Bringing Learning To Life
Like any good book, every learning story has a plot and a hero.
In a learning story, the hero is always the child. And instead of an epic battle in an enchanted forest, a learning story takes place in reality. It uses pictures and words to tell the tale of a child’s personal growth and development.
If you use a digital tool like Educa to write learning stories, then there’ll probably be photos or videos too.
It all helps bring the learning to life.
The Magic of Learning Stories
Learning stories are a form of assessment, and yet very different from the traditional checklist or form. Learning stories are a version of formative assessment. meaning they are an input, used to decide on next steps for a child. This is in contrast to summative assessment, where the assessment is the end goal.
Learning stories use a storytelling format written about the child or written to the child – a narrative that is easy for the teacher to write and of course compelling reading for the parent.
Instead of “child is curious” on a report card, a learning story might read: “I saw you in the playground today. Out of the corner of your eye, you saw a butterfly flutter by and you turned your head and to follow its flight. Then you carefully rose to your feet and followed. I was so proud of how quiet you were ….”
Learning stories are made for sharing. That includes the parents and very often, the child. There are three forms of magic that happen in learning stories:
- The passion a teacher feels for a child’s learning progress comes through in the words
- The stories connect and engage parents, often eliciting a response, and
- For the child, it helps them connect the dots and see the consequences of their actions
Being able to write about the learning success of a child, for teachers, is what gets them up in the morning. It’s near to their heart. What parent can resist a story written about a child or better yet, a letter written to their child about something good that the teacher observed the child doing at school, something that reflects learning progress.
This is the magic of learning stories.
The Learning Story Format
Each story has a main event and highlights key skills, habits and dispositions displayed by the child. Based on the work of Dr. Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee, learning stories are similar to ‘reflections’ or ‘observations’.
Learning stories help educators and teachers connect to curriculum goals. They are used as an assessment tool and as a reporting method.
Stories are often documented in paper books, or digitally using an ePortfolio tool like Educa. Families, children and educators save them, to remember special moments, reflect on and learn from.
How Learning Stories Impact Learning
Here are four powerful ways learning stories positively impact early learning.
1. Sense of identity
Learning stories are key methods in the development of a child’s sense of identity. By knowing what it is they are doing and understanding how they learn, children can develop their own interests as well as an all-important sense of self-worth. This will encourage more interest in learning by their own volition.
Community and belonging are important contributors to a child’s identity. Cultural norms can be transferred to the child through the use of learning stories. They help children learn what it is to be part of a community.
2. Parental engagement and contribution
Stories are not only beneficial to the child, but also to the parents. Through the story format a teacher can articulate the educational approach of the early learning service and how that reflects in the child’s learning. In learning stories, the educator’s passion for the child can shine through and engage the parents in a way that a dry report card or assessment cannot.
This matters. Parental engagement has a high correlation with achievement. Communication between home and school enhances learning.
Learning stories allow teachers to include children and parents in the learning process. This is especially powerful when the sharing is in real-time via a digital platform. Parents can add their own stories in addition to those written by the teacher. This helps build a collaboration. Both parties on the same page, tracking the learning both inside and outside the school.
3. Children’s perspective
Recording events in a narrative form allows children to see what they are learning from another perspective.
Some examples in Learning Stories: Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education by Margaret Carr tell of young children that are enthusiastic to show their portfolios to their families – even when the children themselves are not fond of reading. This instills a love for learning that grows with their portfolios. It allows them to recognize their achievements. This, in turn, allows them to achieve success in their educational endeavors.
Even for young children, there is value in making learners accountable. It gives them a sense of control over their education.
Children need to feel that they’re having an impact on the world. If they feel that their actions are meaningful, they are more likely to engage in their learning. Writing learning stories helps with this sense of control, as it allows children to see how their actions are affecting the world around them.
For a more in-depth analysis of the benefits of learning stories, we definitely recommend giving this book a read:
Learning Stories Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education by Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee SAGE Publications 2012 .
Learning Stories Collect in Portfolios
In systems like Educa, learning stories are added to a child portfolio. Over the course of a year this collection of stories provide a compelling narrative of a child’s learning journey. This is particularly true if the stories are linked to curriculum or learning goals and/or linked to the planning that occured along the way.
Educa was developed in New Zealand as an easy to use vehicle for writing learning stories. Teachers can use the mobile app, even in dictation mode, to start a learning story on the go. They can then save it and finish it off, with connections to learning or curriculum goals, save to the child’s portfolio and share with parents in one click.
Wendy Lee is a world thought-leader in learning stories, through her Educational Leadership Project. She had a role to play in the early development of Educa.