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Johnsonville School – Capturing achievement through learning stories

Learning stories enable teachers at Johnsonville School’s special education unit to show their students are making progress, no matter how small the steps. They also celebrate this learning in meaningful ways with parents and whānau. The unit caters for up to 13 ORRS students working at level one of The New Zealand Curriculum throughout their schooling years.

Their challenge was to find new ways of presenting a holistic view of student learning. Teachers began by looking at Te Whāriki and the way learning stories are used within early childhood education to gather evidence and show progress across a variety of learning pathways.

The introduction of the key competencies highlighted a clear continuity between Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum. As a result, they developed a new format for individual education programmes (IEPs) to align with the key competencies. 

Word icon. IEP Example (Word, 210 KB)

Gathering evidence of learning in action

Digital cameras are constantly in use throughout the day to record learning occurring in purposeful situations, many of which are spontaneous and unplanned. These images are collated within a portfolio format that incorporates the IEPs, anecdotal evidence (from both school and home), digital images and learning stories. They capture the meaningful and authentic learning happening across a variety of settings, including the student’s home, school and community.

Student with ipad.

iPads and iPods have proved an invaluable tool to record student learning. This evidence of learning, together with the use of the key competencies as a guide, enables teachers to show progress towards individual goals based on the recorded success criteria. 

Anyone working with the student records anecdotal information using post-it notes. These are collated weekly for inclusion within portfolios and record aspects of learning such as progress towards and accomplishment of goals, related success criteria, reflections on skills and knowledge and next step learning. In this way, IEPs are used as a working document with everyone referring to them on a regular basis.

When it comes to writing IEPs, next learning steps have already been highlighted when we look back through students’ portfolios. It’s meaningful and authentic learning.


This approach has enabled teachers to feel they are well informed about a student’s progress towards goals and that they have sound supporting evidence to make informed decisions about next steps in learning.

Learning stories

Learning stories are an integral part of each portfolio and are used as a form of narrative assessment to capture progress in students’ learning. They record the interactions between the student, their peers, their learning environments and the learning tasks.

Through Different Eyes helped staff to learn how to use ‘strings’ of learning stories to emphasise the growth of student learning over time. Exemplars within the resource provided a model to formulate their own.

Using this approach has enabled teachers to develop a broader and deeper understanding of what their students can do and how they learn in relation to the key competencies. Using the key competencies as the foundation to develop a model of thinking has opened up a range of possible learning pathways and opportunities for these students.

PDF icon. Learning story example (PDF, 840 KB)

PDF icon. Learning story example 2 (PDF, 1 MB)

The learning stories work extremely well for us because, as part of the reflective process, we are designing programmes and curriculum that meet the needs of our individual students rather than focusing on little bits of skills that link to curriculum but that have no purpose or meaning long term.


Sharing the learning with parents and whānau

Portfolios are shared with parents and their wider families at regular intervals either by email or as hard copies. Future plans involve developing these into an e-portfolio format so parents can access up-to-date information at anytime.

PDF icon. Managing self portfolio (PDF, 748 KB)

PDF icon. Relating and participating portfolio (PDF, 1 MB)

PDF icon. Using language portfolio (PDF, 360 KB)

Our six year old son is on the autism spectrum and is largely non-verbal, so is not able to communicate with us about what he is doing at school.  We find the use of the portfolios extremely valuable as they allow us to participate vicariously in his school life and enable us to assess how well our son is doing at school both academically and socially.


Teachers and teacher aides work collaboratively to contribute to the development of the portfolios with everyone seeing the value of the rich information this approach provides. In staff meetings and informal discussions, staff continually reflect on their practice and discuss ways to improve gathering evidence. Their ultimate reward is seeing the joy derived from sharing the students’ progress with parents and whānau, and this has become the driving force.

The best part of the portfolio is sharing it with parents and watching their faces light up.


My son's portfolio is fantastic!  It gives detailed accounts of what he has achieved over his time at school.  It is very easy to see the progress he has made and where the next goals are in his learning.  It is lovely to see the photos that accompany the scripts and it never ceases to amaze me how creative the teachers are in helping Henry learn. When you have a child with extra needs it is especially important to be able to celebrate their achievements and the portfolios definitely enable this to happen.


Working as a community of practice

Each term teachers participate in a community of practice (CoP) where they have an opportunity to share ideas, analyse what works well for students with special education needs, and collectively find solutions for any areas of concern. It has proved reaffirming to network regularly with other teachers working with ORRS students. This provides opportunities to share and present learning stories and portfolios and to share ideas. One such find was the idea for developing Wow books using apps such as Stories2Learn and StoryBuddy 2. These applications are easy to use and rewarding for students as their work can be made and viewed immediately.

I love seeing my son's portfolios of work, and being able to share them with family and friends. As a non-verbal child, he can't tell us what he's achieving at school, so to some extent the portfolios tell the story for him. As he result, he gets recognition of his work and we're able to engage in and celebrate his learning.


Supporting resource

The new Ministry of Education website, IEP Online, is for anyone involved in developing or implementing individual education plans (IEPs) to support students with special education needs.


Updated on: 12 Apr 2011