Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Assessment that actually makes a difference Tara O'Neill

Assessment that actually makes a difference.
By Tara O’Neill

Recently we have been exploring Learning Stories.  Used regularly in Early Childhood Centers throughout New Zealand, Learning stories are examples of narrative assessment.  Made famous by Margaret Carr a New Zealander.

Learning Stories are written like a story about an event, or series of events in a learner’s life.  They are like a window into a learning community.
They are narrative and detailed.  They are written to read like a story and let you have an inside understanding into a learner’s life.

There are 4 parts often seen in learning stories.

1.   What happened?  This outlines in story form what actually occurred.
2.   What learning is happening?  This draws out certain learning points that the teacher and child thinks were important for the child.  They may include Key Competencies and actual learning threads from the New Zealand Curriculum.
3.   What opportunities are there to extend, challenge or deepen learning?  These are the next steps in your child’s learning.
4.   Parent voice – This is a place for you to write or draw what you think of the learning.  It must be positive.  You might like to write about some similar learning that you have noticed at home or in the community that your child has done.  It is your place to share about your child.



Here is an example of a learning story from last week.

 Exploring with Bees.  Term 1 2015.



What is happening?

The fallen bee
The bees needed a new box to be added to their hive.  The previous week Lucia had found a sleepy bee outside the class.  She carefully picked it up and showed it to Koka Tara.  Most students had a look at the bee and could see pollen on both legs. The community talked about how the bee took the pollen back to the hive to make honey with.  Next the class went on a walk to return the bee to the beehive. 
This was very exciting as many children had forgotten we had a beehive.  When we got to the hive, the children stood to one side where they were safe and watched the bees come in and out of the hive.  We carefully placed the sleepy bee onto the ground outside the hive.  

The new bee box
The next day the children sat in a group and looked at the four parts of the bee box.  They discussed how it could be put together.  Several children tried different ways to put the box together.  This went on for a good 10 minutes.  Matua Andrew and Koka Tara asked the children to draw how they thought the bee box would go together.  Finally, someone worked it out.
Next the children needed to work out a way of keeping it together so it would not fall apart on the bees. Many ideas and suggestions were raised, tape, glue and finally we decided on nails to hold it together. The children suggested we go to the materials tech room to find what we needed. We found hammers and nails as well as earmuffs and safety glasses. With all this equipment the students then decided they needed to hammer and nails. This was a real sharing of skills and talents as well as a great sharing and communications exercise for them.
Each child was able to successfully hammer in several nails, it was really great to see the skills they have and how they are able to look at the nail and not the hammer. What a great experience we had that day.

What learning is happening here?
New Zealand Curriculum Level 1
Key Competencies
Thinking in a real and experiential way.
To look at a problem and find a way to solve it, using trial and error and creative thinking. Each child was involved and creating solutions to problems that arose as we made the boxes.  They were using their skills of exploration and reasoning to work out how to solve a puzzle using the wooden sides for the bee boxes. This was all about using their skills to put it together in the right way so that all the pieces fit. It was in reality a real life jigsaw puzzle. 
“Technology – Nature of Technology  - Characteristics of Technology – Understand that technology is purposeful intervention through design.” 
It was clear that each child made the connection from design to build to finished product and the satisfaction that comes froms seeing through to the end what you have started, this is a vital part of learning.
“Health and PE – Movement concepts and motor skills -  Movement skills science and technology.    Develop a wide range of movement.”
It was exciting to see that the skills from our daily Perceptual Motor Programme transferred as the children were able to look at the nail and not at the hammer as they accurately nailed the box together.
Writing and Reading
Many of the children took the opportunity to write about the bee and the honey.  Some children also read some books about bees

What opportunities are there to extend, challenge or deepen learning?

Next week, the Bee man Paddy Cowen is coming back to get some of the honey out of the hive.  The children will see the honey and taste it.  They will have first hand experience of where honey comes from and the magic and wonder of bees.


Parents Voice – What do you think?  (room for parents to comment).




Here are some of the great reasons to spend time writing Learning Stories.

1.     They focus teachers on contextful learning.  They direct our focus as teachers into what is really happening in the students learning.  They help us to see the real learning.  Learning in context of a learner’s world.  Learning which other forms of assessment can’t capture. They focus the students and whanau (family) on real learning.  Parents can see through an open window details of some of their child’s day.  This is so important for new 5 year olds, who often when their parents leave are upset or nervous.  They are empowering for students who parents are worried about their learning.  Children can proudly show their whanau success and name what they did in the learning process which was so valuable to them.
2.     They are positive and future focused.  They allow for growth and celebrate success.  They are hopeful and predict success for every learner. 
So often with summative assessment, you just feel depressed and stressed by the results but with these learning stories, you feel happy and hopeful.
3.     They are motivating and meaningful for everyone concerned.  They are like signposts directing future learning and lighting the path for topics, skills and learning muscles to be activated and stretched.
4.     They show progress.  Progress of a student is clear to see.  They do not judge, they do not put one child up against another.  They do not put the child in any danger of failing.  They are for students and for learning.
5.     They link real inquiry learning into the New Zealand Curriculum and Te Whariki.   It is a vehicle to pull out learning from inquiry. Assessment highlights places in the curriculum being achieved.
6.     They build relationships to and with Whanau.   Everyone loves good news and everyone loves reading about their children.  Teachers can use these stories to talk to whanau and build solid relationships between home and school.



We are excited and looking forward to seeing how these stories impact our learning community and help our learners to celebrate being authentic, future focused learners.

1 comment:

  1. Tara, thanks for sharing this and for your wonderful photos in the VLN. We need more teachers celebrating learning this way and visuals are an exciting way of sharing that. In terms of learning stories - yummy! What a detailed reflection :-) As a parent I really appreciated reading my son's learning stories at pre-school and it opened a lot of channels for discussion around learning when he got home. It definitely brought home/pre-school closer together and something I missed dearly when he went to school. Two years on and he now has teachers that update us with his progress via Ultranet posts and homework books. So valuable, especially for working parents who never gets to see the 'magic' in class, unless a caring teacher like yourself spends a little more time making this accessible. Making connections to the purpose of the learning stories enables parents to be more informed about educational terms and (like you say) gives them a voice to be involved in the learning of their children. When I said ..."a little more time"... I think I was being stingy. I think it takes a lot more time. How do you manage that?

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