Wow! I can’t believe summer is halfway done, and if you are anything like me, you are probably starting to think a little bit about classroom ideas and maybe even how you might refine your teaching practice just a little bit more.
This coming school year is extra special for me as I will be going back to ‘school’ myself! In addition to my role as a kindergarten teacher, I am beginning the exciting journey of being a Ph.D. student, specializing in early childhood education. I’m really excited to continue to learn more and link my teaching with emerging research and ideas in the field of ECE.
That being said, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I can enhance my classroom practice. I started asking myself, how are multicultural and diverse families made visible in our classroom? How are they made visible in our documentation? How am I including and honouring their home languages and interpretations of their child’s learning?
I realized that what I was really thinking about, and exploring was family engagement, like deep, democratic, community building engagement. And I say, this not to take away from the wonderful things we already do (family days, field trip supervision, volunteering, playdough club, etc) but to really push myself to continue to expand and evolve my understanding of what inclusion of multicultural and diverse families looks and feels like in my classroom.
For me, this means, involving parents in my pedagogical documentation. This practice is commonplace in formats like Te Whāriki’s Learning Story Framework, and I was really inspired by it during my time in New Zealand a few years ago. Although I teach Kindergarten in Ontario, I think it is important to see ‘other ways of doing things’ as complementary to our teaching practice, as opposed to separate.
So what is a Learning Story?
There are a lot of different definitions and interpretations of Learning Stories, I personally lean towards the Learning Stories framework used in Te Whāriki, New Zealand’s early childhood education curriculum. Before getting into how to write a Learning Story, it is important to think about our goals for assessment, and how we interpret the assessment process.
Te Whāriki describes assessment for learning as iterative and dynamic process of “noticing, recognizing, and responding” (Ministry of Education, 2004; p.6), recognizing that learning is experienced by children through their interactions with ‘people, places and things’, a belief which connects the processes of observation, documentation, and interpretation through a ‘spiral movement’, arguing that each process cannot be treated as separate from the other, but rather join together to create a fluid and continuous exchange between its participants (Edwards, et al., 2011; Rinaldi, 2004).
There are a few key features of Learning Stories I would like to highlight:
Learning Stories are collaborative.
The Learning Story exemplar titled “Electricity in the Wall” (Ministry of Education, 2004, p.7) is a good example of the observation, dialogue and multiple representations of learning involved in the collaborative model of assessment promoted by Te Whāriki.
A Learning Story involves the observations of educators, dialogue between educators and children and input from families. For me, the involvement of families in assessment and documentation is incredibly inspiring, and something I will be adding to my program in September.
Learning Stories help make the ‘invisible’ (feelings, voices of children and their families and children’s interests) visible.
Formal methods of assessment focus on the ‘visible’ attributes of learning such as the mastery of predetermined learning goals, measurable skills, and developmental milestones, creating an inequitable and inaccurate representation of achievement through the omission of ‘invisible’ attributes of learning such as feelings, the ‘voices’ of children and their families, and children’s learning dispositions (Arndt, & Tesar, 2015), and the isolation of assessment from the social and cultural contexts of children’s experiences (Carr et al., 1998; Rinaldi, 2006). Furthermore, such records cannot be revisited as a site for future exploration – a key feature of Te Whāriki’s Learning Stories, which consider children’s narratives to be “a living record of educational practice” (Edwards et al., 2011, p.228), available for educators, young children and their families to revisit and review, each time creating new interpretations and reconstruction of children’s learning (Carr et al., 1998; Cowie, & Mitchell, 2015; Katz, & Chard, 1996; May, 2001; Ministry of Education, 2004).
Learning Stories reflect the unique identity of each child.
Learning Stories and pedagogical documentation legitimize children’s experiences of identity by going beyond predetermined learning outcomes to make visible the funds of knowledge possessed by young children (Hedges, 2014) thereby validating each child’s funds of identity (Esteban-Guitart, & Moll, 2014). Assessment practices such as Learning Stories and pedagogical documentation therefore interrupt cultural production and social order promoted by legitimized powers in favour of repositioning assessment as a democratic process which creates a level playing field, bringing into light each child’s experience of class, culture, gender and race, in turn validating his or her unique position within society, making visible the multiple ways in which he or she experiences identity (Carr et al., 1998;).
Weaving Learning Stories into the Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum: What does that look like?
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, and to be quite honest, I feel like Learning Stories are going to replace the way I currently document the milestones in children’s learning in my classroom. I think it is so important to involve parents in the assessment process (currently reserved for educators with parents seeing the final product as non-negotiable). By this, I mean that I will continue to document daily observations and everyday tasks, but when the children reach big curriculum milestones, I will create and share Learning Stories with space for family observations of their child at home relating to that specific curricular milestone.
I hope you are as inspired as I am by the Learning Stories framework, and I invite you to join me for part two of this blog post series where I show you (and share!) my Learning Story template, which I’ve designed to fit with Ontario’s Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum.
In the meantime, I hope you continue to have a wonderful summer and enjoy the last month of sleep-ins before back to school!
Arndt, S., & Tesar, M. (2015). Early childhood assessment in Aotearoa New Zealand: Critical perspectives and fresh openings. Journal of Pedagogy, 6(2), 71-86.
Carr, M., May, H., & Podmore, V. (1998). Learning and Teaching Stories: New Approaches to Assessment and Evaluation in Relation to Te Whariki.
Cowie, B., & Mitchell, L. (2015). Equity as family/whānau opportunities for participation in formative assessment.
Edwards, C. P., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. E. (Eds.). (1998). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach–advanced reflections. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Esteban-Guitart, M., & Moll, L. C. (2014). Funds of identity: A new concept based on the funds of knowledge approach. Culture & Psychology, 20(1), 31-48.
Hedges, H. (2004). A Whale of an Interest in Sea Creatures: The Learning Potential of Excursions. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 6(1), n1.
Rinaldi, C. (2004). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, researching and learning. Routledge.