What we have in common: Curriculum connections (Transitions in ECE)

He kakano I ruia mai I Rangiatea
The seed will not be lost

Key question

What do you know about the connections between early childhood and school curriculum documents as a platform for professional conversations and curriculum continuity for children?

Introduction

Te Whāriki states: 'The early childhood curriculum provides a foundation for children to become confident and competent and, during the school years, to be able to build on their previous learning' (p. 93). 

The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) (external link)  reiterates this expectation. 'This new stage (transition from early childhood to school) in children’s learning builds upon and makes connections with early childhood learning and experiences' (p. 41).

An assumption underpinning these messages is that the school and early childhood sectors have knowledge and understandings of each sector’s curriculum, and that communication about children’s learning between sectors is ongoing.

Reflective question:

  • How do you currently share your knowledge about children’s learning with schools?

Curriculum documents as a platform for professional conversations

The compulsory sector in New Zealand is currently experiencing a period of curriculum change that opens the possibility of overcoming a legacy of difference between sectors. The New Zealand Curriculum has the potential to open dialogue amongst early childhood and primary teachers about continuity in curriculum. Teachers have opportunity to become knowledgeable about the goals, aspirations and ‘ways’ of teaching in each sector, in order to be in a stronger position to provide families and children with the support needed to ensure the move from one environment to another is a positive experience. Children leaving early childhood education as capable and confident young learners will continue on their learning pathway with limited interruption as they enter school.

So what has changed?

The current early childhood and school curriculum documents position the two sectors as complementary rather than ‘different’ or oppositional. The New Zealand Curriculum recognises Te Whāriki as providing a foundation for lifelong learning and identifies how the strands of the early childhood curriculum correspond to the newly introduced key competencies. 

The inclusion of key competencies indicates a theoretical shift in the New Zealand Curriculum. Descriptions of key competencies draw on socio-cultural perspectives as evidenced in the introductory statements in the curriculum document. For example: ‘Opportunities to develop the competencies occur in social contexts; the competencies continue to develop over time, shaped by interactions with people, places, ideas, and things’ (p12). 

The shift in the New Zealand Curriculum has been influenced by international concerns about shaping education for the 21st century. Jane Gilbert (as quoted in the Kei Tua o te Pae resource, Book 13, p5) captures the essence of how this shift attunes education toward a more holistic and active view of knowledge. 

The world outside education is increasingly valuing the ability to learn – knowing how to learn, how to keep learning, how to learn with others – over the ability to master specific bits of knowledge. Similarly, the ability to see a number of possibilities for solving a problem is becoming more important than knowing the right answer. 

The synergies between the strands of Te Whāriki, the learning dispositions, and key competencies are clearly apparent. Both sectors share a common language around learning that is valued; teachers take notice of, recognize and respond to children’s developing dispositions and competencies toward learning.

What are the implications for curriculum continuity?

Children experience a range of discontinuities as they enter school. However, this need not be seen as problematic. Sally Peters (2000; 2003) has written about children’s adaptation to discontinuity in the physical environment, the length of day and the demands of the curriculum in differing ways and over differing timeframes. Peters describes how children frequently respond with enthusiasm to new expectations and challenges and asserts that difference between the two sectors can be viewed positively:

"New experiences such as transition can therefore be seen as actually promoting development, and school does not have to be the same as prior to school contexts, provided the child receives appropriate support to negotiate the changes." (p.16, 2003)

Curriculum continuity is about experiences that connect with children’s prior learning and capabilities. It is not about changing early childhood programmes to be school-like, nor is it about school needing to adopt early childhood programmes. Peters’ research identified that supportive relationships can scaffold the bridge between the familiar and unfamiliar for the transitioning child. Adults, peers and siblings can mediate curriculum continuity when they have familiarity with the environment and programmes children come from and go to.

How frequently do you hear of early childhood programmes using formalized approaches to teaching literacy and numeracy with the ‘good’ intention of preparing children for school? Teaching using this approach is influenced by the perspectives of teachers who are limiting their understanding of curriculum continuity to narrow, traditional curriculum subject areas.

In the new climate of complementary curriculum documents, continuity in curriculum takes on a welcomed, revitalised interpretation. Curriculum continuity needs to be interpreted from the child’s experience rather than from a teacher perspective. Continuity for children is embedded in relationships that recognise and value their identity as learners; people who know who they are, what they bring, and how they go about things. Continuity in curriculum emerges in the way teachers, and others, utilise their knowledge of the child through the provision of experiences, opportunities and tasks that provide entry points for children to engage with and display their competence. 

Thinking about continuity of curriculum for children in this way offers opportunity for children’s prior knowledge, experience and approaches to learning to be valued and built on in support of ongoing learning.

How can you contribute toward continuity for children?

1) Share information about children’s learning with school:

  • Encourage parents and children to share their early childhood profiles with their new teacher.
  • Suggest children take their profile book on their first transition visit and leave it at school until their next visit, or longer.
  • Think creatively about ways to communicate with schools. In Kei Tua o te Pae Book 20, p. 24, Vinny is seen to be a competent emailer. Emailing is becoming a regular and familiar communication tool for young children and most class teachers have their own email address at school. How might you use this means of communication for developing relationships between child, family and their new class teacher? The letter-to-school example discussed in Collaborative relationships and sharing responsibility provides an example of a frame for a first communication.
  • Talk with primary teachers you know about requesting children’s profiles from parents at time of enrolment at school.
  • Invite primary teachers to come and visit you, invite them to team meetings or to stay over lunch. Encourage teachers to visit the children during the programme.
  • Go and visit schools where children from your setting have moved to.
  • Send your newsletter to local schools and request they send theirs to you.

2) Become familiar with curriculum documents:

  • Explore the New Zealand Curriculum with your team.
  • Look for the statements describing key competencies pp. 12-13.
  • Become familiar with the pages outlining pedagogy pp. 34-36.
  • Compare this to the pages in Te Whāriki about the principles, pp. 39-43.
  • Invite primary teachers to join you in this task.

Reflective question:

  • In light of your understanding of key competencies, do your learning stories connect in terms of language

Kei Tua o te Pae Book 20 offers a learning story about Tori who is nearing her transition to school. Her teacher uses the opportunity to include the new entrant teacher as part of the audience for the story, and in so doing is contributing valuable information about Tori’s dispositions and competencies toward learning.

Reflective question:

  • How might you use a similar strategy for communicating children’s experiences and competence as learners with school?

Further reading

  • Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best evidence synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
  • Carr, M. (2006). Learning Dispositions and Key Competencies: a new curriculum continuity across the sectors? Early Childhood Folio, 10, 21-26.
  • Carr, M. (2006). Dimensions of strength for key competencies. Working paper presented to New Zealand Curriculum working party.
  • Peters, S. (2000). Multiple perspectives on continuity in early learning and the transition to school. Paper presented at the tenth European Early Childhood Education Research Association Conference, University of London.
  • Peters, S. (2003). Theoretical approaches to transition. SET, 3, 15-20.
  • Jones, C. (2006) Continuity of learning: Adding funds of knowledge from the home environment. Early Childhood Folio, 10. 27-31.
  • Hipkins, R. (2007). Assessing Key Competencies: Why would we? How could we? (external link)
  • Phillips, G., McNaughton, S. & MacDonald, S. (2002). Picking up the pace. Auckland: The Child Literacy Foundation and Woolf Fisher Research Centre. 

This paper was prepared by Jocelyn Wright, University of Canterbury, 2009.

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