleagues, it was suggested that maybe using I-Movie would be more effective. I experimented with I-Movie – an application that I am very unfamiliar with and not at all comfortable or competent in using. I had a lot of information, in the form of transcripts, photographs and video,  as the project had begun in January and is not yet finished as the child still has an intense interest and desire to pursue his ideas further. I found I-Movie frustrating and time consuming but fortunately my colleague, Lara volunteered to help and spent much time working with me to edit the footage. As we viewed the recordings we discussed what we saw and this helped us to consider which parts were useful to tell the story. By looking carefully at the video footage, photographs and transcripts of dialogue we tried to understand the learning. Of course this is subjective, as I made choices about what to add and what not to include. Below is a small part of the video that has been edited. This is a work in progress and will be subjected to many more edits as the project is developed further.


The Documentation is started

Garr Reynolds suggests that a slide show can be enhanced by the paper documentation that accompanies it. Given this I have begun to construct an explanation that will add more detail and explanation to the slide show. My intention was to explain the purpose of this project and briefly tell the story. This project is still underway so the documentation is not yet finished. I have removed the child’s and images of his face name to protect his identity.

We must be able to catch the ball that the children throw at us, and toss it back to them in a way that makes the children want to continue the game with us, developing perhaps other games, as we go along.”

Tizianna Filippini

And so the child showed us his intense interest in dinosaurs by ‘being’ a tyrannosaurus-rex and we reciprocated by showing him that we valued his passion that is so much a part of him and offered our hands to join with him on a journey to investigate the essence of a tyrannosaurus-rex using different forms of expression. Over many weeks the child was involved in an in depth investigation of dinosaurs.

What was the purpose of the project?

Our intention for this project was for the child to increase his confidence in his own intellectual powers and to strengthen his dispositions to continue for learning, to increase his attention span and focus for an extended period of time. The process of his thinking, feeling, working and progressing was of great importance. He was encouraged to make his own decisions and find solutions. It was an opportunity for us to understand more about the child.

How did the project unfold?

The beginning

The child had been role-playing being a tyrannosaurus-rex, which he decided to draw on the whiteboard. The teacher asked him if he would like to construct a dinosaur like this. The child’s interest was piqued and evoked a response. The size seemed to be of the greatest interest to the child.

How could he make a huge tyrannosaurus?

We hoped to legitimise the child’s knowledge and curiosity and addressed his investigations with support and suggestions.

The need for more information

The child referred to his favourite books in the classroom and Google Images, to find representations of tyrannosaurus-rex skeletons, outer appearance and size. He drew an enormous dinosaur and then became interested in what the inside of the dinosaur might be like. He constructed this in small pieces of wood, then on another day with Kapla blocks to construct the skeleton and then added the skeleton to the inside of his large drawing.

The overhead projector

To help him to understand more about the way the dinosaur might move and behave he engaged in shadow play with images projected onto the screen with the overhead projector. This led to a wonderful exploration of sound and silence, light and dark, movement and stillness, big and small as the child created a projected dinosaur world that he could move within. Jacob considered about dinosaurs evolution, physical characteristics, behaviour and eating habits. We hoped that through a deeper exploration of what it might be like to be a tyrannosaurus-rex, the child might be more able to construct a large model.

To be continued…

The story of the child and the dinosaur will be further developed and I expect it will continue over several more months. I will continue to deeply consider the power of visuals in making learning visible. Once I have completed the final presentation and of course if the parents grant permission, I will post it on this blog.

In a broader sense, the principles of Zen are very appealing in the context of our ELC and our interpretation of the Reggio experience within the rich context of Japan. Reading Garr Reynolds articles has caused me to reflect upon the cultural aspects of Zen and how this could influence our daily lives and encounters in our ELC. Can we somehow embed these principles in our work with children, in the ways we construct our environment, in our interactions and in our approach to learning and understanding?

As always, there are very exciting times ahead….

References and Interesting Reading:

Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Forman, G. (Ed) (1998) The Hundred Languages of children. Ablex Publishing

Gandindi, L. and Pope Edwards, C. (Eds) (2000)  Bambini

Reynolds, G. (2011) Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices That Matter)

What is Good PowerPoint Design Garr Reynolds

From Design to Meaning Garr Reynolds


This entry was posted in 1.0 CERTIFICATE IN EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGIES, 1.3 Visual Literacy: Effective Communicators and Creators and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Inspiration Zen

  1. Kim Cofino says:

    Wow! Once again the work that you are doing in the ELC is amazing. I’m really looking forward to seeing the final edit – there’s so much here, I actually don’t know how you’re going to edit it down! What’s your final goal for timeframe for the completed video? I like the idea that you’re working on written documentation as well – it will be a good compliment to the completed video.

  2. Pingback: Killer Rex | Clair Weston

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