Writing the perfect learning story is like searching for the holy grail or the meaning of life – it appears to be a futile search for the unattainable.
I will preface this blog by saying that I am be no means the out and out expert when it comes to writing learning stories or documenting learning. My experience with writing learning stories is my own and has largely been developed through trial and error, reflection and my ever continuing journey toward a pedagogy underpinned by a play-based, child-led, free movement based approach to human development.
That being said, I have been able to refine my learning story creating ability through my particular pedagogical lens – and I want to share it with you.
In the Beginning….
I remember when I first started writing learning stories, the first part always tended to be the meatiest. I focused mainly on setting the scene, describing the ‘how it came to be’ part of the narrative. I could easily fill an entire page with this part of the story.As time progressed however and my view of learning stories and what really matters in a learning story evolved – the beginning became less important as part of the whole. My perspective over time changed from writing how the learning I had seen in every minute detail, to captioning the moment while understanding that the what or how wasn’t nearly as significant as the why.
My beginning now looks something similar to this…
Milly and Molly took handfuls of leaves, throwing them high above their heads – gleeful as the leaves sway back and forth down to the earth. Their faces turned upward toward the sky, spraying a few of the leaves with air as they blow them skyward again.
The language of learning….
Some call them dispositions, others call them urges (schemas are another one) – this is the meat in the learning stories sandwich.
When I first started writing learning stories, everywhere I read, everyone I talked to followed the Notice, Recognise, Respond model of documenting learning. That required us to notice what was happening – how the learning came to be, recognize what ‘learning’ was taking place in that learning moment and then respond with intentional teaching – the ‘where to next’ part of the story.
This was a fairly methodical way of looking at documenting learning we perceived to be happening and relied heavily on extending learning, which entailed us as educators/teachers trying to figure out how long and to what extent children were going to be interested in something and to plan some kind of activity or learning experience based on that interest (which had normally passed by the time I planned and set out an activity).
This is where I really began to think about the way and where my teaching philosophy really came into what I put into my learning stories. Given that I came from a play-based, child-led perspective, I quickly came to the realization that I really have know idea what learning was taking place….not really. I could speculate, I could calculate, I could deduce but I might have been dead wrong. So I resigned myself to being a bit of an autobiographer of sorts. I put myself in the position of writing a story about the life of someone knowing that somethings I would get wrong, but hopefully most I would get right – I knew them pretty well after all!
Using the language of learning dispositions, urges or schemas – the technical language of our teaching craft – I concisely pointed to the learning I suspected might be happening in the moment. Again, I never focused or focus on length…it isn’t the size that matters, or so I’m told.
How I would point out the perceived learning would look something like this….
Milly seemed fascinated by the feeling of the leaves brushing against the side of her face and the sound of the leaves crushing between her palms and fingertips. Her senses coming to life causing an eruption of laughter as she smothers the rough, crushed leaf across her forehead.
Molly instead appeared to enjoy watching as the leaves grew higher and higher each time she blew, experimenting with balance as one came to rest against the tip of her index finger, teetering on the edge of her fingernail, re-positioning her hand and body as the leaf angled one way or another.
The Aspirational becomes the Inspirational
I have long since stopped putting any energy toward a ‘where next’ part of a learning story. When I say I am child-led, I mean that very genuinely. A where to next within the bounds of my philosophy would only ever be speculative and detracts from a child’s ability to plan their own learning, set their own environment and to choose their own characters, tools and plots in their play.
So for this part of the learning story, I like to include the aspirational. The grand language of potential, of the future. This I feel helps the reader to really see what could be, not what comes next. It is a big what if, not an intentional what next.
The aspirational part of my learning stories generally look something like this….
As I watched how Molly tested the leaves against the wind, balancing them on her fingertips – I could see an Aeronautical Engineer testing the weight and speed of an aircraft as she prepares it for flight.
So What’s the Story?
Traditionally, length matters a lot and we have had all sorts of protocols around what to put in learning stories. I remember having been required to put references to academic, peer reviewed articles and numbered links to our curriculum. Most of my learning stories back then were at least two pages in length and it was mostly fluff to make my learning stories the longest and most articulate. I measured my stories on their length and forgot about the substance.
I was also sold on the line that learning stories were how we demonstrated our professionalism, and a few paragraphs were no where near enough to demonstrate ourselves as professionals. This isn’t true of course. Our professionalism is far more evident in our practice rather than what we write or….how much.
So….who are they for?
This of course is going to be a controversial opinion and I have had pushback before for saying it because but I think that learning stories are 100% for parents or family members of the children we write about.
A lot of people will disagree and say that they are mostly for the children to revisit their learning. But I personally believe those that gain the most from learning stories are absolutely children’s parents or their caregivers. They are the ones that we should be focusing on appealing to with our stories. Complimenting photographs and images with minimal text and technical language.
- Remember that less is always more, and pictures say a thousand words.
- Even though you’re not writing as much, it can still make whatever learning you think is happening clear and evident.
- Whatever you’re writing should compliment the imagery – not the other way around.
- Don’t try to force dialogue just to put it into a learning story. If you capture conversation initiated by children – great! If not, don’t try to force it for the sake of adding a ‘child’s voice.’
- Learning should be a natural, organic process. Avoid planning and setting up activities just to write a good learnng story at ALL COSTS.
Here comes the challenge. I challenge you to write a story based on the principles above. Keep the story to three paragraphs and include the initial, the dispositional and the aspirational. See how your colleagues feel about the story, how children and their parents/caregivers feel about the story as well.