You may have noticed that in several of my blog posts, I mention how I use Storypark, a digital online portfolio platform. Given a choice, I would always choose Storypark to document the learning taking place in my early childhood classroom.
Family as learning partners
With Storypark, the parents have ownership of their child’s portfolio, while the teachers in the school have shared admin rights. This means that parents can invite other family members without getting permission from the teacher or school. This ownership is essential in an international school setting, where a large portion of our students live in a country that is different from their extended family, namely grandparents. Parents can invite as many family members as they choose, and everyone can view and comment on that child’s learning story.
Grandparents love this and are at times, are our most prolific commenters; they love seeing what their grandchildren are learning, often making connections with something they had done together while visiting on holiday. As parents are the owners of their child’s portfolio, they can also post and share stories, photos, and videos of what they have been doing at home. This tool has become particularly valuable during the pandemic, as it has afforded us more opportunities to connect with students and the play they are engaging in at home.
These connections between parents, extended family, and teachers create an environment that values all aspects of our students’ lives, culture, knowledge, and family. Children and their families feel and know that they have a place and are valued, strengthening the partnership between school and home to create a dynamic and adaptable learning environment for each student.
Storypark uses learning stories as its documentation format
Using this format, as a child’s teacher, I can tell a story about what took place or is happening, add photos or videos, and break down the learning and connect it to the PYP framework and curricular outcomes. Photos and videos can be moved around and edited to suit how I want to tell the story and the learning intentions. It’s possible to add more than one child to the story, which works well for a small group story. Using a narrative form of assessment, such as learning stories, I can formatively assess students loosely utilising a sequence of noticing, recognising, responding, recording and revisiting valued learning, all in an easy-to-read story format.
There is not as much opportunity for children to independently document their learning as in other apps; however, this is easily worked around using speech-to-text to enable children to dictate their thinking and share their knowledge in their own words.
I print each story and display this on the classroom wall and also in a book that children can easily access, allowing them to revisit and explore their learning anew. The more children interact with these stories, the more they become aware of how Storypark works. They understand that this is a way to share with their parents and extended family; some will ask me to record achievement, an artwork, a building or activity to share, knowing that the family will have quick and easy access to what they have done. Parents will then have the opportunity to write a comment to their child (and sometimes to me to ask a clarifying question) or leave a voice or video message engaging with their child, contributing observations and suggestions. Storypark enables me to make each child’s learning visible to parents in a way that is accessible to them and causes further learning conversations to continue after school, at home, too.
More than one teacher can be added to a class
In my previous blog post, I talked about the importance of all teachers who work with students having the opportunity to document learning they see with each child. Storypark is designed perfectly for this, as it allows me to add multiple teachers to my class. When our PE or music teacher writes a learning story, I can view it and comment and build on classroom learning. Having multiple adults added to my classroom means that we are supporting, recognising and responding to the full breadth of each child’s learning, and it’s all together in one place for both students and parents. All stories written about each child are added to their portfolio, building up a holistic story of that child’s learning journey.
Another handy Storypark tool is the tags and reports section. With each story, I tag the PYP transdisciplinary themes, concepts, approaches to learning and IB learner profile. I am then able to track each of these according to class, age, or individual student. As I teach all four of my units of inquiry concurrently throughout the year it is crucial that I know which units have been explored and to what depth, and aspects, or students I need to focus on. I can examine each child’s interactions with all aspects of the PYP framework and each of the units, allowing me to ensure that every child is accessing learning across all domains. I add my lines of inquiry to the unit throughout the year. I do this to ensure that I am creating a unit driven by my student thinking and questions (you can read more about why I do this here).
Analysing the information gathered over time allows me to track changes in my students’ capabilities, understanding and learning. This data enables me to consider possible learning opportunities and how to plan to support these through thoughtful provocations, probing questions or specific resources.
This year I am also adding our curriculum (this is housed in ManageBac) to give me a great understanding of the learning that is happening in my classroom and also give my students’ parents a clearer picture of their child’s learning and growth.
Designed by and for early childhood educators
If you have read my blog posts, particularly my call for an EY programme within the IB, you will know that I am often frustrated by the seemingly top-down expectations that often happen in early childhood. The importance of play is being recognised in significant ways; however, this is not always reflected in expectations of how we document.
Storypark is built around the expectation that play is integral to children’s learning. The design team at Storypark created a platform that works. They understood that as a teacher, I need a platform designed for early childhood and that places my students at the forefront of their own learning. Yet they also understand that there are multiple ways to document learning and to communicate with parents and extended family. As an early childhood educator using Storypark, I don’t feel like my students are the add-on, nor that we have to use a workaround; we are the point. Storypark is designed with our youngest children in mind and those who work with them to document learning in an authentic and age-appropriate way.
Storypark isn’t perfect and doesn’t meet every need, but it comes very close. It ticks my big boxes:
It is designed for early childhood.
I can easily use my preferred method of documenting.
Parents can be active in their child’s learning, while gaining an understanding of how children learn through play.
It values play.