One of the things I experienced documenting children’s learning in the past was an overload of photos, notes, and observations. While they all speak to the unique learning of each child, I was always left with too many photographs and notes. After much reflection, I decided to simplify our process and use the Learning Stories format to document each child’s learning – and so far, the process is A LOT ‘easier’ and more effective. Learning Stories help me go deeper into those special everyday moments that occur in our classroom, and they give me a chance to really focus on one child + family at a time.
So What is a Learning Story?
Learning Stories are the assessment framework used by Te Whariki, New Zealand’s early childhood education curriculum. A Learning Story positions assessment in early childhood education as a highly individualized and contextual practice (Arndt & Tesar, 2015), reflecting children’s dispositions about learning and unique working theories (Carr, May, & Podmore, 1998). A Learning Story is essentially a short write up about a child’s specific or ongoing learning and it uses photographs, quotes, conversations and observations to create a ‘picture’ of learning that is unique to each child. It also involves children and their families in the assessment process, making Learning Stories a truly democratic form of assessment. There are three important parts of creating a Learning Story:
A Pedagogy of Listening
Central to the Learning Story framework of assessment is the practice of attentive listening (referred to as ‘pedagogy of listening’ by Rinaldi (2006). The pedagogy of listening is considered to be a democratic and ethical approach to the education and assessment of young children, in which “listening is used as a process for understanding, respecting and responding with openness to others” (Macartney, Purdue & MacArthur, 2013). In teaching and assessment, attentive listening gives value and meaning to the views of children, engaging in recognizing the creativity of their working theories, interpretations, and experiences (Rinaldi, 2004).
Including Narratives of Working Theories
Learning Stories provide narratives of children’s working theories, learning dispositions, and children’s learning activities, with children often offering contributions to their own stories. Families are also encouraged to contribute to their child’s learning stories through writing or conversation, often adding information about the child’s learning such as home-based interests and suggestions for further development for their child. Over time, children’s stories are collected in a portfolio, providing visible traces of learning that can be accessed by children, educators and families to reflect on, use and celebrate progress (Cowie and Mitchell, 2015).
Capturing ‘the invisible’
Learning Stories make it possible for educators to capture ‘the invisible’ attributes involved in children’s learning (Ardnt & Tesar, 2015) such as respect, curiosity, trust, reflection, a sense of belonging, confidence and independence. They capture social-emotional details that are extremely difficult to measure but are often observable in children’s responses and learning. Capturing ‘invisible’ attributes through Learning Stories is especially important for children with special needs as it showcases their growth as opposed to generic/checklist forms of assessment where their growth may not be as evident.
I’ve been really happy with my switch to using Learning Stories as a main portfolio and assessment piece; I absolutely LOVE that the input of the child and family is a central component to this type of assessment framework. At the moment, I focus on 2-3 children a day and really dig into their learning. This way I can really spend a lot of time having conversations and observing the children and really learn more about their learning process.
I hope this blog post inspires you to experiment with the Learning Stories framework in your teaching practice; now that I’ve started using them, I’m hooked!
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.
Macartney, B., Purdue, K., & MacArthur, J. (2013). Progressing Te Whāriki from rhetoric to reality for children with disabilities and their families. Weaving Te Whariki: Aotearoa New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum framework in theory and practice, 115-133.
Rinaldi, C. (2004). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, researching and learning. Routledge.