PART 6: Recognising learning


    In Part 6, we are going to be working from your observation of learning and the description you have written for your learning story to create the analysing section (recognising learning) of a learning story. 

    Our aim is to:

    • Develop awareness of a range of ways to analyse learning that promote reflection and ongoing assessment activity cycles

    This will involve:

    • Reading about strategies for analysing children’s learning
    • Putting what you have learnt into practice by writing the analysis section of your learning story
    • Watching a video in which ECE Director Lorraine Manuela discusses practices related to assessment at her centre

    There are options for further reading and to explore some relevant resources on The Education Hub’s website.

    Revisit your learning so far

    What are the two functions of the description part of a learning story?

    The description part of a learning story functions to set the scene and narrate the action.


    In early childhood assessment practice, the analysis of children’s learning is often about inferring meanings about what you’ve observed so that you can make a good guess about how to strengthen and further this learning. As well as identifying concrete skills, dispositions and knowledge, you are also developing a theory or hypothesis about what is happening for children and what they are interested in and learning about. This is a process of critical reflection that can be aided when you gain the perspectives of others, including other teachers, family members and the children themselves. Different perspectives enable you to present children’s abilities as shifting and fluctuating over time and context, in line with what we know about the way children develop and learn. We will look more at encouraging a range of perspectives on learning in the next part of the course.

    Strategies for analysing children’s learning 

    How do we go about analysing learning? It is usually helpful to look at learning through a particular lens or focus, for example, by examining dispositions, interests, and/or working theories in children’s learning. 

    For example, you might look for the dispositions associated with the five strands of the curriculum (taking an interest, being involved, persisting, expressing ideas, or taking responsibility). You are also asking yourself what has changed in children’s behaviours, language and action that shows these dispositions have strengthened. Avoid simply describing participation or confidence, but focus on noticeable difference such as an increasing capacity to persevere with difficulty and so on.

    You can also ask yourself: What are children showing you about their interests? What exactly are they thinking about these interests? For example, don’t just state that a child is interested in dinosaurs, but make guesses about why that is, or what aspect of dinosaur play appeals. Is it the noises? The strength and power? The complicated names? Making a guess about what exactly motivates an interest enables you to provide other related experiences.

    Also try to see if you can recognise what children are thinking. Can you formulate some potential working theories from their actions and words? For example, a child putting sand and water into a bowl and calling it “porridge” may have some working theories about cooking which include: cooking involves mixing ingredients, cooking involves changing substances, and so on. A child who comments that the larger caterpillar must be the mummy may be drawing on a working theory that all baby creatures are just a smaller version of their parents. Putting working theories into words helps you think about the key aspects of children’s play and language. With a good guess at children’s working theories, you can respond by planning to help children draw out and extend these working theories.

    Finally, it can be useful to determine what else you know about a child and their experiences that you can connect with this learning event. Look for other stories that you or other teachers have written about this child that connect with this one, and think about in what ways they are connected. What are those interconnections? The connections may be showing continuity as well as change. For example, does this learning story show children’s learning progress in relation to previous stories? Can you see how particular skills, knowledge or dispositions are growing through a set of experiences? 

    Analysis involves a lot of guesswork. Especially in early childhood, it is hard to be definitive about what children know and can do, and even more so about what they are learning. So we come up with hypotheses. Having hypotheses about what children are interested in, what they are learning and why they are motivated to learn help us to then take some form of action in response. If our hypothesis turns out to be incorrect, then we can form another, more informed one.

    Finally, analysis also involves your best judgement and selectiveness. If you were to simply “tick off” or list all the learning outcomes from Te Whāriki that you see demonstrated in the child’s learning activity, you’d probably have heaps. So you have to ask yourself what is the most significant learning? Which of these aspects excites you? This might be an emerging skill or emerging knowledge that you see developing. It might be something that is pertinent to your centre’s valued learning outcomes, or something that you know the family would be keen to see their child develop. Think about why you were motivated to write this story, and this will help you to understand where to focus your analysis.


    Which of the strategies you’ve just read about might be most useful for analysing the learning story you are writing now? Try answering the questions posed in the reading in relation to your observation:

    • What dispositions for learning (such as taking an interest, being involved, persisting, expressing ideas, or taking responsibility) is the child drawing on? What has changed in this child’s behaviours, language and action that shows these dispositions have strengthened? 
    • What is this child showing you about their interests? Why are they motivated by these interests? (develop your own hypothesis).
    • What is the child thinking? (develop your own hypothesis). Can you articulate what their working theories might be from their actions and words? 
    • How does this learning story show learning progress in relation to previous stories? Can you see how particular skills, knowledge or dispositions are growing through a set of experiences? How has what you have documented changed from previous assessments?

    Which of these aspects excites you?

    Relate your learning to practice

    Using your answers to the above questions as a guide, write the analysis section your learning story. You won’t want to include everything you have identified, but just the parts of your analysis that seem pertinent to ongoing learning and further assessment. Here are some further pointers for writing analysis:

    • Use a heading for the analysis section, which helps you to make the shift away from description, and ensures that learning is quite visible and obvious for families and children.
    • Try to track the child’s learning over time, looking at how knowledge and skill are growing and changing.
    • Generate more perspectives on the learning that is occurring, and the meaning that this activity/event had for the child. How else might you view what is happening here? Are there alternative understandings or interpretations? (Next you will show your story to families, children and other teachers and see what they think.) 
    • Use tentative language, including questions (“Perhaps you are thinking …?” “Could it be the sound that interests him most?” and so on) to reflect the fact that in analysis you are creating hypotheses, and you can never really know what is going on inside a learner’s head.
    • Show that you value the learning that you have recognised.

    Watch a video

    In this video, Lorraine Manuela discusses the practices she and her team use at her early childhood centre in Auckland.

    Kia ora koutou, my name is Lorraine Manuela and I lead the team at Tots Corner, a long day centre in Northcote in Auckland just over the Harbour Bridge.  I am so fortunate to be working with an amazing team of teachers who are all absolutely committed professionals, wanting the very best for our tamariki.   We have children from one year through to five, and as I said we are a long day service. We are open from 7.30am to 5:30pm and most of our families come four or five days a week, so no casuals or no drop ins. Because we are full. We are very fortunate.

    What forms of assessment do you use at Tots Corner?

    We use a variety of ways of assessing children. I don't believe that there is ever one way of doing anything; that we have to be conscious of having multiple ways of viewing children. And Te Whāriki tells us it's about making what we value, making the learning visible. What value that we place on, and that’s a subjective thing. Children soon come to know and realise when you are taking photos, when you were writing their words down, or making a short video clip. Children will come and say ‘You need to write this down’ or ‘You need to get the photos of those’ or ‘Can we take photos of this?’  So, they know the context within where they are working is of value, and it provides those multiple opportunities for us to observe children.  I think we can't be assessing unless we are really observing children. We know that they begin to understand, they come to know in multiple ways, so we have to be flexible in our thinking of how they come to know, how do they begin to understand different things?  How do they negotiate learning if we are not truly listening to children?  

    So, I guess the short answer is we share photos, we have video clips, we do blogs. Each of our three rooms in the centre blog their families several times a week. We do write learning stories and we work in collaboration with families. 

    I don't know that we can ever, and I suspect that maybe it's hard, maybe it’s a nerve thing, but I don't know that we ever engage with families in the way that Te Whāriki suggests that we should. It clearly states that we should be in dialogue with our families, who knows the child best, the family - the mum and the dad and the whānau, more so than us. I think they see a different perspective than what we see as the teacher - the way we view the child. So, it’s really important that we have that dialogue and in quite a bit of depth to really understand the learning that we want to make visible, and how they see that as being visible.  

    So, assessment, for us it's about observing and interpreting and then documenting and then reflecting. I don't know that it's a wise practise to ever do that singularly.  I think that we know that we can learn so much on our own, but collaboratively, in a group we can learn even more. And I think as teachers we always need to be consulting and sharing in dialogue and asking each other how they've seen things, how they are perceiving this child.  To be to be doing things alone I don't know gives a true picture of the value of the learning that you're trying to make visible.

    What do you consider to be the important elements in a learning story or other forms of pedagogical documentation?

    We need to think about what we value. So, whenever we record, whatever photos we take, whatever words we write, whatever piece of document we start to write, we're making a value judgement.  It's completely subjective about what we value to take out and to write about, or think about, or share.  So those things we need to be looking at - observation and then observing that, really thinking about that, reflecting back on it, and looking then at the new possibilities that we are offering children.

    How do you use assessment documentation to support intentional teaching and ongoing planning at your centre?

    We believe everything we do in the centre is intentional.  Whether it's in a very relaxed way or whether it's a little bit more in a formal situation, but everything must be intentional for the child. There must be intellectually rigorous opportunities set up and be available for children to engage. And everything Te Whāriki talks about – to explore, to investigate, to be curious – all those dispositions. To communicate with others.  If there is just a lump of playdough with some sprinkles around it on the table, how intellectually rigorous is that?  What opportunities is that offering children to really think and be engaged and come to know, to understand the whole process of learning?  

    We have a cockroach named Barry who joined the centre several weeks ago and it's interesting in that the children aren’t in the slightest bit interested in knowing about the physiology of the cockroach and the science of the cockroach. They want to know how will his mummy know where he is? Does he have a sister that might be looking for him? So, they are anthropomorphising. They are giving them human emotions. They are trying to understand. 

    For the last couple of years, we've been looking at the notion of self with all ages from our babies to our five year olds: how do children build self-identity? Some of the ways they do that is through animals, through insects, playing in nature and working with clay. What stories do they tell, and where do these stories come from?  The monarch butterflies are classic: often teachers want to dive into the life cycle of the butterfly because the monarchs are out, and we've got the caterpillar and the chrysalis. But in fact, our children didn't want to know that at all. They were anthropomorphising - they wanted to know: did it have a family? Were all monarch butterflies on the tree from the one family? And what if another butterfly from another tree came? The depth of thinking in those questions was really significant for us and they wanted to know: where did they fly? So, they got on the net and they found that they fly tens of thousands of miles to South America, some in clusters. So some really interesting information that took off with particularly some of the older children, and the parents wanting to know, as opposed to the life cycle of the butterfly. 

    If you're very intentional, and I don't believe that we can ever be intentional in our teaching if we aren’t truly listening. And I know people that know me will go ‘Here she goes again, harping on about the pedagogy of listening’.  But how can we do any of that if we really aren’t listening to children? We can't set up opportunities that are exciting for them if we're not listening to what they're talking about, where we think we might be able to move that to. What other opportunities could we take? 

    So, for us, our planning, often we have an overarching hypothesis that we might be looking at like: our children, the stories they tell around this notion of self,  and then we might have a number of  threads that run through that. And our older children go to the ngahere - to the bush - once every week so they have been looking at all sorts of things and sharing stories around it, but weaving it back to themselves and their families.  We have now got Barry the cockroach in the centre and they are weaving those into different stories about themselves and families. So, if we are not listening, we are not huge at pre-planning things. Sometimes we do and there are times for that but there is also not enough time in the day to waste webbing out big plans that never happen because if we are listening to children we don't know where they might be navigating.  We might have an idea of where we might end up but the roads take twists and turns and bumps and who knows?

    How do you engage with parents and whānau around assessment?

    We are very conscious at drop off and pick up times to have quick chats.  We are quickly engaging with how the children are - how their night has been.  We do it more through trying to have in-depth conversations with families and taking their cue from them.  You know when they are hanging around sometimes, and there needs to be some kōrero. We are very comfortable for parents of young infants to phone our teachers at work, we are often phoning and texting and taking photos: ‘look he's settled really well even though he was screaming when you left. This is him ten minutes later’. And they send a photo and text to a mum, who replies back, and the teacher might say: ‘Call me, if you can give me a call at lunchtime, we can chat more’.  We encourage families when they are on holiday or in the weekend to send photos into the centre. We will print and share them at our morning meeting about what children have been doing, and put them into their portfolio, to try to build that real commitment of true dialogue with each other. It's never easy and people say there's never enough time, but there's never enough time for anything in teaching - you have to make the time - you have to find time in the day to do those things.

    Are there any other thoughts that you would like to share with us about assessment? 

    Just don't be stuck on one way of ever doing things. Don't think that it's okay to be locked away in a teacher’s room for an hour to produce one or two stories if that's the only means of assessment that you do. Share at staff meetings. Talk about writing stories and share these beautiful photos that make the learning visible but do it in collaboration with colleagues. There are always multiple ways to see.  I love seeing children constructing with blocks and shapes and different things and loose parts in the construction area. And my science head immediately sees height to weight distribution, balance, I see physics - I think all these guys are amazing and they are three!  Whereas another teacher will look at it and go ‘That's beautiful, look at the artistry there, it’s balanced, they have used beautiful colours - they are coordinated!’  We all see things with different eyes - our lenses are different, so I think when we are writing and when we are assessing children, we need to do that collaboratively because our lenses are so different.


    Here are the important points to take away from this part of the course on analysing children’s learning:

    • Analysis involves inference and hypothesising. In early childhood, it is hard to be definitive about what children know and can do. If our hypothesis turns out to be incorrect, then we can form another, more informed one.
    • It can be useful to look for dispositions, interests, and working theories when analysing learning, as well as what has changed in children’s behaviours, language and action.
    • Analysis involves your best judgement and selectiveness, and will be focused by your centre’s or the family’s valued learning outcomes.

    Further reading

    Read more about working theories and how to recognise them in The Education Hub’s short resource guide here.