Ken Blaiklock has expressed concern that “there is little empirical evidence that the widespread [and government funded] use of Learning Stories can be justified in terms of gains for children’s learning.” He has reflected critically (and publicly) on the Learning Story format (see references below) and more generally on assessment in the early years to further discussion in this area. He also recently published an alternative approach, which he labelled ‘Learning Notes’.
Assessment in ECE
Blaiklock writes: “It is useful for teachers to be aware that it is not compulsory for centres to use Learning Stories when assessing children. The licensing criteria for early childhood services (Ministry of Education, 2009) state that services should be ‘informed by assessment, planning, and evaluation (documented and undocumented) that demonstrates an understanding of children’s learning, their interests, whanau, and life contexts’ (p.8). The type of assessment that centres choose is not prescribed.” (p.6)
Blaiklock reminds us that “we need to be cautious when assessing young children and should ensure that the techniques we use are manageable, are well supported by research, and have benefits for children.” (p.6) “Assessment,” he points out, “must have a purpose.” (p.6)
“Effective assessment takes equal account of all aspects of the child’s development and learning.” (p.7)
“Assessments must actively engage parents in developing an accurate picture of their child’s development.” (p.7)
“Children must be fully involved in their own assessment.” (p.7)
Concerns related to the use of Learning Stories as an assessment technique
Blaiklock lists the following concerns:
“* Problems with establishing the validity or credibility of Learning Stories
* A lack of guidance on what areas of learning to assess.
* Problems with defining the learning dispositions that are supposed to be the focus of Learning Stories.
* A lack of rationale for the links between particular learning dispositions and the strands of Te Whariki, the New Zealand early childhood curriculum (Ministy of Education, 1996) [-p.6]
* Problems in using Learning Stories to show changes in children’s learning and development over time.
* Problems in using a Learning Story about a specific experience as a basis for planning future learning experiences in different contexts.” (pp.5-6)
His emphasis on the need for clear descriptive language with minimal interpretation in the observation part of assessment also points to a problem with Learning Stories in practice – their tendency to turn into overly subjective narratives (where the child’s learning is lost somewhere in the teacher’s desire to glow… and the story becomes one about the teacher, not the child). “A difficulty with Learning Stories,” Blaiklock writes (less emphatically than he could!), “is that teachers are not advised on the importance of objectivity when first describing a child’s learning experiences.” (p.8)
Learning Notes – an alternative assessment tool
Blaiklock proposes the use of ‘learning notes’, which “consist of three components: ‘Describe’; ‘Interpret’; and ‘What Next?’. The ‘Describe’ section provides a description of a child’s involvement in a particular learning experience. The description may be short (a sentence of two) or long (several paragraphs) and should be recorded as accurately as possible. …The Describe sectrion of the Learning Notes needs to be written in clear descriptive language with minimal interpretation. …Sometimes a Learning Note will consist only of the Describe section. This may, for example, be all that is required to record a child’s accomplishment in a particular area of learning and development. At other times, a teacher may find it useful to add an ‘Interpret’ section to the Learning Note in order to provide a comment that highlights the significance of the learning that a child demonstrated. This comment could be linked with a specific section of Te Whariki or with other publications on children’s learning and development.
Another optional component of a Learning Note is the ‘What Next?’ section. The teacher only needs to complete this when it is useful to document ideas for future experiences that follow on from what was observed. These ideas should be enacted as soon as possible after the observation.” (p.6)
“Learning Notes,” he writes, “do not impose the constraints of a ‘story sequence’ and hence allow teachers to focus on accurate recording of the event.” (p.8) “Accuracy of recording,” he continues, “is crucial when making observations; a point made in many publications on assessment of young children. Although all teachers may be influenced by preconceived ideas, they should strive to be as accurate as possible when carrying out observations.” (p.8)
“the more frequent documentation that is available with the use of Learning Notes allows teachers to build up a more comprehensive record of a child’s learning and development than is possible with Learning Stories.” (p8) [oh now that sounds excellent!] Blaiklock points out that the time invested in creating a single story often means that each child might only get one ‘Story’/documented assessment a month (p.7)… how true…
Ref: Ken Blaiklock (2010) Assessment in New Zealand early childhood settings: A proposal to change from Learning Stories to Learning Notes. Early Education, 48(2), 5-10
Note also: Blaiklock, K. (2008). A critique of the use of learning stories to assess the learning dispositions of young children. New Zealand Research in Early Childhood Education, 11, 77-87 Blaiklock, K. (2010). The assessment of children’s language in New Zealand early childhood centres. New Zealand Journal of Education Studies, 45(1), 105-110