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Hi, I’m Josh.
Module 5 Josh 5

M5 Identifying students' strengths

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Celebrating and building on students’ strengths

Why this module?

All students are active, capable and competent learners. When educators know what students can and love to do, they can use this to guide how they teach and support them. For example, a teacher might incorporate music or drama into the classroom programme if a student in the class loves music or drama.

This module supports teachers and teacher aides to learn about their students and use this information to support their students’ learning.

Learning about your students

The best way to learn about a student is to ask them and include them in the teaching and learning process. For some students, this involves discussion with them. For others, it will mean working alongside them to observe and understand what they want to learn and how to make learning accessible for them.

Recognising what families and whānau know about their children can help schools to get to know their students better. Students may reveal different strengths and skills outside of school, which can then be recognised in school.


The New Zealand Curriculum states that “The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching.” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 39)

Assessment involves gathering, analysing and interpreting information to show what the student knows, what they can do and what they need to learn next. Teachers use this information to inquire into their own teaching practices and how they contribute to student learning outcomes.

Teachers are responsible for the assessment of all the students they teach; teacher aides support this. Teachers and teacher aides work together to gather and share information about their students. The way this often works is by the teacher designing the assessment approach and the teacher aide collecting some of the data. For example, a teacher aide may take photos or complete observations about a student’s involvement in a particular activity, as directed by the teacher.

Conducting observations

Observations range from informal ‘noticings’ to more formal, structured observations. Observations should always focus on what the student is trying to learn. This means that the observer needs to understand the purpose of the learning and what it looks like to succeed.

“Good observation requires detailed knowledge of what you expect a student to be able to do and in order to make progress. You then observe whether they can do this or not. If not, what do they do and what are the implications for what you need to do next?”  (Absolum, 2006, p. 11)

There are many different approaches to observation, but Robinson and Lai (2006) identify two broad types: those where the purpose is to explore what is happening and those where the purpose is to check what is happening. You might explore a hunch that some bullying may be taking place or check whether a student is taking part in group discussions. Observations aimed at exploring a situation involve recording a stream of events and activities. Observations that check on what is happening tend to more formal, precise, and structured. If the goal is to increase students’ participation in group discussion, you might keep a tally of how often individuals engage in discussion over a particular period.

It’s always important to get rid of preconceptions and simply observe what is happening. Your interpretation may or may not be correct. The time to draw inferences from an observation is after they have occurred, in conversation with students themselves and with colleagues, families and whānau. 

Using narrative assessment

Sometimes teachers and teacher aides know that a student is learning but the assessment they are using doesn’t show this. Narrative assessment may be an effective alternative to show actual progress and help to plan next steps.

A narrative assessment uses learning stories that describe the student in a particular context, doing a particular activity or across a range of situations. Learning stories gather information from a range of sources, including families, whānau, other teachers, peers and the student themselves. They describe what the student is doing, how they are doing it and their interactions with others and their environment. This information is then analysed to show the learning. The learning is described in relation to the New Zealand Curriculum, for example, a curriculum learning area such as the arts, and/or a key competency such as managing self. It may also be connected to Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals. 

The stories should clearly identify both student achievement and the next steps for learning. Over time, strings of linked learning stories help everyone to see the learning that is taking place in relation to a particular aspect of the classroom programme.

Using learner profiles

"Learner profiles give students opportunities for self-advocacy, enabling them to express who they are and their strengths, aspirations and passions. Learner profiles help students to address assumptions and to share what helps them learn and the challenges they face when learning. Profiles inform teachers about their students, and they help school teams to understand students’ perspectives and to build relationships with them, especially at times of transition." Implementing an Inclusive Curriculum: Building a Rich Knowledge of the Learner, p.13

Profiles can be used in a range of ways. For example, in a secondary school, a learner profile might be used at the start of the year to give each teacher a ‘snapshot’ of the student.

Profiles can be developed in a range of formats, such as a document with photos, a video clip, blog, PowerPoint or an audio recording. Teacher aides can help students find and develop a format that suits them. 

It’s important to involve the student’s families and whānau so their knowledge is incorporated into the learner profile. Their views should determine how the information about their child is shared with others.


Absolum, M. (2006). Clarity in the classroom. Auckland: Hodder Education, pp. 76–95.
Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand curriculum for English-medium teaching and learning in years 1–13. Wellington: Learning Media.
Ministry of Education (2015). Implementing an inclusive curriculum. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
Robinson, V., & Lai, M. K. (2006). Practitioner research for educators: A guide to improving classrooms and schools. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin.