Bringing Learning To Life – Why Learning Stories
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 learning story software 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 use a storytelling format written about the child or written to the child. The narrative style allows the story-teller to capture the learning without the confinement of a list. And because they are simple and written from the story-tellers perspective, they are entertaining and 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. Your had a working theory that it might fly away if you got too close and so you moved very quietly. I was so proud of how ….”
Learning stories are very different from the traditional checklist assessment that use fragmented evidence. They are a form of assessment for learning — teachers and families interpret the event in the story, reflect and collaborate on next steps for the a child.
Share and Interpret
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’. The three elements of a learning story, and laid out in Educa’s learning story software as the default template:
- The story – generally with images and/or video
- Reflection and interpretation of the learning (“What learning is happening here?”)
- Next steps (“Opportunities and possibilities. What’s next?”)
Learning stories are often also linked to learning frameworks and/or outcome goals, and to plans. 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 six 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. Family engagement, interpretation 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.
By sharing stories with families that contain links to frameworks and interpretation of 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 provide informed feedback on the learning analysis and/or the next steps in a collaborative way.
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.
4. Intensifies teacher noticing skills
The anecdotal, private observation approach is more often than not is deficit-oriented. And without the lens of learning growth, any old anecdote will do. A teacher’s skills in recognizing learning growth moments is not really tested.
If a teacher is going to write 6-12 learning success stories in the course of a year, there needs to be a higher level of focus on a child’s learning journey. Story-worthy events – moments of learning growth or success — come in many different forms, but many will be missed if the teacher is not paying attention.
And if a teacher is paying closer attention to a child true learning trajectory, only good things can happen..
5. Helps children feel they are making a contribution
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.
This is one of the main reasons learning stories replaced checklists in New Zealand. Checklists tend to be deficit-oriented and children are aware of being looked at with a deficit-seeking mindset. Being seen as a collection of needs-to-do-betters is not how you build confidence and character in a child.
By comparison, knowing you are the hero in a sequence of learning stories that articulate success and points in time when you made a difference is a very different biography to prepare you for school life.
6. Permission for teachers to make it personal
There is traditionally a lot of pressure on teachers to be objective, and checklists are objective. But really, early childhood education is not objective, it’s personal. Learning stories give teachers permission to write exactly how they feel about their young hero’s learning success. This not only makes these stories easy to write for teachers, it makes for compelling reading – for parents and the child.
7. Integrates Teaching, Learning and Assessment
Learning stories are written to be shared – with peers, families and the child, seeking everyone’s perspective and insights. This sharing, interpretation, construction and re-interpretation process helps educators better understand the child, providing reflections and assessment that can be fed back into the teaching and learning process.
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 For Posterity
In learning story software 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.
Whereas private observations are not seen by parents and tend to deleted or tossed out at year end, portfolios of learning stories tend to be kept, printed out, read to the child — who wouldn’t want to hear stories about you, when you are the here?! – and saved. Often for years.
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.