In the previous part of the course, we discussed the learning story as a key part of the process for reporting on and communicating teachers’ assessment activity. We described the learning story as a summary of significant observations and information that have been collected, interpreted, and discussed by teachers in order to provide a rich picture of a child’s learning. In this part of the course, we are going to take the information you have gained from your observation and assessment activity, and transform this observation into the description of children’s activity that begins a learning story. We will then look at how we might formally analyse and interpret the information that we have gathered.
Our aims are to:
- Consider how a learning story can convey important information about the context and activity of children’s learning
- Develop awareness of a range of ways to analyse learning that promote reflection and ongoing assessment activity cycles
This will involve:
- Watching a video in which Tara McLaughlin discusses how assessment tools play an important role in learning stories
- Listening to a podcast about writing the description section of a learning story
- Reading about strategies for analysing children’s learning
- Putting your learning into practice by writing the description and analysis of the learning you observed
As usual, you will also have the opportunity to join in with an online discussion of the different analysis foci introduced in this part, and, as further reading, you might like to delve a bit deeper into the concept of working theories and their identification in children’s learning.
Let’s now get started on putting together a learning story about the assessment data on children’s learning that you collected in your early childhood setting as your activity in Part 3. The first step in a learning story is to describe the events that occurred in an engaging narrative. The first section of this part focuses on how to describe and narrate events in a learning story or other form of pedagogical documentation.
Revisit your learning so far
Before we return to the second part of our interview with Tara McLaughlin, what are the three kinds of information that she suggested teachers collect in order to make well-informed assessments of children’s learning?
In our second interview with Tara, we learn more about how the varied assessment tools for gathering information about children’s learning that she discussed in Part 3 can inform learning stories.
Watch a video
In this video, Tara McLaughlin defines and discusses good practice in relation to the use of learning stories in assessment practice, and shares some tips on getting started with using a range of assessment tools to inform learning stories.
Tara reminds us of some important points about effective learning stories, which reflect the ideas explored in the rubric we provided for evaluating the quality of a learning story in the Part 5. Firstly, assessments should be aligned with the principles of Te Whāriki: enhancing mana and empowering learners, taking a holistic view, forming a partnership with parents and whānau, and taking place in the context of authentic relationships and meaningful interactions. A second important point is that, while there is a need to celebrate children through our assessments, teachers also need to be mindful of the next, intentional steps for their learning. In other words, an assessment should not just describe children’s achievements without describing how these can be built upon for the future.
Tara suggests that learning stories are not simply about writing an account of something that happened for a child that week, as Susan at Hokowhitu Kindergarten explained was their past practice before they started using additional tools for assessment. Instead, it is important to see learning stories as the vehicle for communicating robust assessment information and decisions to children, families, and others. This means using several different sources for information-gathering, synthesising and reflecting on what that information tells us about a child’s learning, and then putting this all into a learning story. As Tara says, we don’t necessarily always want to put the raw data or a completed profile form into a child’s portfolio. Instead, as assessment is more about the discussion and understanding that this data generates, what matters is the way it is written up in an appealing narrative story that invites child and family engagement. Remember that, in Part 5, Susan offered several examples of phrases to use in learning stories that allude to the different sources of information that teachers have compiled in order to come up with the interpretation of learning that they are offering in a learning story.
In a later part of the course, we will come back to ideas about making this process manageable. As Tara says, it is important to work these assessment tools into your daily practice, and to make them part of your planning each week, as well as linking them to other tasks such as professional growth cycles and internal evaluation. Regardless of how you fit observation and assessment into your work, Tara tells us that spending time on quality information and data-gathering has a significant impact on the quality of teachers’ learning stories. In other words, it is worth the effort! With more information about learning to reflect upon, teachers find they can write more specific, more descriptive, and more focused learning stories. They are also more aware of their own teaching actions and how they contributed to learning, so they are also more able to identify intentional actions for supporting children in their ongoing learning.
Let’s now have a look at how you might put a learning story together, so that it can meet this function of communicating high quality assessment information in an engaging way. The first task here is to describe the learning that happened, including important information about context that made the learning possible.
This podcast details how to describe and narrate learning in a learning story.
Relate your learning to practice
It is now time to write the description part of your learning story. Try to be clear and concise – think about what information is really relevant and meaningful to understanding the learning. You might like to include:
- Information about the context, including the relationships with adults, peers, and materials.
- Links to children’s interests, capabilities and culture. For example, ‘This reminds me of what you have told me about the way your dad plays the drums in church’.
Remember, too, to use a positive tone to describe children’s learning processes and to present children as competent and confident in their learning. It can also be useful to offer a sense of incompleteness and limitation to show that there is much you do not and cannot know about what you observed, as this invites others’ interpretations and emphasises that the learning is a work in progress rather than a finite event. For example, ‘I’m not sure how you knew when you had enough water, but after six trips to the tap you picked up your spade and continued digging’.
In the remainder of this part, we are going to be working from your observation of learning, and the description that you have written for your learning story, to create the analysing section (recognising learning) of your learning story.
In early childhood assessment practice, the analysis of children’s learning is often about inferring meanings about what you’ve observed so that you can make a good guess about how to strengthen and further this learning. As well as identifying concrete skills, dispositions, and knowledge, you are also developing a theory or hypothesis about what is happening for children and what they are interested in and learning about. This is a process of critical reflection that can be aided when you gain the perspectives of others, including other teachers, family members and the children themselves, as we did in Part 4. Remember to include these different perspectives in your analysis, which will enable you to present children’s abilities as shifting and fluctuating over time and context, in line with what we know about the way children develop and learn.
The following reading provides more detail on how to analyse learning.
Strategies for analysing children’s learning
How do we go about analysing learning? It is usually helpful to look at learning through a particular lens or focus, for example, by examining dispositions, interests, and/or working theories in children’s learning.
For example, you might look for the dispositions associated with the five strands of the curriculum (taking an interest, being involved, persisting, expressing ideas, or taking responsibility). You are also asking yourself what has changed in children’s behaviours, language and action that shows these dispositions have strengthened. Avoid simply describing participation or confidence, but focus on noticeable difference such as an increasing capacity to persevere with difficulty and so on.
You can also ask yourself: What are children showing you about their interests? What exactly are they thinking about these interests? For example, don’t just state that a child is interested in dinosaurs, but make guesses about why that is, or what aspect of dinosaur play appeals. Is it the noises? The strength and power? The complicated names? Making a guess about what exactly motivates an interest enables you to provide other related experiences.
Also try to see if you can recognise what children are thinking. Can you formulate some potential working theories from their actions and words? For example, a child putting sand and water into a bowl and calling it ‘porridge’ may have some working theories about cooking which include: cooking involves mixing ingredients, cooking involves changing substances, and so on. A child who comments that the larger caterpillar must be the mummy may be drawing on a working theory that all baby creatures are just a smaller version of their parents. Putting working theories into words helps you think about the key aspects of children’s play and language. With a good guess at children’s working theories, you can respond by planning to help children draw out and extend these working theories.
Finally, it can be useful to determine what else you know about a child and their experiences that you can connect with this learning event. Look for other stories that you or other teachers have written about this child that connect with this one, and think about in what ways they are connected. What are those interconnections? The connections may be showing continuity as well as change. For example, does this learning story show children’s learning progress in relation to previous stories? Can you see how particular skills, knowledge or dispositions are growing through a set of experiences?
Analysis involves a lot of guesswork. Especially in early childhood, it is hard to be definitive about what children know and can do, and even more so about what they are learning. So we come up with hypotheses. Having hypotheses about what children are interested in, what they are learning and why they are motivated to learn help us to then take some form of action in response. If our hypothesis turns out to be incorrect, then we can form another, more informed one.
Finally, analysis also involves your best judgement and selectiveness. If you were to simply ‘tick off’ or list all the learning outcomes from Te Whāriki that you see demonstrated in the child’s learning activity, you’d probably have heaps. So you have to ask yourself what is the most significant learning? Which of these aspects excites you? This might be an emerging skill or emerging knowledge that you see developing. It might be something that is pertinent to your centre’s valued learning outcomes, or something that you know the family would be keen to see their child develop. Think about why you were motivated to write this story, and this will help you to understand where to focus your analysis.
Click here to read the full version of this research review with references.
Which of the strategies you’ve just read about might be most useful for analysing the learning story you are writing now? Try answering the questions posed in the reading in relation to your observation:
- What dispositions for learning (such as taking an interest, being involved, persisting, expressing ideas, or taking responsibility) is the child drawing on? What has changed in this child’s behaviours, language, and action that shows these dispositions have strengthened?
- What is this child showing you about their interests? Why are they motivated by these interests? (develop your own hypothesis).
- What is the child thinking? (develop your own hypothesis). Can you articulate what their working theories might be from their actions and words?
- How does this learning story show learning progress in relation to previous stories? Can you see how particular skills, knowledge, or dispositions are growing through a set of experiences? How has what you have documented changed from previous assessments?
- Which of these aspects excites you?
Relate your learning to practice
Using your answers to the above questions as a guide, write the analysis section of your learning story. You won’t want to include everything you have identified, but just the parts of your analysis that seem pertinent to ongoing learning and further assessment. Start by using a heading for the analysis section, which helps you to make the shift away from description, and ensures that learning is quite visible and obvious for families and children. You might also try to include:
- How knowledge and skill are growing and changing over time
- The ways in which you value the learning that you have recognised
- Alternative understandings and interpretations on the learning that is occurring, and the meaning that this activity/event had for the child. Multiple hypotheses add to the strength of your learning story by helping you to be open to many potential ways of taking the learning further. Ask yourself how else you might view what is happening here? Are there alternative understandings or interpretations? (This is where you draw on the conversations you had with families and teachers in Part 4.) For example, you might just add extra analysis to your analysis, simply listing your colleague’s hypotheses in addition to your own, using a tentative tone (‘Or maybe you’re interested in understanding how water can carve out its own path?’). You might also add connections that your colleague may have made to other learning events ‘Raewyn told me you shared this book with Raoul last week too’.
Remember to use tentative language, including questions (‘Perhaps you are thinking …?’, ‘Could it be the sound that interests him most?’ and so on) to reflect the fact that in analysis you are creating hypotheses, and you can never really know what is going on inside a learner’s head.
In this part we’ve focused on translating assessment information into a meaningful and engaging narrative within a learning story. We’ve also examined different lenses with which to analyse learning. The main points we’ve covered are:
- Raw assessment data can be compiled in the format of a learning story, in a way that is engaging and promotes participation.
- Learning stories are more specific, descriptive and focused when a variety of assessment data has been collected.
- Writing a description of the learning involves decisions about what aspects of the event need to be recorded in the story. These will be parts that really show what was going on for the child (what they were thinking or what they were motivated by) or aspects of their behaviour, action and language that show change and therefore reflect learning and development.
- Providing information about the context of the learning can be important to understanding why the learning occurred and in what contexts it might be repeated.
- Analysis involves inference and hypothesising. In early childhood, it is hard to be definitive about what children know and can do. If our hypothesis turns out to be incorrect, then we can form another, more informed one.
- It can be useful to look for dispositions, interests, and working theories when analysing learning, as well as what has changed in children’s behaviours, language, and action.
- Analysis involves your best judgement and selectiveness, and will be focused by your centre’s or the family’s valued learning outcomes.
What strategies (looking at dispositions, working theories, interests, or continuity and change) did you use to analyse your learning story? Which was most useful? You can join other users on the Part 6 forum to compare strategies.
Read more about working theories and how to recognise them in The Education Hub’s short resource guide here.
Find more exemplar stories within the Ministry of Education resource, Kei tua o te pae.