Intentional teaching, child-centred curriculum and the EYLF
This article explores how intentional teaching can be responsive to both children and the learning outcomes identified in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (DEEWR, 2009) and offers a useful process for professional reflection in response to curriculum directions and pedagogical change.
The observations and comments presented in this article as Stacey’s Story were captured by Stacey, a novice teacher, as she adapted and implemented a resource to fit the context of a kindergarten in rural Queensland. The ‘mentor reflections’ were written by her mentor in response to foreground focuses for professional reflection. The ‘collaborative response’ captures ideas that emerged during discussions about these issues, and are followed by links to the EYLF.
CONTEXT FOR REFLECTION
The EYLF presents a process for educator decision making that promotes intentional teaching and contributes to Learning Outcomes. Many early childhood educators may see intentional teaching and thoughtful curriculum decision making as being at odds with a child-focused approach. This article is a result of our ongoing discussions about this issue.
I used the Outcomes from the EYLF, about identity and connecting with and contributing to the world, to inform a resource about family diversity.
I was uncertain as to how the resource would work, because I had little information about the children, and the context in which they were learning. There were so many things to consider, but everything was reliant upon building partnerships with parents.
I asked parents to provide me with a recent family photo so I could prepare the resource, which I called ‘Find my family’. This involved cutting out the child’s images from each family photo to make a set of simple puzzles for the children to use.
MENTOR’S REFLECTIONStacey was keen to build trusting relationships with parents. It was this trust that would support families to select and provide photographs for the resource. The challenge was to create a curriculum decision-making space for families; one in which they would actually participate.
We discussed trust relationships between parents and educators, and the importance of these in supporting children’s learning. Further reflection highlighted some successful strategiesfrom Stacey’s experiences that helped to build trust, such as:
- recognising that trust building was a deliberate action
- collaborating with parents as equals
- communicating with parents about how learning is linked to the curriculum or program experienced by children.
LINKS WITH THE EYLF
The EYLF emphasises the importance of partnerships and the contribution of families to curriculum decision making:
Learning outcomes are most likely to be achieved when early childhood educators work in partnership with families … Partnerships are based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and building on the strength of each other’s knowledge (p. 12).
Stacey reflects on her choices on pedagogy:I wanted my teaching to give opportunities for talk and exploration, but at the same time be guided by children’s interactions and conversations.‘They’re mine … and that’s my sister.’ Luke counted the people in his own family; then he counted people in the other photos.
On reflection, I was surprised when Luke started counting. I decided to follow this interest, and connected it to the communicating Outcome. (Children are effective communicators; children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work.)
Stacey’s use of the resource linked her intentional teaching to the EYLF. Her responsive pedagogy allowed her to capitalise on a teachable moment when it arose. Of interest is how quickly her decisions were made; what informed them and the intentional teaching that resulted.
We discussed what educators need to know in order to respond to teachable moments. We reconsidered responsiveness to include connecting to curriculum goals, as well as to children’s interests. We acknowledged that it was easier to scaffold learning if the focus for learning was clear.
We identified responsive strategies from Stacey’s experience as including:
- being clear about focuses for learning
- interacting with children
- responding to children’s conversations
- scaffolding learning towards outcomes
- reflecting on responses, and identifying links to particular aspects of learning.
The EYLF identifies responsive teaching as an important strategy for scaffolding learning.
In response to children’s evolving ideas and interests, educators assess, anticipate and extend children’s learning via open-ended questioning, providing feedback, challenging their thinking and guiding their learning. They make use of spontaneous ‘teachable moments’ to scaffold children’s learning (p. 15).
Stacey’s Story focuses on a child’s response to revisiting the resource:
‘That’s my family! … That’s me right here, that’s Joel, Daddy, Mummy, and Elise and Kate.’
‘They are all different numbers but they still have a Mum and Dad, don’t they.’
Stacey’s observations captured Erin’s excitement and willingness to revisit the resource. However, from her statement, Erin suggests that what makes a family is ‘a Mum and Dad’.
We discussed the potential of the resource to help children learn about diversity, given that it only represented participating families from the centre. In recognising that the resource’s representation of family was limited, we had identified a tension between child-centred and goal-oriented programs. We considered how resources may focus on children, to the detriment of the educators’ goals for learning—and that the reverse of this may also be true.
We identified the use of alternative photographs and prepared questions as strategies for exploring different cultural groups or alternative family structures, such as extended families, same-sex or single parent families.
We have identified three important considerations that may have supported Stacey’s intentional teaching in this context. Firstly, building trust is an important action in establishing effective learning environments. Secondly, intentional teaching needs to respond to both children’s interactions and broad curriculum goals. Finally, acknowledging tensions between child-centred and educator-goal-oriented approaches can be starting points for new professional learning.
In response to our original assertion about children’s position within intentional teaching, Erin’s words best capture our thinking: ‘That’s me right here.’
Anthony Shearer and Stacey Lenihan
Australian Catholic University