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Judy Layland looks at the complex process of child learning.
Current debate around the New Zealand curriculum and its implementation (see Briar Lipsom, ODT, 7.10.20) is focused on polarised thinking, namely child-centred versus adult-directed learning.
This focus is simplistic and does not acknowledge the complex process of learning, and the teacher’s role within this. While there is clearly a place for adult-directed teaching for learning, this is not effective or appropriate on its own. Effective teaching for learning is more a complex interplay of adult AND child-initiated and directed teaching and learning.
At this point, it pays to be reminded of current theories which underpin learning and teaching.
The early childhood and primary/secondary curriculum documents are rooted, in the main, in sociocultural, bioecological and Maori learning theories. These theories acknowledge children’s participation in their own learning, with and alongside others, and view learning as a dynamic process in which kaiako/teachers, other children and family/whanau/caregivers all play important roles within the teaching and learning process. This approach sees children as learners embedded within the learning context with others, child-embedded rather than child-centred.
Within this approach, the kaiako/teacher has a relationship and works in partnership with the significant others in a child’s life, ensuring they know the learners in their settings, and what these learners bring with them from their lives outside of the early childhood education setting or school.
Understandings which also inform kaiako/teachers’ thoughtful, receptive engagement and interactions with their learners, responding to children’s emotional, physical, spiritual as well as cognitive development. This approach values diversity and difference rather than entrenching differences.
The kaiako acts as a facilitator of learning, not a giver of knowledge.
The notion of a balance of power and engagement between teacher and learner reflects the Maori concept of ako, when both teachers and children are learning. Teachers are learning about children’s thinking, their current theories on a particular idea, concept, subject, way of being and of doing, and responding to this.
Within learning contexts, other children also play an important role as teachers and facilitators of learning for, with and alongside other children.
The focus of curriculums and their implementation in Aotearoa New Zealand is not or should not be on accumulation of knowledge for the purposes of summative assessment, nor should it be compared with curriculums from other countries.
The early childhood education and primary/secondary curriculums reflect the uniqueness of our country, concentrating on the fostering of principles, dispositions, competencies and values for learning, such as empowerment; learning to learn; curiosity; thinking; and participating and contributing.
These are aspects of curriculums that support learners to acquire, not just valued knowledge, but also valued skills and attitudes with the aim of promoting and supporting lifelong learning.
Knowledge of concepts and facts is more likely to be acquired if it is relevant to learners, has a connection to previous experience and learning, and when children are intrinsically motivated, engaged and want to learn.
- Judy Layland is a retired lecturer in early childhood education at the University of Otago College of Education.