Learning Stories as Narrative Assessment

I am interested in investigating the role learning stories play as a form of narrative assessment in constructing and strengthening learner identities; where adults (educators, parents, caregivers) and children tell and re-tell stories of learning experiences and competencies, while children reflect on the past and adults plan for the future (Carr et al. 2012).

When children reflect on their learning stories they recognize how valuable their learning journey is. And that by itself, plays a significant role in the construction of the learners’ identity. As Bruner (2002) said: “It is through narrative that we create and re-create selfhood, and self is a product of our telling and re-telling. We are, from the start, expressions of our culture. Culture is replete with alternatives about what self is or might be” (Carr et al. 2012, p. 3).  Carr (2012), argues that over the last ten years, learning stories have responded to the demands and challenges of: dialogue, connection, recognizing and appropriating which are essentials to the construction of learner identity.

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According to her, when children are engaged in an interaction (dialogue) of a particular activity, he or she is being encouraged to take over some of the responsibilities for their own learning and their own assessment. Teaching and learning interactions “are exercises in collectivity, involving both the child and the adult in processes of negotiation, disagreement, the exchange and sharing of information, judgement, decision making and evaluation of one another’s contributions” (Carr et al. 2012, p.59).

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Connection is as important as dialogue in the children’s learning. When learning Stories are interesting, they “cross the border from the early childhood center into the school classroom and into the home, they construct opportunities for continuing these conversations in another place (Carr et al. 2012, p. 60). This allows children to build on their skills and qualities of value, and allows families to contribute to their child’s stories. This way, children’s funds of knowledge from home and school are acknowledge and included in both world. This is also fundamental in the formation of their identity, because “identity is the vehicle that carries our experiences from context to context” (Carr et al. 2012, p.81).

In addition to that, learning stories contribute to the recognizing and re-cognizing of learning continuities in two ways. First, by acting as “material objects that carry significant information across time and space” (Carr et al. 2012, p.88), learning stories create “coherence between events and refer to longer term process to construct significant chains of learning episodes” (Carr et al. 2012, p.88). And then, by constructing continuities and making them visible in learning stories and portfolios. These learning continuities could be in the analysis of the learning, in the planning section of the learning, in a sequence of episodes or photographs gathered together or in a conversation about the learning stories with the learner or a group.

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And last but not least, when learners appropriate knowledge and dispositions; making it their own, using learning stories to document and construct the learning journey by communicating, meaning-making, conceptualizing, representing, children, parents and educators are able to recognize the chains of learning episodes that shape learners’ identity.

Carter, on the other hand, suggests , “rethinking the idea of objectivity; capturing descriptive details without interpretation” (Carter, 2010, p.40), and instead, “we must identify and acknowledge our own subjectivity, with the best interests of the child in mind” (Carter, 2010, p.40-41). She also points out that we should consider other perspectives; “Learning Stories offer the perspectives of the teachers, describe professional perspectives by referencing desired outcomes, and invite the perspectives of the child’s family. Learning Stories are often written directly to the child, which nearly always results in the child offering more perspective from revisiting an experience” (Carter, 2010, p.41). And again, following the conventions of Tom Drummond, Carter suggest following his guidelines on how to write a learning story. In using these guidelines with teachers across many different settings in the United States, Carter watched teachers come alive with new interest in children’s pursuits. She concludes by saying that “helping teachers strengthen their relationships with children and families should be a major goal in any documentation and assessment process. Learning Stories can serve as a valuable tool and help teachers enhance their own voices for an expanded view of quality in early childhood education” (Carter, 2010, p.43).



Southcott (2015) , was also interested in describing whether learning stories serve as an assessment tool that supports educators view of children as capable learners, deepens teachers’ understanding of children’s theory-making, celebrates children’s successes, and helps strengthen connections between home and school? By sharing two learning stories, Southcott demonstrates how by making learning visible these stories can:

• Deepen understanding of children’s thinking;
• Engage parents in the learning at school; and
• Help educators reflect on their use of authentic documentation to make children’s learning visible.

“In the past, the focus has been on the expectations or developmental stages that children haven’t reached or met, an approach that equates children with an empty vessel waiting for educators to fill with their knowledge and a deficit view of children’s learning “(Southcott, 2015, p.43). But then, with the use of learning stories as a form of pedagogical documentation, a “good story gives insight about how children make sense of their world” (Southcott, 2015, p.39).
The layout of each of the learning stories is as important as telling the story itself. The simpler the format, the clearer the learning story is and the child’s thinking takes center stage (Southcott, 2015). When educators, look at children as capable and strong learners, they recognize and appreciate the prior experiences and knowledge children bring with them to school in all areas of learning. Educators then, have an opportunity to immerse themselves in the children’s ideas, thinking, and wondering to meet children where they are and support their next steps in learning.


This form of narrative assessment doesn’t limit itself to the classroom walls. It can easily be shared with others with the purpose of involving and engaging  them in the learning process of the children. Care to know how?



Carr, M., & Lee, W. (2012). Learning stories: Constructing learner identities in early education. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Carter, M. (2010). Using ‘Learning Stories’ to strengthen teachers’ relationships with children. Exchange Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.ecetrainers.com/sites/default/files/Using%20Learning%20Stories%20to%20Strengthen% 20Teacher%20Relationships.pdf.

Drummond, T. (2017). Resources and Writings: Looking Closely at Children: Writing Learning Stories. Retrieved from: http://tomdrummond.com/looking-closely-at-children/writing-learning-stories/

Learning Stories. (2013). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLm435BtTKc

Learning Stories. (2015). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYOnV-dCycQ

Southcott, Laura Hope. 2015. Learning stories: Connecting parents, celebrating success, and valuing children’s theories.Voices of Practitioners 10, (1) (Winter): 34-50. Retrieved from: https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/Southcott.Learning%20Stories.pdf

Image 1 retrieved from :http://www.learningstories.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Making-Assessments-Meaningful-for-Students..jpg

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