Ready, willing … and able

What does it mean to be ready, willing and able to learn?

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Making progress

One purpose of documenting children’s learning is to be able to capture the progress in children learning.  The word progress can be defined as ‘the forward or onward movement toward a destination’. So with that definition in mind we have to think about what is the destination we are moving towards?

Te Whāriki aspiration provides us with that destination

 ” … that all children will grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging, secure in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.”

Te Whāriki also provides us with the desired outcomes for our children

  • Mana atua = I have power over myself. I know my own strengths. I value my whakapapa.
  • Mana reo = I share my views. I ask for what I need. I express my ideas.
  • Mana auturoa = I explore the bigger world.
  • Mana tangata  I take care of others. I take leadership.
  • Mana whenua = This place is my turangawaewae. I join in.

Margaret Carr developed a notion of progress here as the ABCD framework – where the measure of progress involves four key elements – agency, breadth, continuity and distribution.

We can also think of progress in terms of learner identity and dispositions. We know children make progress when they

  • Stick at it longer
  • Become more adventurous with it
  • Master it
  • Become an expert in it
  • Teach it to others

Learning stories provide us a powerful tool to capture this learning. A learning story generally captures a moment in time to illustrate the child’s learning. A learning story can also capture a child’s learning over a longer period of time  – this will provide a holistic picture of the child as a learner. Below are three examples of what that might  look like.

A progress story focusing on the sparkling moments

A progress story focusing on the strands of Te Whariki

Or a progress story focusing on the threads of learning

End of session korero

In Playcentre the end of session korero is pounamu. It’s a time to stop and reflect, to connect, to share stories and to learn from each other. When thinking about documenting it, it’s a good idea to think about the purpose of the documentation. Why are you documenting this? What do you do with the information you documented? How are you going to use this information to do things differently for your tamariki?

When we document children’s learning we want it to be more like storytelling and less like  paperwork. We want it to be about the children rather than complying with requirements.

There is no right or wrong way of documenting the end of session korero. Try different things. Keep what you like and tweak what is not working. A key outcome of documenting the end of session korero is to capture the emergent play and learning interests.

This end of session is designed to focus on capturing emergent interests.

Good questions will help you to generate powerful conversations at the end of session.

Capturing the emergent interests on session helps us to make decisions about the next session.

See below examples of how centres document the emergent interests of the children’s play and learning.

Lincoln Playcentre keeps a session profile book for each of their sessions.

North Beach Playcentre captures the day’s learning as a mindmap.

Southbridge Playcentre notes the day’s play and learning on a white board.

River Downs Playcentre revamped their end of session evaluation form to capture the important emergent interests for the day.

I would love to see other creative ways of capturing the stories of the day.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

Making a decision about early childhood options for your child can be daunting. So many services to choose from, so many opinions about what’s best. Using a  decision matrix can help to make that choice just a little easier.

With a decision matrix you use a table set up with each criterion given a weight depending on its importance in the decision and with each alternative given a ranking for that criterion. Confused yet? It’s not that complicated really and once  you’ve mastered this tool, you will find it can be helpful in making many future decisions.

To help explain the process, I will talk you through it step by step.

First thing to do is to decide what criteria is important to you in choosing a service for your child. These criteria will be unique to you. Let’s say we have a parent, Molly, who is trying to make a decision whether to keep her three-year old Sarah at Playcentre or use a different service. She discussed it with her partner and together they decided that the following criteria is most important to them in making this decision:

  • Children of the same age
  • Community relationships
  • Provide care options
  • Provide structured learning time
  • Parent involvement
  • Low adult to child ratios
  • Health and safety
  • Emotional well-being

Not all these criteria has equal importance to Molly, so the next step is to weight them according to importance to her. Using a scale to weight the criteria helps to make more consistent judgments:

  • 1-2: Not at all important
  • 3-4: Not too important
  • 5-6: Somewhat important
  • 7-8: Quite important
  • 9: Really important
  • 10: Deal breaker

Molly weighted her criteria as follows

  • Children of the same age  [currently there are only a few children at Sarah’s Playcentre in her age group; weight = 6]
  • Community relationships  [building relationships with other in their own community; weight = 8]
  • Provide care options  [it’s not that important right now, but might be more important in six months when Molly is expecting a second baby; weight = 5]
  • Provide structured learning time  [not sure that it’s that important to them, but Molly’s mother feels Sarah needs more structured learning experiences; weight = 5]
  • Parent involvement  [both Molly and her partner likes being actively involved in their child’s education; weight = 8]
  • Low adult to child ratios [ratios are important to them as Sarah tends to thrive in close relationships; weight = 9]
  • Health and safety [a definite deal breaker; weight = 10]
  • Emotional well-being [another deal breaker; weight = 10]

Once  she has weighted her criteria, the next step involved visiting the centres she is considering, talking to other parents and staff, observing children at the centre and finally scoring the centres on each of the criteria. Once again using a scale for your rankings will help you to make more consistent judgments.

  • 1-2: Not at all
  • 3-4: Not really
  • 5-6: It’s okay
  • 7-8: Looking good
  • 9: Loving it
  • 10: Perfection!

Once she has scored the centres, it’s time for some basic arithmetic:

  1. multiply the centre score with the criteria weighting
  2. add the weighted scores up

and  you can see which provider will best meet you and your child’s needs. Easy as 1-2-3.

See an example of Molly’s criteria, weighted decision.

See the Ministry of Education in choosing an early childhood education service for your child.

Making Te Whariki visible in Playcentre

Playcentres are frequently asked how they link their work in Playcentre to Te Whāriki. Are we expected to make overt links by writing a strand and a goal on each learning story or can we achieve this in different ways?

Te Whariki is a way of being

In working with Playcentres I have often observed that for many Playcentres Te Whāriki is a way of being rather than a way of doing. In other words they don’t strive to do Te Whāriki, it becomes a way of life. This is very visible in the core principles and how these closely link with the core philosophies of Playcentre. The principles provide us the underlying beliefs of the curriculum, children learn best :

  • In relationships with others
  • When their family is involved and when their learning is embedded in the context of their community
  • When they are empowered through making their own choices
  • When we acknowledge the complexity of the learning

Whakamana: Children learn best when they are empowered through their experiences. At Playcentre children actively construct their own learning through play. Playcentre sessions are designed to help tamariki to see themselves as competent and capable learners in that children can choose what they do, how they do it and for how long they choose to do it. Constraints are kept to a minimum.

Kotahitanga: Children learn best when we acknowledge the complexity of children’s learning. A Playcentre we place a high value on play opportunities that allow exploration and experimentation. Honouring the process of the child’s work is more important than the product itself. Learning at Playcentre is integrated into every Playcentre experiences. Adults strive to understand children’s passions and fascination and build on it by providing interesting and inviting play opportunities.

Whānau tangata: Children learn best when their learning is embedded in the context of the community. Being a whānau based organisation, whānau at Playcentre not only manage the centre, but are also the teachers of their tamariki. Most Playcentre whānau attend the Playcentre down the road and as such they bring the community into their centre. Children learn about the community and develop a sense of belonging from the parents working together.

Ngā hononga: Children learn best in a relationship with someone else.  Relationships are a key part of successful Playcentre sessions. Good relationships are valued and actively fostered through the cooperative practices. Children experience an environment where they can play alongside their siblings, parents, whānau and other familiar adults. Relationships are often extended beyond Playcentre sessions. People, and the quality of their relationships, are an integral part of a young child’s developing attitudes and beliefs.

Uncovering rather than covering

The intention of Te Whariki is to uncover possibilities, rather than cover specific developmental milestones or knowledge . It does not tell us what tamariki should be learning, but how they learn best. Instead of linking the strands to play and learning outcomes, we can turn it upside down and use the strands to evaluate whether we are creating potentiating learning environments for our tamariki either as individuals or as a group.

The strands are the goals

The strands of Te Whāriki set us some goals to provide a play and learning environment that are rich with possibilities and invite children to participate. Using these strands as a guideline to assess, plan and evaluate  will make Te Whāriki visible in our work:

  • Mana Whenua: How do we provide an interesting environment where our tamariki feels at home?
  • Mana Atua: How do we provide a trustworthy environment where our tamariki can thrive?
  • Mana Aoturoa: How do we provide the right level of challenge so that our tamariki are stretched?
  • Mana Reo: How do we provide a culture of listening so that our tamariki can share their thinking?
  • Mana Tangata: How do provide a collaborative environment where our tamariki can learn to work together?

Returning to the question of whether we need to link our documentation to Te Whāriki? When our programme is embedded in Te Whariki, it seem superfluous to overtly link stories and other document to Te Whāriki for the purpose of accountability. We can expect outside agencies to be informed readers, however at times overt linking can be a good teaching tool for families who are new to Playcentre and Te Whāriki.

How do you make Te Whāriki visible in your centre?

Reference:

Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Education. Wellington: Learning Media.

Stover, Sue (Ed). (2003). (Revised edition). Good clean fun: New Zealand’s playcentre movement. Auckland: New Zealand Playcentre Federation. Page 38.

Quality at Playcentre

At Playcentre we continuously strive to provide quality education to our tamariki. However in order to strive to do better, we need to know what better looks like.

In a report recently published by the Early Childhood Education Taskforce (2011), it stated that “Quality in early childhood education encompasses both structures (e.g. adults’ qualifications, group size and ratio of adults to children) and processes (the patterns and interactions that occur between adults and children).” [Page 49]

This report has taken the traditional top-down approach on evaluation quality. While valid, it’s not the only measure of quality. Lillian Katz (1993) suggests there are four possible angles to review the quality of an early childhood education programme:

  1. A top-down perspective: Looking at quality from an adult perspective.
  2. A bottom-up perspective: Looking at quality from a tamariki perspective.
  3. An outside-inside perspective: Asesss how the program is experienced by the families it serves.
  4. An inside perspective: From this angle we consider how the program is experienced by the staff responsible for it.

TOP DOWN PERSPECTIVE

Most of the literature examines quality by identifying selected characteristics of the setting, equipment, and program as seen by adults. Both The ECE Taskforce report (2011) and the Competent Child Study (2001) took this angle on quality. The Competent Child Study identified the following indicators for quality early childhood education (Wylie,Thompson, & Lythem, 2001):

  1. Adults are responsive to children.
  2. Adults join in with children’s play.
  3. Adults ask children open ended questions.
  4. Adults guide children in the use of activities.
  5. The learning environment is print saturated.
  6. Children are allowed to complete their work.
  7. Children can select their own activities from a variety of options.
  8. Children work together and support one another.

BOTTOM UP PERSPECTIVE

In a bottom-up perspective we would try to determine how the programme is experienced by the tamariki. Lillian Katz (2001) suggests we answer the following questions:

  • Do I usually feel welcome rather than captured?
  • Do I feel that I belong or am I just one of the crowd?
  • Do I usually feel accepted, understood, and protected, rather than scolded or neglected, by the adults?
  • Am I usually accepted rather than isolated or rejected by the majority of my peers?
  • Am I usually addressed seriously and respectfully, rather than as someone who is “precious” or “cute”?
  • Do I find most of the activities engaging, absorbing, and challenging rather than just entertaining or exciting?
  • Do I find most of the experiences meaningful, rather than frivolous or boring?
  • Do I find most of the experiences satisfying rather than frustrating or confusing?
  • Am I usually glad to be here, rather than eager to leave?

In a research study in Northern Island Walsh and Gardner evaluated  the early years’ classroom from the perspective of the child’s experience (Walsh and Gardner, 2005).  A number of key features emerged as indicators of quality learning environments for children:

  • Children are actively involved and engaged.
  • Children are able to make independent choices.
  • Children feel secure.
  • Children learn in the company of others.
  • Children’s learning is holistic and cover a variety of skills, knowledge and dispositions.
  • Children are encouraged to think and develop their own ideas and theories.

A literature review (Walsh and Gardner, 2005) identified nine key themes that would be integral to any high-quality learning environment, and these are summarized by the following keywords:

  • motivation
  • concentration
  • independence
  • confidence
  • well-being
  • social interaction
  • respect
  • multiple skill acquisition
  • higher-order thinking skills

OUTSIDE-INSIDE PERSPECTIVES

At Playcentre the outside-inside and inside perspectives combine as whānau are teachers and teachers are whānau. Two key questions to ask here is ‘who holds the knowledge?’ and ‘how do we operate as a community?’.

Who holds the knowledge?

  • Do we have one or two people who hold all the knowledge and it is not shared with others? If that person moves on it will all fall down.
  • Do we have a core group of people hold the knowledge? Sometimes they are open to share the knowledge, but often information is not shared?
  • Is the knowledge distributed among all adults? Is knowledge freely shared and are efforts made to share information? Are new members inducted efficiently and given appropriate information?

How do we operate as a community?

  • Are individuals disconnected from each other? Is everyone doing their own thing?
  • Do we have a core group of people who express a sense of community? Is this group sometimes open to include others, but sometimes seen as cliquey?  Do we have a sense of insiders and outsiders?
  • Do we have a strong sense of community that permeates individual support, decision making, teaching and learning, and beyond? Do we have a strong sense of manaakitanga and whānaungatanga at the centre?

If we consider our practices from these angles, rather than just the adult perspective we can feel confident that we are on our way to provide a good quality learning environment for our tamariki.

REFERENCES

ECE Taskforce. (2011), An Agenda for Amazing Children. Final report of the ECE Taskforce. Available at http://www.taskforce.ece.govt.nz/reference-downloads/ Last assesed 26 July 2011.

Katz, L. (1993). Multiple Perspectives on the Quality of Early Childhood Programs. Available http://www.ericdigests.org/1993/multiple.htm Last accessed 21 July 2011

Walsh, G and Gardner, J. (2005). Assessing the Quality of Early Years Learning Environments . Available: http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v7n1/walsh.html  Last accessed 21 July 2011.

Wylie, C., Thompson, J., & Lythe, C. (2001). Competent Children at 8 – Families, Early Education, and SchoolWellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Available at http://www.nzcer.org.nz/pdfs/13217-competent-children-at-5.pdf Last accessed 21 July 2011.