Learning Story Magic with SMATA

One of the traps of learning stories is that we want to use them for assessment. We think that they can serve the same function of tests, that they will help us tick off curriculum coverage and maybe even give us the evidence we need to make OTJs, and that we can stop there.


Yes, this is all true. However, there is a lot more to them than that. In fact, if we see them solely in assessment terms we are missing out on their real power. It’s a power that shifts them out beyond assessment tools and into the realm of relationships: to self and to others.


Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee, in their fantastic books about learning stories – Learning Stories | Learning Stories in Practice (essential reading for anyone in a school) – argue that they are artefacts that play a crucial role in shaping learner identities. Recently, I had a shining example of this truth in action.


I was in a school that’s been using SMATA for a while and is now moving into making deliberate use of the learning stories function. On this day a couple of Year 3 boys had come to help lead a play invitation for the Year 1s. One of them in particular was outstanding, living and breathing the school’s learning values. I took a few photos of him ‘in action’ and made an observation in SMATA.


His engagement really made an impression on me. And so, I turned the observation into a learning story and shared it with the teachers involved as an example. The story served to cement the moment for them – it reinforced how positive it was, and how fantastic he was during it. By all accounts, he loved reading the story too. 


Just think of the identity work that’s happening here with the story. He’s able to be seen as a dependable, capable member of the school; and he’s developing a sense of ‘I can …’ This is so important.


Yes, the story created in SMATA had the learning area links. Yes, these give us some assessment information we can use. But, it’s the story around those that did the work here. Just as Carr and Lee argue.


Because that’s not where it ended. 


A week or so after this story was shared this boy got up to a bit mischief in the playground at break time. A teacher accosted him. But, upon recognising him, they said, “Hey, you’re the boy from the story …” The teacher was able to use that story as a reference point for him to reflect on his behaviour and whether it matched the identity of who he was in the story. I’m told it was a powerful moment.


This is close to magic. A story of learning engagement enduring and spilling out as an active entity that helps create positive change.


I loved hearing this. It’s a moment that captures the essence of why I created SMATA.


If you want to create this kind of magic too, I’d love to hear from you: bevan@smata.co.nz

Bevan Holloway About the author

I'm the founder of Smata. I used to be a secondary school English teacher. When I was, I became disillusioned with what school did to kids. That led to me adopting play as a core part of my practice. Now I help teachers across all ages harness the power of play. The Smata app was born from that work.