The History Of Learning Stories

Margaret Carr, a professor of Education at the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research at the university of Waikato, New Zealand, was a Co-Director of the New Zealand Early Childhood Curriculum Development project that developed the national curriculum, Te Whariki, published in 1996.



The Te Whariki’s main  goal was to address the diversity and complexities of the early childhood sector from different perspectives. It represents children within their socio-cultural contexts, their families and their communities; where they are viewed as competent and confident learners and communicators. Te Whariki’s woven floor mat represents four principles (Empowerment, Holistic Development, Family and Community and Relationships) and five key strands (Well-Being, Belonging, Contribution, Communication and Exploration) that are  connected and interrelated (Richie, J. & Buzzelli, C., 2012).



Margret Carr’s work on Learning Stories was a widely acclaimed approach to assessment and has since gained a huge international following. In her book, Learning Stories Margret Carr and Wendy Lee  outline the philosophy behind Learning Stories and call on the latest findings from the research projects they have led with teachers on learning dispositions and learning power to argue that Learning Stories can construct learner identities in early childhood settings and schools. By making the connection between sociocultural approaches to pedagogy and assessment and narrative inquiry, this book contextualizes learning stories as a philosophical approach to education, learning and pedagogy.

This book explores how Learning Stories:

  • ” help make connections with families;
  • ” support the inclusion of children and family voices;

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  • ” tell us stories about babies;
  • ” allow children to dictate their own stories;
  • ” can be used to revisit children’s learning journeys;
  • ” can contribute to teaching and learning wisdom.

This ground-breaking book expands on the concept of Learning Stories, and includes examples from practice in both New Zealand and the UK. It outlines the philosophy behind this pedagogical tool for documenting how learning identities are constructed, and shows through research evidence why the early years is such a critical time in the formation of learning dispositions.

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Similarly, the use of pedagogical documentation, “framed within the pedagogy of the Reggio Emilia approach (Malaguzzi, 1998), is a formative assessment technique that is used to adapt teaching to meet students’ needs (Black & William, 1998) to understand the meanings of the experiences of three audiences: children, teachers, and parents” (Buldu, 2010, p. 1440). The Reggio Emilia is often defined as a pedagogy that considers the ‘child’ an active subject with rights, ‘knowledge’ the construction of meaning, ‘learning’ the process of construction, based on relationships and listening, that makes learning visible and supported through pedagogical documentation.

The Reggio Emilia style of pedagogical documentation is “a way to record the children’s experiences as they explore meaningful aspects of their lives” (Macdonald, 2007, p. 232), as well as communicating that learning with their families. It was developed by a woman to reflect

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the beliefs and values of their community to children as well as providing them with skills of critical thinking and collaboration to reconstructing a democratic society. It’s an approach that captures what children do and say during their learning experiences.

Under this approach, educators play a major role in seeing and understanding children as individuals rather than normalizing children against standardized measures and categorizing some as ‘abnormal’. Pedagogical documentation is recognized as a way of “communication for visual learners”, providing a “shared awareness of all the learning”,  and “making learning evident to the teacher, students, and parents”  (Macdonald, 2007, p. 239).

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Pedagogical documentation may help to point out the nuances within the learning and teaching processes and should be valued for its “contribution to our understandings of a particular child and/or groups of children within or across disciplines leading to more realistic understandings of the way young children learn while supporting rich and varied curriculum” (MacDonald, 2007, p.241). It can also “create significant records of teaching, and learning that inform the practice of classroom teachers and create visible traces for children and families, adding transparency to classroom lessons and projects” (MacDonald, 2007, p.241).


It is a not a method or a prescribed curriculum to be copied. It is a socially and culturally embedded philosophical approach that offers a tool for continuous reflection while “making the learning process visible to teachers, parents, and members of the community” (Macdonald, 2007, p. 232).  In addition to that, parents can attain a deeper understanding of their child’s learning and are able to communicate about that learning with their child and their child’s teacher.

It is both content (audio, video recordings and photographs and examples of the children’s work)  “that represent what the children did and said, and how the pedagogue relates to the children within the learning context” (Macdonald, 2007, p. 232), and process (the content is collaboratively re-visited, interpreted, and negotiated by the protagonists :children, teachers, and parents) “to promote dialogue and reflection” (MacDonald, 2007, p.233).

Reggio Emilia – Educational Approach for Preschools and Primary Education #Reggio Emilia #Educational Approach for Preschools
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There is another Ted Talk by Kayla Delzer, a second grade teacher who speaks about her mission to revitalize learning and the classroom environment. She explains how to release the power in the classroom by giving students ownership of their learning and making it relevant to them. “Breaking down the four walls of the classroom allows her students to become globally connected – and you won’t believe the endeavors her students conquer by embracing purposeful technology”.



In conclusion, both the Te Whariki and the Reggio Emilia Approach view children as competent learners with rights and needs that educators need to respect. And it is through the use of Learning stories, developed by Margret Carr, that the latter allow children to express themselves freely, to be open to the world, to understand, to know, to learn and to build their own identity. But what are Learning Stories and how can educators use them?


Buldu, M. (2010). Making learning visible in kindergarten classrooms: Pedagogical documentation as a formative assessment technique. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(7), 1439-1449. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2010.05.003

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

Kayla Delzer (2015). Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders. Retrieved from:

MacDonald, M. (2007). Toward formative assessment: The use of pedagogical documentation in early elementary classrooms. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 22(2), 232-242. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2006.12.001

Paul Hutton (2014). What if students controlled their own learning? Retrieved from:

Prof Margret Carr on 20 years of Te Whariki (2015). Retrieved from:

Richie, J. & Buzzelli, C. (2012). Te Whariki. The Early Childhood Curriculum of Aotearoa. New Zealand.

Te Whariki Slideshow (2009). Retrieved from:

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