This guide is for anyone looking for strategies to create rich assessment within Storypark. We’ll share tips from the early childhood community and suggest ways you can save time and build capability in your assessment.
In this guide, you’ll explore:
- Documenting assessment
- Looking to the past before looking at the present
- Noticing, recognising and responding
- Considering your audience
- Nurturing quality and capability
“Quality documentation to me means that the head and heart are engaged. When I write a learning story, I think deeply about the child. What do I know about them as a learner? What do I understand about this child and their culture? What have I done to support this child in their learning?”
– Michela Homer, Regional Professional Services Manager LNI, BestStart
Effective assessment of children in ECE involves noticing, recognising and responding to their learning. Assessment informs teaching so you can plan for a child’s next steps and support them to achieve these. Assessment actively involves children and their families in decisions about their learning. (Ministry of Education NZ)
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to documenting assessment. Regulatory bodies such as ERO and ACECQA recognise that each service is different and that “educators can explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, service and community”. While they don't prescribe how it should be done, they do provide guidelines.
ACECQA's Guidelines for documenting children’s learning:
- View documentation as an important part of your work
- Capture children’s voices and ideas
- Try different methods to find what is realistic, achievable and relevant
- Be selective in what you choose to document
- Share documentation efforts and experiences, and continue to learn, grow and develop
- Be open to change as the dynamics of the children’s group or team change
- Constantly review and remind yourself why you are documenting and for whom
- Make it relevant for the setting, as documentation will look different across different settings
- Be clear about what the standards and learning frameworks are asking you to do.
Reflective questions and activities:
- Does Storypark enable you to produce richer assessment (according to Australia’s ACECQA and the NZ Ministry of Education’s guidelines) than previously possible? Why?
- How well are your stories building on the identity of all children, highlighting continuity of learning, and demonstrating progress in a range of contexts?
- Looking back at your last five learning stories, can you clearly identify the noticing, recognising, and responding in each story? An extension of this is to do this in pairs – would another teacher also be able to identify this?
- Choose a child. List that child’s strengthens, personality, quirks and charms, interests, friendships, social competencies, development, dispositions. Once you have completed the list look at their stories – how well do they resemble the true child? Are there stories that match your list?
Look to the past before looking at the present
Reviewing a child's past stories before writing new stories can help you make any links to assessment by other teachers, highlighting their learning, development and progress over time.
Looking back before creating a story also enables you to reference parent views, ideas and responses, showing that you’re valuing and making use of the families’ knowledge of and aspirations for their child.
We suggest you create a Storypark plan for the children you’re responsible for, either for an individual child or as a group plan. For each child, you could record links to previous stories alongside their notes so when looked at together you can quickly see their progression and how interests and dispositions have developed. Learn how.
It's also useful to generate an activity report to identify if any children have minimal stories or activity in their portfolio. Then you can generate a learning trend report to identify specific trends in the learning that has been happening.
- Generate a learning trends report of the child you used in the last activity. Do the tags align with the list you complied?
- Compare the learning trends for boys and girls at your service. Learn how.
- What is important to measure and compare? Why?
- Are your reports showing equity across all children?
- Is family engagement increasing or decreasing? Why? What's changed?
Notice, recognise, respond
Storypark enables you to not only capture quick anecdotal stories and "magic moments" but also to capture and record rich stories of learning.
While the terminology differs depending on your philosophy and setting, assessment generally comprises of three components:
- Noticing (capturing)
- Recognising (assessing)
- Responding (planning)
Capture the learning moments through:
The Notice phase is about capturing and recording what significant learning is happening, typically using text to describe the event and actions. This is often referred to as the narrative and is generally accompanied by photos.
This phase can be enriched by capturing video, eliminating the need to describe what is occurring and providing an accurate account of the interactions, emotions, conversation, actions and involvement. Video can also save you time as you don’t need to describe the context or what happened in as much depth, giving you more time to spend on recognising and responding. This provides a richer and more accurate picture of what occurred.
Recording the child’s voice (through text or video) is also important for authenticity and adds additional meaning and context. See our quality practice guide on Taking great photos, videos and notes.
Tip: Adding what you’re noticing through regularly posted learning moments, snippets, anecdotes, videos, settling moments, videos or simply recording the child’s voice can give families the opportunity to provide feedback, which can be incorporated into richer learning stories. Not everything needs to be a story of assessment, but they can add to the overall picture.
“I’m working with my teams to think wider than learning stories… The notion of one learning story a month means that you can miss soooo much!”
– Michela Homer, Regional Professional Services Manager LNI, BestStart
The Recognise phase refers to the written assessment within a story – a teacher’s interpretation of what learning occurred. Assess what learning occurred and consider why you're choosing to record this story.
Consider what theories, values and beliefs you are drawing on to assess the learning. Assessment can sometime be clouded by the observer's lens. Eg. "I can see literacy in most areas of play and learning but was that really what it was about?" How visible is the learning in the story?
Consider what learning may have occurred:
- social and emotional development and competencies
- physical development
- working theories
Afterwards, consider asking other teachers and family what learning they are seeing in the story. Supporting multiple perspectives can enhance the interpretation and analysis of learning.
Recognising can be further highlighted by adding learning tags to your story to showcase how it links to your curriculum, philosophy, learning outcomes, goals, standards, learning theories, unique character and achievements. Your written assessment should correlate to the tags you’ve chosen.
Don’t over-tag stories. Consider what the main learning outcomes were for the child and the purpose of recording this story. Select 2-3 tags to highlight the learning that occurred. Over-tagging will not provide an accurate idea of what has been occurring within your service and will produce reports that are less helpful to your team.
Providing parent-friendly descriptions for each tag helps parents translate and understand what these links mean for their child. This can empower them to continue children’s learning at home and support your work.
Later, published stories that have tags added can be filtered to provide an overview of current interests, learning and activity within your programme, and to support your planning. You can also generate a learning trend report to identify trends in the tags you have been using.
How many sets should I have?
Learning sets are simply folders that organise your tags. We suggest working with no more than 6-8 relevant learning sets which can be a mix of ones that you’ve created yourself and ones you’ve copied from the list of public sets. Having too many sets can make creating stories confusing, and the results less meaningful.
Consider the following sets to highlight children’s learning and development:
- local/country curriculum
- centre philosophy
- school curriculum (to support transition)
- Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development
- style or methods of learning that are relevant to your service i.e Montessori, Reggio, Steiner, Language nests etc.
Consider the following to highlight centre and teacher development:
- teaching standards
- appraisal goals
- centre philosophy
It can be helpful to have one person responsible for creating your sets and tags to prevent multiple sets of the same tags being created, and to keep the learning sets in order.
Plan actions to:
- add complexity to learning
The Responding phase is all about considering possible pathways – providing ideas and future opportunities for further supporting and extending a child’s current interest and learning. It may also include how you responded in the moment.
Consider asking family a question at the end of your story to increase their involvement and encourage their ideas. Questions should empower family, positioning them as experts in their child’s development. (Not every post needs a question – think about creating a balance between strengthening engagement and over-burdening busy families).
Ideas can be continually added to through responses. This way, everyone (the child, teachers, specialists and family) can share ideas and suggestions, further supporting intentional teaching.
Also, encourage families to share their own stories through the Families app. They can choose to share moments with you as teachers and any family they’ve invited. Ask to see learning that is happening at home or to share a story/moment after the child has had big experience such as a holiday.
- How are you encouraging multiple perspectives and voices in your stories?
- How do you document the complexity of the child’s learning in your assessment?
- When writing a story which part do you spend most time on – noticing, recognising, or responding?
- What questions could you ask that would support, scaffold, extend and add complexity to the learning? E.g. What stood out for you in this story? What have you seen at home? What do you think your child would like to do next to extend on this?
- What evidence do you have of children setting their own goals?
- How could you adapt your writing for families who have English as an additional language?
- How visible is the learning in your stories?
See our quality practice guide on Strengthening family engagement.
Think about your audience
- Think about what’s important. ACECQA recommends constantly reviewing and reminding yourself why you are documenting and for whom.
- Use the language of your audience. Families are generally not versed in the language of pedagogy, and there’s a chance they may disengage if they don’t understand the words you use. Tailor the stories to what you know about the parents in order to address their aspirations and expectations. Don’t forget about the children! Try to strike a balance between what will be practical/relevant for the parent, and what will appeal to the child when they interact with their stories (children love photos and videos!).
- Try to be equitable when posting stories for different children... families talk! Use activity reports to keep track.
- Print for purpose. Is your service paper-based, all digital, or somewhere in between? While many services have opted to go paper-free, and most families prefer interacting with Storypark this way, many teachers still print for the children. “Do you want to look at your photobook?” is a good way to calm an upset child.
"We find now that we use Storypark for the parents and the portfolio books for the children. That way we can include more photos and more artwork, which the children love to go over and over. They will often just pick up their portfolio books from time to time in the course of a day. Meanwhile the parents will come in and refer to a story we posted that day."
- Who is your audience? Are you writing to and for the child, their family, or regulators?
Nurturing quality and capability
Mistakes or inconsistencies can affect the credibility of your service. Here are our tips for maintaining quality in everything you share with families.
- Take great photos, videos and notes. Get tips on what to look for, how to record observations, taking quality photos and videos, editing, and file management in our quality practice guide here.
- Turn on spell check. Everyone makes mistakes, but grammatical errors can detract from what is otherwise an effective learning story. Some browsers have built in spell checkers, however if not you can add a free spelling and grammar extension to your browser such as Grammarly.
- Avoid publishing stories at home when outside of the context of a professional setting, and to avoid publishing when parents may be sleeping.
- Keep guidelines accessible. These might include a checklist of things that are important to include in a learning story, a copy of your curriculum, centre philosophy, or exemplars. Print these out and stick them where they can be seen when creating stories.
- Make sure everyone is on the same page. Make sure all staff know what is expected of them. Set expectations around story length, quality, and the balance of individual versus group stories.
- Balance individual and group assessment. Group stories are important for showing relationships, collaboration and interactions but it’s important to include how each individual fits in and whether all the children experienced the same outcomes. Parents will be more engaged if they feel you’ve noticed their child. It is sometimes better to create a group story then duplicate it for each child and personalise the experience and learning. "Individual stories are pretty special."
- Get teachers to be able to incorporate feedback and self correct. Setting up story approval for teachers is a great way to build confidence while ensuring consistency. But it’s important to grow teacher’s capacity by coaching instead of simply making improvements yourself. The best outcome for everyone is to work towards stories not needing to be approved any longer. When a teacher posts a story for approval, the approver can write feedback and suggestions in the body of the story in a different coloured text box before saving and exiting. (This could include questions such as What else was that child learning? Is the child's voice represented? Is the curriculum being met? What opportunities are there? Why did you prepare that for today?). This will add the story back to the author’s drafts so they can incorporate the feedback into an improved version. Even confident teachers can benefit from peer reviewing now and then.
- Save time. Don’t do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. There are many things you can do to make time saving efficiencies, from making sure stories are approved in the shortest possible time so it stays 'in the moment', to printing wirelessly directly from a tablet. See our Making the most out of technology guide for time-saving tips.
- Attend professional development sessions individually or as a team. See the workshops Storypark offers.
"Buddy teachers up, and ask them to comment on each other’s stories for the week, then swap buddies at the next staff meeting. Talk with them about the importance of reading each other’s stories so you can build upon the learning for the child."
– Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
- Are you referring back to the child’s stories before writing a new story? How are you linking past learning to present development and interests?
- How are you involving children and their families in their assessment?
- What learning theories, values and beliefs are you using to assess the learning?
- Generate a learning trends report for your room or your service. Do the tags align with the the planning for the period chosen?
- How can you strengthen family involvement in stories? Create and continue to add to a list of questions that generate feedback and sharing from families.
- Consider undertaking an internal evaluation on how well stories are responded to and how they evidence your planning.
- Blog post: Using the right avenue to engage with vulnerable families
- Blog post: Paper based or digital? Let’s talk about documenting children’s learning
- Blog post: Ask yourself why
- Blog post: Less can be more when documenting children’s learning
- Blog post: Who is documentation of children’s learning really for?