Making valued learning visible through stories

Issue: Volume 98, Number 1

Posted: 25 January 2019
Reference #: 1H9qe4

After research indicated confusion about ‘learning stories’ from parents and teachers, an early learning centre in Blenheim has changed its practice to better meet the needs of its learning community.

Five-year-old Indie Norman sits with kaiako Richelle Sisson asthey discuss the contents of a book about Indie’s learning journey at Pascals Early Learning Centre.

They are revisiting a time when Indie was involved in a disagreement. During the incident, Richelle suggested they could walk away and Indie agreed that this could work.

“I moved away with Richelle. Ishana asked me to play tennis. I felt great because it made me feel happy. I drawed [sic] a sign to tell us the way to Wellington,” Richelle says, reading Indie’s words aloud from the book.

Looking back through learning stories like this helps Indie problem solve by reminding her how she solved similar issues. It also gives her a sense of confidence and pride.

“To encourage her to take responsibility, to develop strategies for her own emotional self, I suggested we could just walk away and she agreed that this could work, so we could try it. I put it back to her so it gave her agency,” Richelle says.

“Now she’s helping other children … because she knows she can solve problems.”

Creating consistency amongst teachers around learning stories was one of the outcomes after the centre explored how they could deliver a high-quality programme that better aligned to the updated Te Whāriki early learning curriculum.

The aim was to identify the gap between current knowledge and the level they wanted the centre to be at. The solution was to design a simple process that everyone could follow to build on those skills.

To explore areas for improvement, Richelle surveyed teachers, parents and children. The survey highlighted some confusion amongst teachers about the process of documenting learning stories and how these could better inform assessment and planning.

Charlotte Gallop follows her passion for painting.

“We needed to make a system that was cohesive throughout the whole centre because that was not happening. From room to room it was done differently because we all learned differently over the years of training,” she says.

The results of the survey indicated although 87.5 per cent of teachers felt they were incorporating celebrating success, interest, parent aspiration, whānau voice, kaupapa Māori perspective and intentional teaching strategies, 43 per cent felt overwhelmed with the current documentation process and 71 per cent of learning stories took longer than a month to publish.

Working on improving these results has helped reinforce the importance of this work and increased confidence amongst teachers, Richelle says.

“It’s building more interest in learning stories… and lots of professional conversations around what’s happening with what we’re doing. We’re actually feeling comfortable to talk about struggles.”

Collaborative document

Each child’s book now contains an outline of the centre’s planning and documentation process, stories about the child, parent feedback and the child’s work. It is a collaborative document which can be accessed by everyone involved in each child’s learning journey.

Feedback from children indicated they wanted to see their friends and teachers reflected in their learning stories, as well as examples of their work.

“They said they liked to go back, redo and revisit their work,” Richelle says.

“They know their work’s being documented and they can’t wait to see it in their book. They bring their book to you as if ‘Are you going to do my book today?’ They’re excited about seeing their assessments and documentation.”

Parent feedback important

Teachers work with the child and their family to talk about the next steps in the learning plan. Parents have the opportunity to provide input and identify learning opportunities to improve teaching strategies as the child develops.

“Our older children, they pretty much are telling us about what their next goals would be so developing agency with them, that ‘I know how I’m going to act in this environment today, I’ve got my ideas’. And then we plan from that with our environment as our third teacher,” Richelle says.

“Parent feedback can go into there as well, if they’ve noticed a change or if there’s development. That helps us reflect and evaluate our teaching strategies to see what was working, what wasn’t working, what we could do maybe better for our teaching practice. Then the cycle will start again of drawing forward that new knowledge, looking for their new learning and working again with the family and the children.”

Ned Neal enjoys swinging in a hammock.

The survey indicated parents and children wanted to see more photos during the learning process, rather than just the end result.

“We were sort of capturing one moment, but through professional development over the last couple of years we’ve developed some more knowledge that they want to see more,” Richelle says.

“Seeing the whole journey, so ‘You’ve noticed my child at least four or five times over the month in their authentic meaningful learning’.”

Parents also wanted to know about their child’s struggles, as well as their successes.

“If their child is struggling they want to see that [in the book] to know how they can support them as well. By saying ‘You weren’t too happy when Jimmy took the block off you today,’ and ‘You know, that’s okay,’ we put our teaching strategies and what we did into the book so parents learn, ‘Oh, we could use those words’, so it can be consistent practice.”

Teachers make note of anything the child has a particular passion for, so parents are able to build on these interests at home and in the community. By paying attention to what a child is interested in kaiako can determine best how to support and progress their learning.

Other key areas for improvement noted by parents included documentation about the child’s relationships with teachers and peers, how they progressed with writing their name, quotes in the child’s voice and observations from more than one teacher.

The centre is continuing to monitor the new practices they have embedded and are continuing to seek room for improvement.

“We keep discussing how it’s going as a team. We’re planning next year to do some workshops on certain areas if there are teachers that have a particular area they feel they’d like to strengthen.”

Supporting expectations

Centre Manager Kylie Comeskey says the new process for learning stories also helps to support expectations for parents.

“The information that came back from parents really varied. There were those that knew what our planning and assessment was about. Then, at the opposite end of the scale, there were parents who just had no idea at all about the expectations of us as early childhood teachers in terms of planning for children’s learning and what that looked like,” Kylie says.

Kylie says the success of their learning stories goes back to the strong partnerships they’ve had with the parents.

“They are equally as important in that process, that learning is nothing without them because it’s not just us teaching their children, it’s a group. We work together with those families to get that desired outcome for those children.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:12 am, 25 January 2019

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