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Exploring Learning Stories

Originally appears in the Fall 2016 issue

“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.”1
Loris Malaguzzi

SCENARIO ONE: As a part of a study of early settlements, in a wooded area, offer groups of grade 5-6 students a provocation: to create a shelter using only a small blue tarp, a length of rope and found materials. Caution students that they cannot destroy living plants, but may use any natural objects lying about. As facilitator, spend the time listening, noticing, naming and encouraging, as well as taking photos and videos as the students work to make their thinking visible. Occasionally ask questions intended to clarify the students’ thinking as they build – then record the notable narrative either on camera or in a notebook. “So Talia, tell me about why you are using that log with the forked branches?” “Jarrie, I noticed that you wound the tarp around the tree. What made you think to try it that way?”

Later, transcribe the videos in which students describe their work of building, and search for pictures that demonstrate students’ thinking and learning. By bringing the documentation (observations, photographs, narratives, artifacts of learning) to the students, one is further invited to listen to their perspectives and reflections about their visible thinking. It is a collaborative process, bringing perspectives together with a lens on learning. The narratives and photographs of the learning in process, along with comments which identify you in relationship as facilitator, form the “pedagogical documentation” representative of the learning moment. This documentation tells a visual Learning Story. It can look like a panel or poster, and it becomes a focal point evoking group discussion, questions, and wonderings not only among students, but extending learning conversations to and from home and with the community. As you move forward in an inquiry stance, equipping the learning with tools for documentation becomes a routine. The following article serves to walk you through this reflective process such that it can become a natural extension of learning with and alongside your students.

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Lotje Hives is a School Board Program and Outreach Coordinator in Northern Ontario. She shares an innate passion for healthy optimal development and learning alongside children, families, educators and community partners, creating space for the realization of potential and the exploration of the Environment as Teacher. Astrid Steele is an Associate Professor at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario. The focus of her work is to make environmental education, in its many forms, compelling and accessible to all levels and venues of education.

1. The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – Advanced Reflections, Second Edition edited by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, George Forman, (p. 82)
2. Hewett, V. M. (2001). Examining the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2), 95-100.
3. Southcott, L.H. (2015). Learning stories: Connection parent, celebrating success, and valuing children’s theories. Voices of Practitioners: Teacher Research in Early Childhood Education, 10(1), 34-50.
5. Wien, C. A. (2011). Learning to Document in Reggio-Inspired Education. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 13(2), n2.
6. The Quarterly Periodical of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance | September 2014 Innovations In Early Education: The International Reggio Emilia Exchange, (p. 8)
7. McGeehan, J. (2001). Brain compatible learning. Green Teacher, 64, 7–13.