Thursday, November 29, 2012

Navigating the bigger narrative of planning around Learning Stories

I spoke recently at an ELP lecture series on ‘Nurturing spaces, thinking places: How do these link in practice?‘  One team wrote to me afterwards with some fabulously thoughtful reflections, asking for some ideas about how they might re-think their current ways of planning.  The most useful process I think is to channel this kind of energy into a self review inquiry. As we draw near to the ELP Learning Story Conference, thinking about this now, without identifying the team and with their permission, the process I outlined to them, might well be useful for others. So, I thought I’d blog my response.  Teaching teams will have questions they wish to pursue and sometimes this might seem daunting. However using much of what you already have on hand will lessen your workload. It is the organisation of this material that is critical. It must be accessible and having a title: like a book, with chapter headings, that break the inquiry into manageable, relevant portions so subsequently the data can be accessed logically, easily, is a format that is simple and effective. 

The team asked me first if I remembered them! This is what I wrote:

“Yes I totally remember you and yes you were loud and laughing and I took that to be a sign of a team very comfortable and happy with each other which I thought was fabulous!!!”
What a wonderful email! The question you ask is a perfect self review question:

“One question we have been reflecting on is how authentic and relevant our own programming is for the children we care for? We wondered whether we were trying to plan too far ahead for an age group that has constant changing interest”. 

My thoughts would be:
Set that as a research question (this becomes the title of the self review)
Then put in a number of chapter headings:
1: What is  our practice so far? 
Put in some examples of your current planning, any wall documentation photos of this and any reflections teachers are prepared to write. Maybe you have discussed this at a team meeting and have some minutes from those. This becomes your base line data.
In this way you are using your documentation for a range of purposes and reducing additional work as much as possible.
2. What would happen if we stopped formal planning for the next month and everyone committed to writing learning stories?
Collect examples from each teacher. At your staff meetings read these out to each other and see what happens in your discussion. On the back of these stories write the comments from your teachers. My guess is that you will all have wonderful moments of thoughtful comment to add to the analysis the teacher has already written. Add this email letter to this chapter as well, as this is evidence of professional conversation wider than your centre. Add the evaluation forms from the workshop you all came to that night we met - more evidence of reflection without adding additional work. I think these kind of reflections are easier to write as they are immediately after some experience and the thoughts often just flow. There is often a lot of collective chat and excitement that leads to change.
3.How are we tracing children's progress through our learning stories?
In this chapter put the learning stories that have links, continuity is the key to tracking children’s learning progress.. Start writing in your stories: When I read through your learning story folder I saw a story written for you from Karen and as I watched you today I can see how much you have practiced this .......
I saw you on Monday working hard to pull yourself up against the table and all that practice has paid off for look at you now!.....
4. How are we supporting children to grow their learning further?  (the third part of learning stories  - the what next, this is the individualised planning for children)
Put learning stories in this section that have thoughtful ideas about planning.  Sometimes this will be acknowledging that the children are the planners and it will include how you are setting up a vibrant environment, full of discovery opportunities. Eg: We watched how you used the planks to balance and thought we would add some tree trunk rounds to offer some more challenge. I will be really interested to see what you choose to do. (someone else might write a story about what happens from introducing this kind of provocation. We need multiple perspectives to make Learning Story narrative assessments, valid).  When you stop taking up your time with old style planning formats and put the additional time you save into learning story writing, you have more stories to share with families and use for individual planning.
5.How have our families responded to these more connected stories?
Put any comments from families into this chapter including the comments you write into your learning stories after conversations with them.
6. What changes have we seen in our children's abilities to be planners of their own learning?
7. How is our team more in tune with children's interests?

I hope you can see how this systematically builds a strong picture of committed teachers, thoughtfully responding to children's learning. My guess is that in the past when you spent time planning together, that most of what you thought you would do, never happened and so much else happened that you have no record of. I think it is a fallacy that teachers carry, from a very old way of working, that 'planning' has to be done formally. It is much more responsive when it happens in the moment. Carry this planning voice on your shoulder " how can I make this learning more complex in this next moment?'  'What resources can I add to deepen the children's experiences?' Then write Learning Stories to document the process.

Planning for individual children happens in your learning stories and most importantly in the conversations you have with each other. Essentially the framework underpinning your view of your children and your community of learners is what will drive your practice.  Start with the Principles of Te Whāriki, then move to practice, otherwise teachers become task driven and real learning becomes squeezed, fragmented between rosters and routines (nasty words by the way, switch these for rhythms and rituals. These words revolutionise practice). If you truly think children are competent and capable, make your programme more flexible, more child decision friendly, more doors open.

So when ERO asks you, management etc. “What planning do you do for individual children?” show them the children's fabulous folders and the self review folder documenting your thinking journey. The Self Review that I have described is indicative of all that individual planning. After the month you will have stories to look through with a view to thinking about any strong patterns emerging. This could be the focus for a “Story of Interest’. This becomes an exemplar of planning in your community - group planning. This is done in retrospect as you see ‘threads of inquiry’ emerging from children’s interests. It might be about a traditional curriculum area or a disposition. And once again you set up the  Group planning story folder just like you did for the Self Review question and follow the same format.    You might ask yourself: How do we support curiosity to flourish?  What do literacies look like for our babies?

Over the months ahead you keep adding your stories with handwritten reflections from the sharing you do together at your meetings or supporting each other editing your stories. These become very relevant for your Teachers Registration/staff appraisal folders. I hope you can now see that writing more reflectively and sharing these lessens your work load as these thoughtful learning stories become very useful for a range of purposes. 

Hope this helps.
Have a fabulous time talking to each other and experimenting with ways that will work for you. What I hope most of all that this makes good sense, lessening irrelevant work and focussing on the work that really makes a difference for children and families.  

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