Te whai hua i ngā hua ako
Making good use of the learning outcomes
The learning outcomes in Te Whāriki bring together the big ideas on valued learning for children in relation to the principles, strands, and particularly the goals, of the curriculum.
The learning outcomes are underpinned by current New Zealand and international evidence on the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions children need to learn and thrive.
The learning outcomes offer kaiako and communities:
- touchstones from which to build a rich and relevant local curriculum for every child
- support to analyse and interpret learning.
A significant change in the revised Te Whāriki is the reduction in learning outcomes from over 100 to 20. This streamlining makes the process of using the learning outcomes more manageable and meaningful for kaiako and communities and helps to sharpen the focus on “what matters here”.
The learning outcomes are designed to be used alongside the goals to support and inform kaiako practice during:
- curriculum design (planning)
- assessment of children’s progress
Learning during the early years is a highly integrated, varied, and dynamic process. Capabilities fluctuate and the possibilities for learning are infinite. This is reflected in the nature and purpose of the learning outcomes in Te Whāriki. They are described as “broad statements” of learning intent. They are there to orientate kaiako towards “what matters here” in collaboration with children, whānau, and communities.
The 20 learning outcomes incorporate aspects of the learning dispositions (“ready, willing, and able”) and working theories that children need to be competent and confident lifelong learners.
Learning outcomes – a compass rather than a map
A fitting analogy is to think of learning outcomes as a compass, rather than a map. Their purpose is to stimulate thinking and practices around the five strands of Te Whāriki.
The definition of a compass is an instrument that charts a general direction but doesn’t show the exact route to take. Using a compass, you make decisions based on factors such as past experience, interests, dispositions, and skill level. You include plans to ensure those journeying are well cared for and safe.
In contrast, a map is much more prescriptive. On a map the routes are marked out and you follow, rather than create, the pathway.
A map is very useful if the exact destination is known. A compass is preferable for a general exploration of the terrain.
Conceptualising learning outcomes as a map has led to kaiako concerns about:
- pre-set outcomes restricting and narrowing learning opportunities for children
- losing the open-ended, “let’s-see-where-this-leads” approach based on children’s interests
- spontaneous playfulness being superseded by formal, structured teaching.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Using a compass analogy, the 20 learning outcomes of Te Whāriki become the starting point for:
- curriculum design
Their purpose is to inspire conversations about curriculum, children’s learning and assessment, and evaluation – conversations that create the paths most likely to benefit all those journeying. This local interpretation of the outcomes reflects the priorities for learners, the context, and the community.
This process begins with kaiako taking the time to examine the outcomes in Te Whāriki in relation to their context. By putting them under a microscope one by one, kaiako discover their contextual relevance and meaning.
Curriculum design using learning outcomes
Kaiako who see the learning outcomes as a compass to guide planning will:
- understand the purpose of planning is centred on expanding and deepening learning rather than listing activities
- see learning outcomes as something that requires ongoing interpretation by kaiako, whānau, and communities
- understand that the goals outlining roles and responsibilities of kaiako and the learning outcomes are mutually reinforcing
- understand the significance of the stem “Over time and with guidance and encouragement children become increasingly capable of” (Te Whāriki, page 24), and therefore design the curriculum with continuity of learning in mind
- acknowledge what is intended is not always what is actually learnt.
How Anne and Lucy use the learning outcomes in their curriculum design
In this video, Anne Meade and Lucy Hayes from Daisies Education and Care Centre discuss how they use the learning outcomes in curriculum design.
Transcript of Anne and Lucy discussing learning outcomes
Anne Meade: I'm Anne Meade and I'm one of the co-founders, with my daughter, we established Daisies ten years ago and I'm still actively involved in Daisies not as a teacher but in the education leadership team.
Lucy Hayes: And I'm Lucy Hayes and I am an education leader and kaiako at Daisies.
Anne Meade: We do quite longish investigations as part of our curriculum design in Daisies. And when we're working on a more in-depth and comprehensive investigation we will take a look at which goals and learning outcomes might be associated with that. They don't get fixed at that point in time. They're just sitting there as maybes and then there's quite a bit of discussion with following children's interest. Then we'll say that seems to be their own learning goals. So we will focus, we'll zero in, a bit more closely on the learning outcomes or the goals the children seem to be showing us that they're interested in pursuing and we’ll take it forward. And then our documentation will include mention of these.
Lucy Hayes: Our most recent investigation we had a whole centre investigation that was exploring whanaungatanga and that led our oldest group of children and their kaiako literally up a mountain. But right at the beginning of that investigation before we really knew what direction it was going to go I remember, over I think it was two meetings, we looked at what learning outcomes we felt right from the get go were important to explore. And I know recognising and appreciating their own ability to learn was something that we valued from the very beginning and it was something that was threaded right through. And this was eight months of investigation from when we started shorter walks and then the big walk to the top of Tarikākā.
Anne Meade: It really would not have been possible if they weren't supporting each other as a group and that was where the whanaungatanga came into it.
Lucy Hayes: I'm looking back now and actually even just thinking back we could easily have, I mean there's a place in that investigation for pretty much every point there. I'm looking at the contribution page (Te Whāriki, p. 37) but actually we chose to focus on two or three different areas and different learning outcomes through that investigation. I think that's important we could have just gone tick, tick, tick, tick, tick but we didn't, we went deeper.
Anne Meade: You kept coming back to it. What I liked to hear you talk about was the way you were threading quite big words that are actually in Te Whāriki into the conversations with the children. The sort of motivational things that you needed to do for those children to achieve their aspiration of climbing to the top of the mountain, which takes four hours on your feet there and back again. You were using some of the words in Te Whāriki and they love the big words.
Lucy Hayes: They do. We've got four-year-old children who can talk to you about physical and mental resilience because we've used language. We've talked about expressing feelings and how we can contribute to shared goals and how the children can contribute to their learning as a group too. Everybody has a contribution, everybody has something to offer and we have children who can talk about that – their strengths and the strengths that their peers have. And I think that's pretty amazing. But we, as kaiako, gave them the tools, we gave them the language that is reflective of Te Whāriki. That was a choice that we made to expand or extend the children's thinking and their knowledge.
Assessment using the learning outcomes
Kaiako who think of the learning outcomes as a compass guiding assessment:
- use them for analysis and interpretation of learning
- apply them as a reference point for informing possible future pathways.
Learning outcomes have often been used to backward map links to Te Whāriki through quotes, tags, and checklists. These processes limit deep, critically reflective evaluation.
Evaluation using the learning outcomes
Kaiako who see the learning outcomes as a compass to guide evaluation:
- are curious and keen to make deeper sense of the outcomes through processes such as internal review
- understand how they can be used as a reference point for evaluating the balance across the strands of Te Whāriki.
In this Australian blogpost, Anne Stonehouse has suggestions about the practical application of learning outcomes that also have relevance for our New Zealand curriculum.
Using Te Whāriki
Watch the complete video of Professor McLachlan’s presentation.
What I want to do now was talk about the learning outcomes themselves. As I said Leslie and I both started with the 118 and I remember our first conversation in my office. When we looked at them and went, “Oh, how do we do this?” But anyway I think the learning outcomes have been revised at least 15 times. But part of what I did, on top of us coming up with these ideas (and they've been reworded a gazillion times but the ideas themselves actually have stayed reasonably stable) is I undertook to go and see whether there was any research evidence for those big ideas. The reassuring thing is that there is and you know that is useful. For instance for wellbeing, for mana atua, there is solid evidence that children's wellbeing is really, really important. Wellbeing has lots of components – so it's physical, it's cognitive, it's social-emotional, it’s psychological. So there's all these different parts to wellbeing.
We also know that wellbeing involves the practical components of learning how to act, how to care for themselves, but also knowledge of how to avoid harm. So there is solid research around this.
There's also research that shows that children need to be taught how to manage their feelings – that this isn't something that happens spontaneously. This is something teachers help them with. It's particularly important for children who've been through trauma that they need help in order to become resilient. So kaiako have an enormous role in this and this work with children.
For belonging, for mana whenua, there's significant research on the outcomes of early childhood and you all know that. There's now years worth of research talking about what are the outcomes of high quality early childhood. The other thing that you also need to be aware of is about the outcomes of poor quality early childhood. So for children who come from challenging homes, if those children go into a poor quality early childhood centre they get the double whammy don't they? They're not getting it at home, they're not getting it in the centre. And we know that the research says that actually the outcomes for those children are much worse than if they hadn't gone into early childhood so you know it can't be stressed enough how important the high quality learning experiences are.
The research also says for children who have come from these quite difficult home environments that the need to have a sense of belonging is really, really important. And we know this is for all children, but particularly for those children. The research on relationships, on adaptability, and on behaviour supports this focus of Te Whāriki on children needing to feel part of the setting. I've given you some of those references but actually I was thinking afterwards that I wrote a paper for early education that's got a pile of those references actually, so that might be useful to people rather than my whistle stop tour.
So the next one, contribution, and the research evidence around this. There are three big ideas travelling in this one and they are around: self-efficacy – so the belief in yourself, on peer learning, and on social justice. The work on self-efficacy primarily comes from Albert Bandura, who you probably know through his theories on modelling. Also from the work of Dale Schunk who has done extensive work on self-efficacy. This one explains how children come to believe in their own ability in different domains of learning.
Children may be quite confident in some areas of learning and completely lack confidence in others. And so the research shows that teachers need to find out what can they do to help children feel confident. Certainly some of the research I've been doing on physical activity is really amazing in that space because you can see, within the period of an hour, a child's belief in their own ability to do something physically can grow. So you know this is important.
The other one is around peer learning. And one of my doctoral students has been doing research. Some of you will know Penny Smith who's with Te Rito Maioha. Her doctorate on peer learning has had such an interesting finding. She's found that teachers believe in peer learning and talk about promoting it. Yet when she's filmed them and then got them to reflect on it, she's found that they are happy with their involvement and promoting peer learning when it's for social reasons. But when it's for cognitive reasons they don't want to own it. So a very interesting finding. But one of the big things about this notion is that you have to teach children how to learn with peers. It doesn't actually necessarily happen on its own. So there is this need for involvement.
The notion of social justice is also being widely researched with young children. Researchers are saying that children have greater capacities to be able to express their needs and express their wishes and wants about how they want their world to work than we probably ever previously anticipated. This is one of those big shifts that Leslie talked about before. When I first became involved with early childhood it very much was about teachers setting up the environment and this is how the world worked. The researchers said actually children can be involved in deciding how does the curriculum work here.
The next one, which you actually probably can't even read because there's too much on this slide. So I should have divided this up: communication, mana reo. My big favourite topic, which I can talk about probably for the rest of the year not just the rest of the afternoon. The big one is that there is an enormous body of research that says that oral language in the early years is probably the most important thing that children can learn and there is an enormous predictive relationship with later literacy learning. It's that black and white.
I know that for my grandson he's probably going to have difficulties with learning to read because he's deaf at the moment and he's having speech language therapy and we're waiting for grommets. But the fact that he's got language delay now, we can predict reading delay at the age of eight. It is that straightforward because he will have difficulty with hearing sound and therefore he will have difficulty with both spelling and with reading. So we know the oral language stuff. So if the least thing you do is get children's hearing checked, you've done a big thing. There's a lot of children with hearing problems.
So we also know that children who can recognise the alphabet and can hear sounds and word for the phonological awareness, develop the alphabetic principle. They develop the understanding that sounds can be represented in print. This is a fundamental understanding that most children develop without any help whatsoever in early childhood. And it's done through things like nursery rhymes and story reading and so forth. This isn't something that you do – you do teach it but it doesn't have to be a skill and drill type thing. ERO, by the way, found that 25 percent of centres do. That's very scary what's happening. Children also need an enormous vocabulary. And the reason for that is that when you come to later reading if you've got a small vocabulary you don't understand what's been said to you so lots of it whistles over the top of your head. So you do the story reading because it introduces children to new words and to new understandings. There's some very old research now by Warwick Elley who was professor of education at Canterbury. He said that for every new word if you explain the meaning of the word to children, you double the vocabulary gains. So this is basic isn't it that you give them new words. So this is a big focus through here.
The same happens with maths and there are big parallels between the teaching of literacy and the teaching of maths in the early childhood setting. It's about learning how to understand symbols and learning how to use the concepts about mathematics. As Leslie said this is very under stressed in most early childhood programmes. So we find that teachers struggle with domain knowledge mainly because of the initial teacher education programme so we will take ownership of this. People probably haven't had enough to feel confident. Often people have wound up in early childhood because they weren't good at maths and their guidance counsellors have said do early childhood because you couldn't teach maths in primary. And I promise you I've heard the story so many times it's not funny. Then they sometimes avoid the teaching of maths in early childhood. Or they just do the basic bits of it. In some ways it is similar to the bicultural, they don't get below the surface for children and children are capable of a lot more. In this one also we have the arts and there is a great deal of research on how children's interest in arts actually intersects with all the other parts of the curriculum. So it’s a growing area too.
Then we get to exploration. This is huge – this strand. It includes all of the research around critical thinking and research skills in young children. It also includes physical activity and scientific thinking. So arguably you could put the maths and literacy in this one too couldn't you, so it's kind of a little bit random where they are in a funny sort of way. But there is a great deal of research happening in all of these areas too and certainly the research on children and their critical thinking skills is amazing. And there's a lot more than there was 20 years ago when I was studying this as a postgrad student.