Using Learning Stories in Early Learning Programs

by | Oct 27, 2023 | Articles

Story Power

 

“This is what report cards in kindergarten should be!”

These enthusiastic words from a school principal were in response to reading two learning stories about children in his school. In just nine words, he expressed sudden awareness of how valuable learning stories can be to children, parents, and educators.

I had been teaching in this school for about a month and had yet to meet anyone who was familiar with the concept of learning stories. But my experiences with learning stories shone a light on children’s intelligences — intelligences that often remained invisible because of adults’ fixation on children’s acquisition of ABCs and 123s.

So, when I asked permission to share the learning stories I had written about two kindergarten students with the children’s parents, the principal and vice-principal understandably responded with “What’s a learning story?”

“It’s a way of documenting children’s learning,” I explained. “It’s written like a story from the observations and perspective of an educator. But it’s written to the child.” I explained.  “Would you like to read the stories I’ve written before deciding whether or not you think they should be shared with the children’s parents?”

Both principal and vice-principal read the stories, and then expressed their surprise at how these stories meaningfully captured and conveyed significant learning as well as their dispositions to learn. The principal, who was also a new dad, recognized how these stories surpassed the narrow definitions of successful learning that kindergarten teachers were expected to report. These personalized stories would have lasting value to parents, children, and educators, and invite meaningful dialogue between school and home.

What are learning stories?

Learning stories are a form of pedagogical documentation that typically includes photos (or videos) as part of the story. They focus on one child’s or a small group of children’s learning experience.

Learning stories spotlight the dispositions children use to explore and learn something that is meaningful to them. It doesn’t exclude skill or knowledge-based learning, but rather digs deeper into how children are developing problem-solving, resiliency, empathy, determination, and so much more. The stories are based on careful observation of the child, and lead educators to reflect together, and to consider how educators could deepen, enrich, or extend the child’s learning.

Learning stories are written from the first-person perspective, like a letter to the child.

Examples of Learning Stories

Click these links to view/download two examples of learning stories (PDF)

Making Connections: A Learning Story for Jacob

Lucas’s Towing: A Learning Story for Lucas

Who benefits from learning stories?

When I first started writing learning stories, I hadn’t realized the power of sharing the story I had written with the child. The story was, admittedly subjective. What if I had missed the child’s intent?  I soon discovered, however, that rather than the child experiencing dismay, the child felt empowered. They knew they had been seen. Their ideas and investigations had been important to an adult. The child’s energy to continue their work and investigation intensified.

Sharing the story with the child also gave me the chance to ask them if I had correctly understood their actions and intentions. It gave me the chance to modify the story I had written according to their response.

After sharing learning stories with the child, I shared them with the child’s family, and requested their feedback and insights. Did the curiosities and dispositions captured in their child’s learning story ring true to their knowledge and experiences of their child at home?

I have sometimes heard parents or grandparents speak of receiving a learning story written about their child as a gift. The story has revealed to them that their child is appreciated for who they are. It builds trust and relationship, and a sense of team with the child’s family.

Especially when pandemic protocols prohibited families from entering the school building, parents expressed a sense of greater connection and closeness to the school through learning stories.

“I hope this idea takes off in Ontario – it was really wonderful to read as a parent! Especially during these times where we feel a bit disconnected from what’s going on in the classroom.” (Lucas’s parent)

Learning stories impact educators in profound ways too. The process of creating the learning story means that I, as an educator, must observe carefully, think deeply about what underlies the child’s actions, discuss my perspectives, seek insights from my colleagues, and become vulnerable to the child and their family. It inspires, guides, and deepens my own growth as an educator to respond to the unique contexts and dispositions of the children, families, and colleagues with whom I work.

Learning stories always end with questioning where shall we go from here? They become integral to emergent curriculum planning, and the ability to follow the child’s lead and support meaningful learning.

Wondering how to write learning stories?

Learning Stories is a mini-course that offers a step by step process for writing learning stories in your early learning program or class. Discover templates, activities, and examples to help you write learning stories for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and early primary children – stories that support learning and meaning-making for the children in your care.

Find out how you can create valuable Learning Stories at Inspired to Learn.