Engaging with Te Whāriki

In this second evaluation report, ERO wanted to find out how leaders and kaiako in early learning services were starting to engage with Te Whāriki beyond becoming familiar with the content and using the language of Te Whāriki in documents. We were particularly interested in the steps leaders and kaiako were taking to review and design their local curriculum, decide what matters for children in their service and work with the 20 learning outcomes in Te Whāriki.

Reviewing and designing local curriculum and deciding ‘what matters here’ are not discrete activities. Guidance information on Te Whāriki online notes:

Te Whāriki sets out the principles, strands, goals, and learning outcomes for young children’s learning. The learning outcomes are broad statements of valued learning, which encompass knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions that grow and strengthen over time. This broad framework enables early childhood services to weave their own distinctive, culturally responsive, and contextually relevant curriculum, based on what they believe is important for the children in their setting.

Reviewing and designing local curriculum- deciding what matters here

What does Te Whāriki expect?

The expectation is that each ECE service will use Te Whāriki as a basis for weaving its own local curriculum of valued learning taking into consideration also the aspirations and learning priorities of hāpu, iwi and community. p.7.

When designing curriculum, kaiako will be influenced by a range of educational philosophies. This is consistent with the diversity of early learning services in New Zealand and will give rise to distinctive features in each local curriculum. p.60.

Kaiako need to be able to explain Te Whāriki as the overarching curriculum framework and articulate what this means for children in the setting. From this dialogue a shared understanding of ‘what matters here’ will emerge, and local curriculum priorities can be negotiated within the Te Whāriki framework. These priorities will be reflected in long- and medium-term planning as well as in day-to-day practice. p.65.

What did ERO find?

Services were at a very early stage in terms of reviewing and designing their local curriculum. A barrier for many was that the concept of a ‘local curriculum’ was not well understood by leaders and kaiako or they had not considered that they needed to do this.

Reviewing philosophy was a starting point for leaders and kaiako who were thinking about what really matters in their service. While some did this in consultation with parents and whānau, seeking their aspirations for their children, others were more limited in their consultation involving only leaders and/or kaiako in the review process. The outcome of such review varied as shown in the following examples from ERO review officers:

The centre philosophy review has guided the kindergarten to really think about and unpack what learning matters here and their valued outcomes for children. This review is ongoing in consultation with parents and whānau.

A recent review of the centre's philosophy is the starting point to further explore how the programme reflects the local community. The centre's curriculum strongly reflects the local rural context.  Teachers are at the beginning stages of exploring place-based learning and making links to local iwi to further develop the curriculum, with support from association personnel.

The philosophy has been reviewed to better define a local curriculum of valued learning. This is now being used as a ‘filter’ for all decisions at the service. Strategic planning and evaluations align to these valued outcomes.

Some services were very clear about ‘what matters here’ with priorities for children’s learning clearly identified as shown in this example from a service leader.

We have a strong focus on what's happening here for our children and families. We have a clear and deliberate focus on oral language, social competency and being culturally responsive to Māori and Pacific children and families. Our curriculum priorities are based on Māori values including whanaungatanga and ukaipotanga.

In one service, leaders and kaiako commented on the work they were doing to determine a local curriculum as part of a Kāhui Ako|Community of Learning.

We are part of the local Kāhui Ako and as such have just finished a two-day visioning wananga with local schools, early learning services, social services and iwi to discuss how a local curriculum would look for us. The lens with which we are looking at Te Whāriki is that of whānau and iwi Māori. We believe that by using this lens we will be able to design and implement a place-based curriculum that has real value to our whānau and community.

In a few services, leaders and kaiako were delving deeper into their practice as part of reviewing and designing their local curriculum. They sought to understand the responsiveness of their curriculum, including teaching practices, and evaluate the alignment of practice to Te Whāriki. The following two examples show the kinds of questions used to guide their internal evaluation.

How effectively does our curriculum respond to the strengths, interests and needs of our infants, toddlers and young children?

How effective is our curriculum (design and planning) in supporting our priorities for children’s learning?

It was too early in the process, however, for leaders and kaiako to know about the impact of such inquiry and evaluation.

Focus on the learning outcomes

What does Te Whāriki expect?

The learning outcomes in each strand are broad statements that encompass valued knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions that children develop over time. They are designed to inform curriculum planning and evaluation and support the assessment of children’s progress. p.22

The expectation is that kaiako will work with colleagues, children, parents and whānau to unpack the strands, goals and learning outcomes, interpreting these and setting priorities for their particular ECE setting. p.23.

What did ERO find?

ERO’s findings highlight the range of understanding about how to work with the learning outcomes in Te Whāriki as part of assessment, planning (including teaching strategies) and evaluation. As with other aspects of implementation, most were at an early stage of working with the learning outcomes to identify the learning valued in their service.

We found a range of practice - from services in which leaders and kaiako had not yet considered the learning outcomes, or did not see that they needed to change practice - to services in which leaders and kaiako were starting to discuss, explore and unpack the learning outcomes for the children in their service.

In some services, leaders and kaiako were adding the learning outcomes to their narrative assessments. This was particularly evident where services were using online assessment software that makes it easy to ‘tag’ the learning outcomes in relation to the documented assessment information. Often this resulted in kaiako ‘tagging’ all of the possible outcomes rather than unpacking the outcomes and being clear about the most relevant to the child’s progress and learning. ERO is concerned that tagging or referencing multiple outcomes, without any alignment between the analysis of learning and the tagged learning outcome. Such practice does not make children’s progress and learning explicit.

Where services were taking an inquiry or evaluation approach to working with the learning outcomes and their valued learning, they were asking questions such as:

How effectively do our assessment practices make our valued learning visible?

Leaders and kaiako were also using the learning outcomes as part of their planning for individuals and for groups of children. In a few services the outcomes were being used to guide intentional teaching. In others kaiako just added the outcomes as an additional component to their planning rather than being deliberate and intentional about unpacking the outcomes, aligning them to their learning priorities and making them relevant and meaningful for the children in their service.