Zoe Roles, Dean of Preschool at St Mark’s Church School in Wellington, New Zealand shares how new digital technology is improving practice and engaging parents in the PYP.
“One of the most important aspects of reporting and recording assessment is treating it as a journey. We are always discussing, reflecting and reviewing what we do and this involves our parents and children, both in person and through Storypark. Storypark has changed how parents understand and support the PYP and this helps us provide the best possible learning experience for each child”.
St Mark’s Preschool is situated on the grounds of St Mark’s Church School. The Preschool is licensed for 50 children and each day between 45 and 50 children attend. St Mark’s Preschool uses Storypark, a private online community that enables our teachers to record and report, observations and assessments and link these to the PYP.
“Every child at St Mark’s Preschool has a Storypark profile and this has enabled us to connect and collaborate with parents like never before”, says Zoe. “Parents have a better understanding of what their children are learning. It has gone from handing them learning stories, which were often not taken home or left languishing in bags, to now being able to communicate in real time with videos and images. We are getting immediate responses”. Zoe and her team have found a number of parents are using the tool to include extended family in their children’s learning journey. “Parents are able to invite Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, extended family members living overseas, to participate in their child’s Storypark profile. This means the children are able to involve more people in their learning”.
“Parents are able to extend their own understanding of the IB and are becoming familiar with the language we use”. All of the five essential elements of the PYP are used as tags in each story. Parents can see these tags and then find out the definition of the different aspects of the IB. “We have found this means that they are asking questions about the PYP, building their own understanding and supporting the work we do at Preschool, at home with their children. They are even documenting their own experiences and learning with their children at home which means we as teachers can see a more holistic perspective of the children’s development”.
Over time the staff at St Mark’s Preschool have found that their use of Storypark has evolved, in part due to the results of a parent survey. “One of the strongest comments from the survey was that parents said they felt their understanding of the PYP was growing due to the way we share information on Storypark. By doing fortnightly summaries on Storypark parents are always in the loop with what learning is happening for their child”.
Zoe confirms that the level of parent engagement has increased dramatically. “Parents just engage so much more. I would say we have gone from about 60% involvement when we used paper documentation to about 95%. It is has shifted from handing a paper story to a parent that they can read and sign, to giving them the chance to read a story and view images and video at a time that suits them, and their family. This means the learning is being shared in a more valuable and meaningful way for everyone and parents have the opportunity to comment in a way that suit them. That might be via their their phone while they are between meetings at work, or on their iPad at home once the children are in bed”.
Storypark has also proved a valuable tool when children are transitioning to school. Zoe says “Transitioning to school has always been an aspect of teaching that I have found frustrating. Children walk into the school classroom having had very few connections with their new teacher. Finding a way to bridge this gap and support children transitioning to school has been a challenge for me. For the last 18 months we have used StoryPark to create a bridge between Preschool and the new entrants class. By using Storypark in both the ECE setting and the Year One classroom, our communication starts long before the child goes to school. The children develop a relationship with their future teachers in a way that has never been done before. Storypark is also used by our Year 1 classroom teachers, which provides a consistency of reporting for children, teachers and parents”.
Zoe and her staff find that this has really assisted with the transition for these children. “Children walk into the classroom as confident learners and they have already started building a relationship with their peers and teachers. Parents and families see the continuation of the learning and can see the link between learning at Preschool and school. The children and parent feel more at ease and the process is more cohesive between the two learning environments. This has assisted me with something that I have long been frustrated with so now I feel empowered by what we do”.
Storypark has proven to be a powerful tool for all parties at St Mark’s Preschool. Zoe Roles says “It has led us down a journey that has been so incredibly powerful. It helps our children to learn and grow and it involves our parents in a way that was not possible before. Children are able to take action here at preschool, and their parents can see what they have been doing. As teachers, we have a very clear window into their lives outside of school and these connections are incredibly important and powerful. We know our children so much better”.
Professionally, Storypark has proved a valuable tool for staff. Zoe says that planning now not only involves IB documents and the local curriculum but also reports and analytics from Storypark, as it aids staff in seeing the progress of the children, both individually and as a group. “As teachers we are now a community of learners ourselves; we can all learn from the learning stories that each of us write and record, so we are able to grow and support each other really easily”.
“Part of my role as Dean of the Preschool is to provide ongoing support to teachers and ensure that they understand and use the five essential elements. At the end of each unit of inquiry I can determine how effectively each key concept has been taught by analysing the learning records on StoryPark. This also enables me to further support our teachers, assess any gaps and provide further support or professional development as required. It also allows us as a team the opportunity to unpick a concept in detail.
St Mark’s Preschool has been using Storypark for three years. “I would say that of all the things we have implemented during the seven years I’ve taught here, Storypark has been one of the best and most powerful additions to our environment. I would thoroughly recommend Storypark to anyone, especially other PYP teachers seeking to deliver the best possible quality learning outcomes for children”.
To read more about IB Schools who use Storypark, check out this post from the International School of Phnom Penh about how Storypark provided the best balance of daily usability and long-term evidence based practice.