My early childhood centre is looking at our pedagogical documentation with a view to improving it. As part of my focus on improving my pedagogical documentation, I have been reading Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee’s book Learning Stories: Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education (2012). I have found reading the book has clarified and strengthened my understandings of this local form of assessment.

In New Zealand early childhood centres, assessment of child learning often takes the form of Learning Stories. The technique requires teachers to observe children and write narrative ‘stories’ to show the learning that is occurring in particular situations.

We use Learning Stories to:

  • help make connections with family/whānau
  • include children and family/whānau voices
  • tell stories about infants
  • allow children to dictate their own stories
  • to revisit children’s learning journey
  • to expand teaching and learning wisdom in our own context
  • to construct teacher and learner identity
  • to connect socio-cultural approaches to pedagogy and assessment and narrative inquiry

Blaiklock (2008) discusses a number of concerns about the value of Learning Stories for assessing children’s learning. His concerns stem from an earlier focus on assessing children’s dispositions for learning rather than describing their knowledge and skill levels. He considers teachers have difficulty with establishing the validity or accountability of Learning Stories, problems with making subjective interpretations based on short observations; a lack of guidance on where, when and how often to make Learning Stories; problems with defining and assessing learning dispositions; and difficulties in using Learning Stories to show changes in children’s learning over time.

Directions for Assessment in New Zealand (2009) argues that valid interpretations and decisions are based in descriptive (the observation part) and prescriptive (the ‘what next’ part) writing. The decisions and actions that flow from the observation – they must be defensible in their consequences. Validity is a consequence of both parts – if the ‘what next’ is detrimental to learning, if the descriptive observation misses the point … the assessment lacks validity. Strong assessment practices and understandings of the valid assessment strengthen the validity of interpretations and consequences of teaching and learning.

A learning story is a divergent form of assessment. The narrative of the learning story emphasises the way in which the child has engaged in what may be a new way of learning and acting; this legitimates the possible self.

You can read about Wendy Lee and her amazing learning journey at the Educational Leadership Project website. Just click on the link: Educational Leadership Project