Annie White

Rather than write observations about a child to track his or her development, write observations, as a “story” directly to the child. That’s part of the concept behind an innovative technique developed by CI Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Studies Annie White, Ed.D.

White’s technique, called “Journey of Discoveries”, helps early childhood educators assess children’s learning progress with a method that involves parents. She developed the technique for children ages birth to five years old in collaboration with a California Head Start program.

“It’s a narrative approach to capturing children’s learning and development,” White explained. “You document children’s learning experiences with written observations through a storytelling format. This is a way to create conversation and collaboration between teachers and parents.”

White’s research earned her a spot on the coveted 2015-16 Simms/Mann Institute Faculty Fellowship. Eight faculty members from the CSU system and five from the California Community Colleges were chosen to be part of the Faculty Fellowship, which has the task of completing a project that translates childhood neuroscience into practical research methods that can be used in the classroom.

“This Fellowship focuses on children from birth to three years old, looking at the neuroscience, and how to support early brain development,” White said. “My specialization and focused attention is on the first three years, which lays the foundation for future academic success.”

The Simms/Mann Institute for Education and Community Development is a foundation seeking ways to support families and individuals with many of the complex issues facing communities in the 21st century.

Journey of Discoveries” rose out of White’s experiences in New Zealand, where early childhood educators use something called “Learning Stories” to document the progress of children’s development. The Ministry of Education in New Zealand uses Learning Stories to assess young children’s learning and development.

“Learning Stories” was the inspiration to develop White’s prototype model, Journey of Discoveries. Instead of a dry anecdotal observation that are impersonal documentation of an infant or child’s progress, teachers and parents in New Zealand would write stories—sometimes with photos or video, about a child’s experience.

One story, for example, called “Henry’s Bus,” was a teacher’s observations about how Henry was coping with a new environment. “At first he wandered around the room,” the teacher wrote. “Then he saw the (toy) bus and smiled. He walked over to it and sat down.” Then, the teacher wrote to Henry, who was about two years old. “You know how to find comfort in what is familiar to you when you come to our school,” she wrote. Henry’s parents then supplied: “We are happy that Henry is able to comfort himself. It looks like transition to toddler class is going well.”

The teacher then writes a paragraph about what the vignette means about Henry’s development, and adds an element for curriculum planning, “add people and buses and stories about buses” to help Henry develop further.

The California Department of Education’s children’s assessment tool is called the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP), which many teachers find tedious.

“What’s been a challenge is early childhood education teachers using the DRDP tool get bogged down because they have to document so many measures that it becomes time-consuming,” White said. “They lose their joy of teaching because they’re so weighed down with looking for and writing all the DRDP measures.”

White’s “Journey to Discoveries” storytelling prototype works alongside the DRDP, and has proved to be more appealing, personal, and meaningful to teachers. Plus, parents are involved in the process and often write their own stories as well as responses back to their child regarding the “story” the teacher wrote about their learning.

“Family engagement is so important because it supports school readiness,” White said. “It’s especially important for low income and underrepresented families because they don’t often have a voice in their children’s education.”

Learning Stories is already being taught here at CI and in addition, White is sharing with students about her research using the prototype method. She recently presented her research at the local, state and national level and plans to begin the application of the Learning Stories method in the community as the year progresses.

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