Reflecting the four principles of Te Whāriki
To what extent does assessment practice reflect the four principles of Te Whāriki?
The valued outcomes of early childhood education vary from family to family depending on their cultural, educational, and religious beliefs, as well as their views on early learning. In New Zealand the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, is underpinned by the concept of nurturing and promoting each individual child’s growing competence to communicate, participate, and learn about the world.
Socio‑cultural assessment is recognised in New Zealand as a collaborative enterprise, including children, parents, whānau, and educators.
 Educators are expected to contribute to the development of children’s competencies by working in partnership with each child’s family. Feedback tells children what outcomes are valued and how they are doing. It also acknowledges the goals children set for themselves.
ERO evaluated the extent to which assessment practice reflected the four principles of Te Whāriki in relation to the evidence that:
- children’s holistic development was reflected in assessment practice;
- children and their families were involved in assessment practice;
- children were given feedback on their learning; and
- children’s learning was captured in context to their relationships with people, places and things.
Holistic development - kotahitanga
A holistic approach to learning and assessment takes account of all the dimensions of children’s learning and development and recognises that these are interrelated and interconnected. Early childhood educators therefore regard each child in the cultural context of their whānau and community. Underpinning this holistic view of the child is educators’ knowledge of learning theory and their understanding of child development, including cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.
Combinations of children’s emerging knowledge, skills, and attitudes to learning are described as dispositions for learning. Positive dispositions for learning include courage and curiosity, trust and playfulness, perseverance, confidence and responsibility. Dispositions for learning also include the way children approach learning, for example, taking an interest, being involved, persisting with difficulty, challenge and uncertainty, and expressing a point of view. Children’s dispositions are noticed, recognised and responded to by competent educators in early childhood settings.
ERO investigated how well services reflected children’s holistic development in their assessment practice.
Nearly two‑thirds of services clearly reflected children’s holistic development in their assessment practice. In these services assessment included information about children’s knowledge, skills, dispositions, and attitudes. There was good analysis of assessment information that incorporated all aspects of children’s learning and development. This information was used to plan in advance to support children’s interests or dispositions, and to extend their learning and development in a range of contexts, activities, and experiences. In services with very good practice, assessment also reflected children’s cultural dimensions such as their own and their whānau’s aspirations, language, practices, and traditions.
Assessment included information about the whole child. The educators took into consideration the child’s knowledge, skills being developed, their dispositions being followed, their attitudes and aspirations when gathering information about their learning and development. This holistic development of the child was central to the service’s philosophy.
Just over a third of services did not reflect multiple aspects of children’s learning and development in assessment information.
ERO found variable practice in many of these services. For example, some assessments in a service reflected the holistic nature of children’s learning and development, others did not. Children’s knowledge, skills, and to a certain extent, dispositions, may have been included in assessments, but there was little focus on attitudes and cultural dimensions.
Although some educators were beginning to understand the concept of holistic development, this was not reflected in their assessment of children’s learning and development. Some assessments were still highly descriptive of children’s activities at a certain time and place, and lacked higher-level analysis of children’s learning over time and in a range of situations, reflecting educators’ limited understanding of Te Whāriki.
In a small number of these services, ERO found little or no evidence that assessment was holistic. There was little understanding of Te Whāriki and learning programmes were educator-directed rather than being driven by children’s interests. Assessment was mostly a description of children’s involvement in activities.
Parents and families – whānau tangata
The involvement of parents and whānau in assessment acknowledges and values the interconnection between home and the early childhood service. Parents and whānau have a wealth of information and understanding about their children, particularly about their participation in the world outside the early childhood service. ERO investigated how well services involved parents and whānau in assessment practice.
About half of the services involved parents and whānau in assessment activities. These services were proactive in seeking parents’ input about their child’s interests, strengths, and aspirations, as well as the family’s cultural background, values and beliefs. Services used enrolment sheets, asked reflective questions, and recorded parent conversations and learning stories accompanied by photographs of their children to plan possible learning experiences. Some parents also contributed stories about their family, culture, language, and events such as holidays. In most of these services, parents were easily able to access assessment records such as portfolios or profiles.
Learning stories were well displayed to make children’s learning visible. Educators had developed a template for parents to contribute information about their child and their aspirations for their learning when they began at the service. Educators provided parents with a small notice to indicate when a new learning story had been placed in their child’s portfolio. Families could take portfolios home and a useful format for encouraging families to make a written contribution had been developed. Many families used this, or their own format, to record stories from home.
Where ERO found especially good practice, services had established effective systems to encourage parent involvement in assessment of their child’s learning. For example, services shared assessment information not only through portfolios and profiles, but also through email diaries and learning stories, daily notebooks, information and whānau evenings, wall and slideshow displays, and parent interviews. Parents were well informed and actively involved in their child’s learning and development.
Just under half of the services had difficulty involving parents and whānau in assessment, and the contributions of parents and whānau were limited.
Many of these services asked parents for information about their family and child’s interests at enrolment, and less often at regular intervals throughout the child’s attendance. However, this was frequently the only consideration of the child’s family, cultural background, values and beliefs. ERO found little evidence that educators used this information in planning or to reflect on children’s learning.
Although parents in most of these services had access to assessment records such as profiles and portfolios, the usefulness of this to parents was limited. Services often reported that many parents declined to participate in assessment activities.
Feedback to children – whakamana
Feedback to children about their learning and development enhances their sense of themselves as confident and capable learners. ERO investigated how well services gave children feedback on their learning.
Just over half of services were enhancing children’s sense of themselves through feedback about their learning. Children in these services revisited past and current learning experiences and could talk about their learning. They were able to revisit their learning through portfolios, wall displays, DVDs, and computer presentations of digital photographs. Educators used language and questions that encouraged children to discuss and think further. Where ERO found very good practice, educators valued children’s resourcefulness, curiosity, creativity and problem solving.
Children were constantly looking at their portfolios and any comments they made were added. This gave children’s perspectives on what they were thinking at the time, indicated change over time, helped children to revisit past experiences and learning and reflect on these. Educators were skilled at making links with past learning while talking with children and being explicit about children’s progress.
Documentation of emerging interests, including children’s work, was collated into planning folders and children and parents were able to revisit these rich learning experiences. Displays of learning stories and photographs were carefully placed throughout the service at a suitable height so children could return to these, discuss them, and recall past learning and progress.
Almost half the services were not giving children feedback about their learning. Children in these services had limited access to records of learning experiences such as portfolios, wall displays, and photographss. When educators did make opportunities to revisit experiences, children were not encouraged to reflect on, or build on, their learning. Most feedback given to children affirmed or directed behaviour rather than encouraged reflective strategies such as problem solving or curiosity.
Children’s learning in context – ngā hononga
Children’s learning and development are influenced by their relationships with people, places, and things. Assessment of this learning and development should be captured within the context of these relationships. ERO investigated how well services were assessing children’s learning in context.
Two‑thirds of services assessed children’s learning in context. Assessment of children’s learning reflected the social contexts in which the children learnt, and included meaningful descriptions of the environment and the people in it that influenced their learning. ERO found that where parents were very involved in their child’s learning, the parents made links with home experiences and the cultural context of the family, for example, aspirations, language, practices, and traditions.
In services with very good practice, educators included other people such as friends, educators and parents, and used descriptions, photographs and captions to capture the context of learning in a meaningful way as well as to show children’s progress and learning over time. Educators used their observations and analysis of learning to plan programmes and activities that would allow children to follow their current and emerging interests in a child-initiated context. In many of these services, the cultural context of children was an important feature of assessments.
Assessment was individualised, and drew on knowledge gained from the service or home context. Educators and parents, who came from a wide range of ethnicities, incorporated cultural contexts into assessment. Educators noticed and responded to children’s initiatives and recognised their individual strengths and abilities.
A third of services did not assess children’s learning in context. Few educators acknowledged social interaction and children’s strengths and abilities, and few incorporated cultural contexts. Most observation was descriptive and did not make any links to an analysis of what learning was occurring or what might happen next.
In a small number of these services, the assessment of children’s learning did not occur in a meaningful context. Rather, educators assessed children undertaking set tasks, as opposed to assessing learning occurring during child-initiated play.
Overall reflection of Te Whāriki in assessment practices
Figure 3 shows that in 64 percent of services ERO found that assessment practices were highly reflective or reflective of the four principles of Te Whāriki. Assessment practices at over a third of services (36 percent) were only partially reflective or not reflective of the four principles of Te Whāriki.
Figure 3: Reflecting the four principles of Te Whāriki
ERO found that educators’ understanding of Te Whāriki and socio‑cultural assessment were key factors in how well assessment practice reflected the four principles. In services where practice was partially or not reflective, parents, children, and the educators themselves were not able to use assessment information to support children’s learning and development.
Figure 4 shows that in 63 percent of education and care services, 39 percent of playcentres, and 78 percent of kindergartens assessment practices were highly reflective or reflective of the four principles of Te Whāriki.
Figure 4: Reflecting the four principles of Te Whāriki by service type