Respectful and Authentic Documentation of Children's Learning
Questions to ask ourselves:
Why are you assessing?
What do you want to do with this information?
Who are you assessing for?
Who is the audience?
My work with Wendy Lee in 2011 lead me to a major shift in my thinking. Previously, I guess i just thought that assessment was about the child and for the family (caregivers in particular). I also was pretty clear that it was for me as it helped me to plan appropriately for the child. I now realise that the most important audience for assessment is actually the child!! Of course my thinking has all coome together as a result of influence from Guy Claxton's work on 'Building Learner Capacity' and from Lisa Burman's work, 'Powerful Learners'. But it was Wendy who challenged us to document children's work with the child in mind. Consequently, our learning stories are now written to the child. It makes so much sense to be 'empowering' children by telling them what capable, competent learners they really are and allowing them the opportunity to direct and control their own learning.
I have a background in Special Education so I have used any number of checklists over the years and I can see their place as helpful with some children and also a useful tool for new teachers. However, their use should be limited because I now know that the best way to guage children's learning is through careful observation and most importantly LISTENING to them. Again, I would recommend that every teacher read Lisa Burman's book 'Are You Listening?' This book will help you to see the importance of listening to children instead of 'talking at them'. We don't need to 'test' children as careful observation and documenting will tell you everything you need to know. To that end I will talk about 'Learning Stories' and how we use them in our work to document children's learning respectfully, share their learning with them and with their family and guide us to plan an exciting, stimulating and challenging environment in which children direct their own learning.
What is a Learning Story?
Stories that document children’s learning and help them to see themselves as powerful learners.
Learning Stories are based on the work of Dr. Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee both of New Zealand.
Learning stories are both an assessment tool and a reporting method. The primary audience is the child and their family and should be written with them in mind.
(Learning Stories Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education
Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee SAGE Publications 2012)
The following is from Dr. Susan Hill's article entitled 'Learning Stories' - see below for web address
"Learning stories capture the context of the learning environment that appears to be enabling or constraining. Learning stories are not the same as case studies or running records – they are narratives, or stories and they
need to be a good tale".
Good stories take place:
- Over time, sometimes days or months, not every detail is recorded just the main important events.
Give details about the context and background
Not only describe actions but make feelings and interpretations visible.
See Dr. Susan Hill's full articlewww.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/staff/SueHill/Learningstories
The tone of the learning story is positive and created from the view of the child
as a competent and capable learner. It promotes a holistic view of the child.
Learning stories need to reflect the knowledge and skills that the children are
engaged in (e.g. literacy and numeracy) as well as the key learning muscles
(habits, dispositions) that are being used.
Focus on ‘Learning muscles’ (Guy Claxton - Adelaide 2011)or dispositions
Problem solving and reasoning
Questioning and problem posing
Keen observation—gathering data through all senses
Imagining,innovating and responding with wonderment and awe.
Finally stories are powerful research tools. They provide us with a picture of real people in real situations,
struggling with real problems…They invite us to speculate on what might be changed and to what effect. (Witherell
& Noddings 1991 cited by Susan Hill in Learning Stories)
The structure of a learning story includes:
What is the learning happening here?
What opportunities or possibilities are there to extend, challenge or deepen learning?
Can contain dialogue
We put a heading at the top (see example) which Wendy showed us during her visits to Adelaide in 2011.