Research behind the learning outcomes
In this video Professor Claire McLachlan discusses the research that sits behind the learning outcomes in Te Whāriki (2017).
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.
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