For awhile now I’ve wanted to do a post about learning stories. Learning stories really help keep me inspired and motivated to teach. But they are so much more than that!
I recently read a post from one of the blogs I love: Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research Diane Kashin provides plenty of detail about learning stories (also called pedagogical narrations). Her post is titled Learning Stories: The Power of Narrative Inquiry.
I was first exposed to the idea of documentation while working at a campus based child care centre located in Kamloops, B.C. At that time there was a lot of excitement about what was happening in Reggio Emilia preschools and documentation of children’s learning. I later went to more presentations and workshops on this same topic and as I did I began to see the enormous value in writing learning stories. This all came together for me while attending a presentation about the B.C. Early Learning Framework at Camosun College in Victoria, B.C. The basic idea was to “capture ordinary moments” of children’s play and learning. I was inspired to include this in my teaching practice and I now cannot imagine teaching without documentation.
The “ordinary moments” can be captured by writing a running record of what the children are saying and doing as they play. Another easy way is to take video, photos or voice recordings of play. The play can be documented by combining these methods but the basic idea is to capture what the children do and say while in the process of playing and learning. The next step is for the educator to examine the play experience for evidence of learning in areas of development. These can include Well-Being and Belonging, Exploration and Creativity, Language and Literacies, and Social Responsibility and Diversity. We observe closely as children test out theories, find meaning or develop skills through their play.
After highlighting the learning, the educator can reflect on the experiences and what the children have gained. This helps teachers stay focused on the value of play. At this point we ask ourselves, “How can we further elaborate on this experience to extend and enhance the learning?” “How can we help the children explore this in a more meaningful way?” “What experiences can I plan for these children that will take their learning a step further?” This reflective practice is so valuable. And if possible it is great to have other educators comment on the learning as a way of sharing fresh and varied perspectives.
The final part of the learning story is where parents see the stories and can comment. This is the part I have the most challenges with. I don’t mean that it is difficult to share the stories with parents. I share them often right here on this blog! Where the challenge comes is actually getting parents to comment on the learning stories in a meaningful way. I’m hoping for something beyond “great photos” or “thanks you”. I’m hoping parents will actually share their own stories about their children and how they play/learn at home. I find that I get the most genuine sharing during one on one conversations but ask people to write something down and they get a little inhibited. Do other educators share this same experience? How do you encourage parents to comment on learning stories? Have you had success? I would love to know. And for parents reading this post… would you feel comfortable to write comments after a documentation of your child’s play knowing that other parents may read the comments? Why or why not?
I find myself really enjoying using these stories whether it is here on simply.cindy or in an album or poster at the preschool. When I read them back and reflect on them they guide my thinking about what I will do next to facilitate learning through play. I believe it helps me to be a better teacher. I think it also helps me understand and appreciate the children more as I begin to focus on their strengths that shine through as they play. Sometimes I view a child in a completely new light after writing a learning story. In preschool it is all about the process and documenting play really helps to focus on that process. The one thing I haven’t done as much as I’d like this year is to share the learning stories with the children. I feel it is important for children to see that we as teachers and parents value their play and learning. By sharing the stories we can accomplish this and we can also encourage children to reflect further on their own learning. In the same way that Teacher Cindy reflects and improves her teaching process, the preschoolers can reflect and improve their own learning process. So I now have a goal for myself: share more learning stories with the children. Talk with them and make them more aware of their own learning!
From my perspective, the whole idea of narrative inquiry has been strong in the field of early childhood education for some time. I’m happy to report that our local school district has recently discovered and is exploring the idea of pedagogical narrations as well. It is great to see learning through play is valued in primary classrooms as well. Most importantly, there is more to learning than what can be done with a pencil and paper. I believe creating learning stories helps teachers see learning that is happening in different ways. Check out this video which shows several primary teachers and one early childhood educator as they discuss the virtues of documenting children’s learning as they play. It is awesome and I just can’t help but mention that my son assisted with the filming of the video; yes, that’s his name in the credits!
I sincerely hope this post has helped shed some light on learning through play and why I continue to post about it here on simply.cindy. I hope to share some more rich and varied play experiences from my lovely preschool with you all very soon.
Thank you for reading!