“Picture a spiral going round and round. Or a long mobile, spinning slowly in the breeze. Action research is far from a linear, lockstep, formulaic process.”
This quote from Powerful Designs for Professional Learning (p. 63) describes the inquiry process and learning journey of Action Research groups at Magic Years International School. Action Research groups were formed for the first time at Magic Years last academic year 2015-16. The first set of Action Research groups centered their work around five areas of practice: Arts, Technology, Design Thinking, Assessment, and Learning Stories.
This article describes the journey of one of those Action Research groups attempting to form a better understanding of “learning stories”, which are considered to develop “better observation skills, critical thinking, and self-reflection in teachers” (Carter, p. 40). In addition to sparking teacher excitement and curiosity, learning stories prompt teachers “to become more reflective, to consider other perspectives and what else they need to learn to be responsive to the children” (Carter, p. 41).
A number of educators also underscore the importance of learning stories in helping to build strong relationships between teachers and families. Judi Pack states that when teachers write learning stories, they become “better observers of children and develop their storytelling voice to joyfully share with the entire community” (Pack, p. 3). Learning stories also serve as an important reminder to teachers about the image of the child as “the story is always a positive one about children’s strengths, good ideas, and dispositions for learning” (Pack, p.1)
Teachers at Magic Years made a number of connections to the research highlighted above as they attempted to understand the true power of learning stories. Through a series of biweekly meetings, the teachers used an active inquiry process to familiarize themselves with “learning stories” and how it could be applied to their own professional settings.
The group began their dialogue with a simple question: “What is a learning story?”
Some teachers had limited experience writing learning stories. Others with experience shared learning stories previously displayed in their classrooms. The next step was to research learning stories within the school and from other sources. Teachers shared learning stories that inspired them and discovered practical steps to construct their own.
For the next session, teachers were asked to bring photographs of children from their own class. While viewing the photographs, teachers shared ideas about how simple learning stories could be generated from these visuals based on the discussions from within the group.
Using photographs the teachers then chose a learning story to document. They began writing the story and then worked together to provide feedback on what was done well and what could be improved. After reviewing the stories, the teachers worked on producing creative displays.
Reflecting on this process of inquiring into learning stories, the teachers felt it was constructive to work in collaborative groups. One of the teachers remarked, “I didn’t have previous experience about learning stories, so I was surprised by all the information a learning story could offer.” She went on to share that she now has the tools “to better explain what we are observing, how the children become engaged in the activity, and what connections are made with the IB PYP Unit of Inquiry.”
Another teacher was excited at the possibility of connecting learning stories with literacy and the library. She commented that “learning stories would benefit the library area by providing evidence of current literacy learning both within and outside the library walls.”
The Action Research group proved to be a powerful means of inquiry into “learning stories”, a powerful approach for assessment and relationship-building.
- Carter, Margie. “Using ‘Learning Stories’ to strengthen teachers’ relationships with children.” Exchange Nov. & dec. 2010: 40-43. Print.
- Easton, Lois Brown. Powerful designs for professional learning. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council, 2008. Print.
- Pack, Judi. “Learning Stories.” Teaching Young Children Dec. & jan. 2016: 1-4. Print.