Capturing Uniqueness: How Learning Stories Shape Individuality

Project author:

Project summary:

This project aims to observe how enhancing the knowledge and skills of practitioners in creating learning stories, captures and nurtures the uniqueness of the child.

Introduction

This project explores how developing high quality learning stories increases learner identity. It takes into account best practice in documenting children’s learning with a focus on attuning to children’s thinking and skills while considering the fundamental Froebelian principles of ‘knowledgeable nurturing educators’, ‘autonomous learners’ and ‘the central importance of play.’

It matters because as early years practitioners we are responsible for developing and nurturing the whole child and taking a more holistic approach to empowering individuals to navigate their own path to self-realisation. I chose to explore learning stories as a focus following a discussion with the nursery leadership team and their drive to create autonomous learners by helping children to reflect on their own strengths, skills and abilities. I therefore set out to explore how learning stories could be a catalyst for informing change and developing practitioner knowledge to provide rich real life experiences for children while extending their interests through ‘freedom with guidance’.

Context

The setting which was a focus for my enquiry is an ELCC based in a village in the West of Scotland with an average SIMD level 7. It comprises a main school building and recently refurbished annex where the nursery and primary 1 children are based. The ELCC currently looks after 51 children from ages 3 – 5 and consists of a management team of two depute heads and a senior, two of which are Froebel trained. There are currently eight experienced Early Learning and Child Care Officers, two of whom are also Froebel trained. It has a warm and welcoming ethos which is enhanced by the highly skilled and nurturing staff.  Their motto ‘freedom with guidance’ , adopted from the Froebelian principles, demonstrates their commitment to fostering children’s self awareness to allow them to thrive and realise their own talents, skills and abilities.

My own role within the wider authority is peripatetic in nature and is to support early years settings with aspects of teaching and learning. After an initial discussion with the team at my focus setting, we agreed to explore learning stories as a vehicle for increasing children’s identify.

In order to best approach the project, myself and the management team had conversations about different approaches to methodology I might consider.

An interview, along with several observations of the case study child, was the first step in my research in order to measure how well they interacted with the environment before, during and after the project.

I also carried out a moderation exercise with all practitioners to help them reflect upon and improve the quality of their learning stories. This was followed up by 1-1 support on the floor to help them identify and tune in to significant learning episodes and interests shown by the children.

In order to seek the views of parents on their thoughts on learning stories, I issued them with questionnaires. For the purpose of this research project, I have only considered the focus child’s parents.

Finally, I had a 1-1 interview with the focus child’s keyworker to compare their knowledge, skills and abilities before and after the project.

Ethics

Ethical issues were a priority for me when beginning this research project. After agreeing that learning stories would be a focus for my research I then asked all practitioners within the setting who would like to take part. I carefully discussed what the research would entail and explained that they are free to withdraw at any time. In terms of choosing a focus child, I spoke with all the pre school children in the focus practitioner’s key group and asked them who would like to take part. When all of them were willing, I then decided, with the focus practitioner and management team that it would be a child who displays much enthusiasm for the experiences on offer however struggled to engage in meaningful dialogue with her peers and staff members. It was agreed that this child in particular has the potential for the greatest impact and therefore could be used to demonstrate the power of learning stories to other practitioners.   In terms of my input at the setting at the time, my support extended to all practitioners and their key children however only the focus practitioner and child would feature in my project. Throughout the project I took the child’s lead and ensured that they weren’t coerced to talk to me and always ceased any discussions when they were showing signs that they had had enough. I also obtained permission from the focus child’s parents after providing them with a detailed letter of what they project would entail. They too, were informed that they could withdraw themselves and their child at any point. To protect the identify of the focus child, I have changed their name for the purpose of this research. I have also excluded names of any practitioners involved, the setting name and local authority.

‘When A asked if I want to try the piano, I said ‘yeah sure’ and now I can play three different tunes. I am helping my friends to play now too!’

Laura, age 5.

Findings

Upon reviewing the learning stories created for children in the nursery, I realised that some key elements were missing in supporting the holistic development of the children. These pieces were not mere oversights but crucial components that could unlock a deeper understanding of each child’s learning journey. Among these elements, two stood out as particularly significant: understanding what sparked the child’s interest and how observations of learning could be taken forward in meaningful and enriching ways.

Through careful observations and insightful dialogue with Laura’s keyworker, it became apparent that she experiences some anxiety and unease when arriving at the nursery in the mornings. This initial emotional unease was a barrier to her having a smooth transition from home and the nursery and thus engaging with her peers. However, with gentle encouragement and support of the practitioners, she gradually settled into the daily routine and began to immerse herself in the enriching play experiences on offer. She also displayed a strong sense of confidence in her own abilities and always approached activities with inherent enthusiasm, however she also faced a challenge that hindered her interactions with peers, as many four years olds do: the struggle to actively listen and engage in meaningful dialogue with others.

The feedback gathered from the parent questionnaire proved to be a valuable insight into the dynamics of communication between home and the nursery. They expressed satisfaction with how the nursery shared their children’s learning through Seesaw, allowing them to stay informed and engaged in their child’s development. Furthermore they indicated that they felt confident reinforcing their children’s learning at home.  A good example of this was one parent that provided a range of mark making materials at home after their child expressed an interest in drawing within the nursery setting. However, a notable revelation from the questionnaire was the lack of sharing of learning and interests from home for the practitioner to incorporate into the nursery environment. One interest that was noted on the questionnaire from home was Laura’s current fascination with music and dance.

Following the moderation exercise and 1-1 support sessions with practitioners, I was encouraged to see the quality of their learning stories had improved. This indicated that practitioners were able to implement the strategies discussed during the training to create more meaningful and effective learning stories, which showcased a more in-depth celebration of children’s learning. The learning stories now start by identifying what initially sparked children’s interests and effectively linked significant moments in learning across various contexts. Furthermore, the inclusion of an invitation to parents to continue children’s learning at home was a positive steps towards fostering collaboration between the children, practitioners and families. Following an interview with Laura’s keyworker, she commented that she felt much more confident in her own abilities at taking forward children’s own interests and talents.

One particular story that captivated the success of the research project was titled ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, What a Star!’ In every child’s life, there comes a moment when a spark of interest ignites into a flame of passion. For Laura, that moment arrived when she discovered an interest in music and dance at home. The practitioner, keenly observant of her interest, provided her with a small piano and then encouraged her to explore this newfound passion, providing guidance and support over a period of many weeks. The learning which this unlocked was significant;

 

‘Laura, you have been able to learn to play Twinkle Twinkle on the piano by memory. You were able to recognise the letters and the rhythms, patterns and sounds they made. You are able to count how many of each key to play and displayed a wealth of confidence and pride as you shared your learning with your peers and staff”

 

In that time, I observed Laura come to nursery full of joy and enthusiasm about the day ahead. One of the more surprising findings, was Laura’s newfound communication skills. Not only did she display active listening, but she was also supporting and encouraging towards her peers when they too took an interest in playing the piano. The most joyful moment was when Laura took to the stage at the nursery Christmas concert and confidently chose to play ‘Jingle Bells’ in front of her peers, staff and parents.

Laura’s parents also expressed their amazement at her newfound talent and skills and commented that ‘we are just blown away with Laura’s newfound talent. She is so excited to go to nursery in the mornings now. We are keen to support her with this and have organised her piano lessons for her Christmas.’

 

Conclusion

Through this journey of reflection and discovery, I learned that learning stories were not just record of achievement but living documents that could shape the future of a child’s holistic development. The findings from this project reaffirmed my belief that when you have knowledgeable and nurturing educators, we can celebrate children for the exact moment of where they are, celebrate their uniqueness and unlock a world of skills and talents.

The journey of supporting practitioners with creating and refining learning stories taught me the importance of capturing key elements that support the holistic development of a child. By understanding what sparks a child’s interest and attuning to their learning to inform practice, practitioners can create a responsive and enriching learning environment that nurtures each child’s unique potential and fosters a lifelong love of learning.

While this particular area of research was a success in terms of the impact on Laura’s learning, we as a staff, are hopeful that the future planned parent workshop surrounding the impact of learning stories in strengthening the learning and uniqueness of the child will inspire more parents to share their child’s interests and talents observed at home with the nursery setting.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Claudine Wallace
    Claudine Wallace
    22 Mar 2024 at 6:12 pm

    This was lovely to read. It’s made me really consider our version – learner journals. I have felt there’s alot of emphasis on learning and progression. Whilst this is important I agree for them to be beneficial to the child there needs to be a holistic approach where their interests and unique abilities are recorded in a way that is accessible to the individual children.


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  2. Caroline Smith
    Caroline Smith
    24 Mar 2024 at 1:37 am

    Great read. You’ve really demonstrated how beneficial it is to the child that observations are holistic. You highlight the values of their interests and the child as autonomous learners in a way that is relevant to the individual child. While tracking progression is becoming a more prevalent your approach promote knowledgable practitioners to value the child in the here and now rather than in preparation for the future.


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