Monday, September 11, 2017

Inquiry Based Learning

Welcome to the inaugural post for inquiry based learning particularly around early years education.

I ought to introduce myself, yet this hardly seems like a literacy hook that will keep you reading. However, I’ll give it a go. Lorraine Sands is my name and I work for Educational Leadership Project as a professional learning facilitator across New Zealand and beyond.
Our website, worth going to for all manner of things connected with life long learning is:
I’ve set this word press up to offer a forum for ongoing discussion around inquiry learning in the early years, particularly to encourage cross sector discussion between early childhood teachers and primary school teachers. Any and all actually who would like to contribute, hence the public nature of this site. The intention is to offer references, articles, books and  research to invite conversation. Yet, more than this, to actively stretch ideas around what makes learning environments fabulous ones. Ones that take that spark that is the essence of all beginning learners, their birth right, and nurture the flame, inside families, in early learning group settings then on into school and beyond.
Why inquiry learning? It’s such a fascinating notion. It conjures up all manner of explorations coming from the inside out. What makes the sky blue? Where does that ant trail lead? Tell me that story. How does it end? And why?  It’s what drives  babies to look at those wriggly things at the end of their arms and wonder what they can do? It intriguingly invites connection between people. Where does that ant trail lead and let’s find out together. Rarely does learning happen in isolation from others and when we see learning as connection, we realise the way relationships are the blanket that warms that spark so it dances as flames across time and space. Learning is energy that finds its will to keep pursuing the quest when we often don’t even know what this means at the beginning, long past the easy bits into practice and effort, inside what is imaginable and therefore possible.
I love reading the way people write about learning and teaching. That’s the thing about reading other people’s work, we get to share the intimacy of someone else’s thoughts and make them our own as we wonder what might work for us, adapt the ideas and trial them out. They often end up quite different from the original but I think, only rarely as learning ‘light bulb moments’, more aptly as smouldering ideas awaiting opportunity. Most often out of a relaxed sleep at one in the morning with the problem solved, a wish for a more civilised time say 8.00, and action.
Two writers that I familiarly call favourites  have influenced my thinking about inquiry based learning, causing me to re-consider the ways I connect with children to affirm and stretch their learning.
David Perkins makes these comments:
“It’s never just routine. It’s about thinking about what you know and pushing further. It involves open ended or ill-structured problems and novel, puzzling situations. It’s never just problem solving it involves problem finding. It’s not just about right answers. It involves explanation and justification. It’s not emotionally flat. It involves curiosity, discovery, creativity, camaraderie” (Making Learning Whole, 2009, p.29).
It’s not emotionally flat, really resonates. When I think of children immersed in something of great interest to them, they are so clearly emotionally connected. Their whole bodies vibrate with interest. If we use this as a framework for the kinds of learning and teaching environments we help to co-create with children, the scope for inquiry learning,  fuelling a passion for ‘learning to learn’, becomes limitless.
These further comments by Michael Fullan imbued with surprise, wonder and awe catapult learners into what Michael describes as the  ‘Stratosphere’.
“Learning ought to be irresistibly engaging” (2013).
When these notions sit inside our ‘moment by moment’ conversations with children, we shift children into the driving seat where they take responsibility for pushing to the edge and beyond. The determination for practising the hard bits comes from them. We don’t have to think of learning outcomes. In fact when we do, these so often fall short of children’s imaginative energy. In connection with children though, everything is possible and ‘irresistibly engaging’ is what it is!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ko Te Kore - the child has potential
I was fortunate to attend a workshop facilitated by Rita Walker & Jacqui Brouwer which unpacked the assessment framework Te Whatu Pōkeka. Some of you may be familiar with this kaupapa Māori assessment resource, however, many of you may not yet have had the chance to engage with it. This workshop was the catalyst for me to seek more knowledge with the aim of being able to  truly value the language, culture and identity of tamariki. My hope is, that this article will make you curious and inspire you to want to investigate Te Whatu Pōkeka further, with the aim of incorporating its kaupapa into your teaching practice

 I’d like to start by sharing one of the issues that Rita raised: that te reo Mā ori is often translated but should in fact be
interpreted. Mā ori language is a taonga because every word has a whakapapa, where it has come from, and different
For example when we translate tamariki  it means ‘child’:
tama  - sons
riki  - sons of chiefs
ariki  - tamaariki - chiefly knowledge
 ariki - the realms
 However, the same word interpreted  becomes ‘precious little ones, loved’
ta  - Blueprint, image, representation, impression - Whakapapa, Ruomoko - the trembles are Ruamoko (the unborn
child) the deity of tamoko (patterning anywhere on your body). Ruamoko is the guardian of tamoko, who has the ability
to change the landscape - children are powerful. Ruamoko is fickle - children fickle. Ruamoko is also the deity of
eruptions - the child is a real Ruamoko. Tamoko - representing you, your stories, your history, your whakapapa.
tama  - Derivative of tama-nui-te-ra (the sun), ana atua (spiritual guardian) depicted by the sun, which provides light and
warmth which we can’t live without - the same as our children.
ama  - Balance, stability, consistency (ama - a specific type of waka, an outrigger providing balance) children bring
balance to our lives.
ariki  - chiefly status, devine being
riki  - young shoot connected to a root system; a metaphor for whakapapa
(riki - seed potatoes) they are rooted in their history.
(all translations taken from Walker & Bouwer workshop notes)

 You can see how different the translation and interpretation are from one another, how they can impact on your view of something. It’s just a reminder to slow down and take time as a team, to unpack the whakapapa behind the words you use in your te ao Mā ori journey.

 In Te Whatu Pō keka there are three aspects to the framework. Walker writes: “[T]he first part of the assessment framework which argues that children come with ways of knowing  the world (mohiotanga), that they learn (mā tauranga) through experiences and challenges and that they seek and gain clarity (maramatanga) from the achievements, accomplishments and failures they encounter as they learn and grow.
The second part of the framework argues that Mā ori children possess a number of attributes derived from their history which spans back through time and space [wairua, mana, mauri] [...]. This means that the Mā ori child has a way of being,  which in turn requires that adults working with and alongside these children must have an in-depth understanding of the children's contexts in order to plan culturally and socially responsive programmes

 Adult responsibilities is the third part of the framework which focuses on providing appropriate contexts of learning, drawing on knowledge relevant to the context, planning and implementing programmes and providing critique and analysis. This indicates ways of doing ” (Walker, R. 2008, p.9, my emphasis and addition). As teachers, getting to know each child, their whakapapa and their kō rero hitori is paramount, if we want to really
discover who they are. For some time now, many centres have been asking their whā nau to share their child’s whakapapa or pepeha with them, as a way of building relationships with whā nau, however, many of these taongo get filed away in the child’s portfolio or on the walls of the centre, once the enrollment process is over and the only
revisiting that occurs is by the child. I began thinking about how well we acknowledge, respect and value all that the
childern know and all that they bring with them, their whā nau, their history, their whakapapa? We need to be thinking
about how whā nau know that we truly value what they have shared with us?
Teaching teams that have unpacked Te Whatu Pō keka have begun to write bicultural assessment documentation that incorporates the concepts mohiotanga, matauranga, and maramatanga. They are helping to unpack the child’s kete, their ‘funds of knowledge’ and they are using what they discover to help them create a learning environment that is supportive, not only of that child but of whā nau, hapū  and iwi also. Their Learning Stories are one of the ways they are letting whā nau know that they value what has been shared with them. Their words have had the power to build learning partnerships. Teaching and assessment must be a collaborative activity where whā nau and kaiako both have a valued
contribution and we must be mindful to write Learning Stories that are thoughtful, meaningful, respectful and inclusive, remembering to interpret not translate te reo Māori.

Ministry of Education (2009). Te Whatu Pōkeka: Kaupapa Māori Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars.
 Wellington: Learning Media.
Walker, R. (2008), The Philosophy of Te Whatu Pō keka: Kaupapa Mā ori assessment and learning exemplars. The First
Years. Ngā Tau Tuatahi  (10):2, pp. 5-10.

Gillian Fitzgerald

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Growing Intelligence

When Nathan Mikaere-Wallis (neuroscience lecturer) talks about growing intelligence he said, “Intelligence is really problem solving at its heart and problem solving is hugely enhanced by creativity."
Another aspect of creativity is divergent thinking,  which has been described as: “the ability to branch out from a starting point and consider a variety of possible solutions, involves fluidity of thinking, broad scanning ability, and free association. It is thought to be a major cognitive process underlying creativity (Guilford, 1968; Russ & Kaugars, 2001). While object play has clearly been related to divergent problem solving ability in young children, so too has make-believe, or fantasy, play. For example, Dansky (1980) observed ninety-six preschool children in a free-play situation, and categorized them as high or low in their pretend play ability. He then assigned them to one of three conditions: (1) free play, (2) imitative play, and (3) a problem-solving task. Dansky (1980) found that the children in the free-play situation performed the best on the divergent problem solving task, but only if they were spontaneously high in their level of make-believe play. He concluded that it is not play in itself that predicts problem solving skill, but the extent to which children become involved in make-believe when they are playing.
The following from Laurie Makin and Marian Whitehead (2004) supports this -“Play is a special way of exploring all kinds of possibilities and even taking big risks in a very safe context. So, as they pretend to be chased by monsters, or hide from lions, young children enjoy a small taste of fear and plan a few useful strategies for escaping the dangers they have invented. When they change roles and become the frightening shark themselves, they experience life from the other side. It’s a bit like trying on a mask or a costume in order to become someone else. Children often pretend to be other people they know such as parents and teachers, or the characters from stories, or even machines like vacuum cleaners and wind screen wipers! They seem to be asking, ‘what does it feel like to be someone or something else?’ All this imaginary activity helps children make sense of the world and the powerful feelings they have about people and what happens to them. It is also the best possible preparation for understanding stories and picture books and getting ready for reading. The oral stories we tell and the stories printed in books are ways of playing and pretending too and if we don’t value children’s play in the early years we are not helping them to become confident storytellers and readers. It has been known for years that children can learn surprisingly complex things in partnership with an interested adult who helps but doesn’t take over. Children actually think beyond their apparent abilities while doing it alongside an expert. So think of the ways that you scaffold learning and communication through your interactions with children. Document the pretend play and the oral language that is being strengthened as a result.”

What does this mean for us as teachers?  Do we allow the time, space and environment for children to create complex story lines, rich in language, emotion and relationships? How are we recording the wonderful oral language, divergent thinking and story telling?  Divergent thinking is also related to the ability children have to use a box as a car or a wooden block as a babies bottle.  This reminds me of the importance of loose parts or divergent resources rather than only having convergent resources.   Learning Story - Imagination, Toi Taakaro

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Update on progress of programme starting in Shenzhen

Update on the progress since last year at the Shenzhen Experimental Kindergarten, China

2017 provided yet another opportunity for me to spend time working with the teachers in China. The first stop of this trip was Shenzhen. This is a quite fabulous early childhood setting with a tremendous drive to provide fabulous learning experiences for their 250 children!

When I first arrived at the Kindergarten, Rainy took us on a tour of the kindergarten to share some of the progress since my last visit. In particular she shared the work of Learning Stories and Portfolios. All the classrooms have set up areas for portfolios and couches to sit on and read the portfolios. The work that has been done is extremely impressive. Throughout the week I had an opportunity to learn more about the progress they have made with their work on Learning Stories

Rainy sharing the work that teachers have done on Learning Stories and their Portfolios.

This visit to Shenzhen included a conference that built on the last week long conference around Te Whāriki and Learning Stories.
Wendy and Zhou Jing (translator), also known as Jane.

Wendy and Zhou Jing (translator) redefine "PLAY " and the value of play to the teachers.

Teachers are engaged and curious, keen to explore these ideas and consider how they might become a part of their practice!
Raising issues about the notion of children are constantly exploring and discovering the world around them by playing. Encouraging teachers to pay attention to and support the children in their play. To give children agency as they choose the focus of their learning. I talked about the importance of providing a safe, rich environment, and the importance of children having plenty of time to explore. We also discussed a wide range of issues including: the importance of teachers listening deeply to children, in an effort to really discover the child's interest or passion, to  find the child's WOW moment and to record this in a Learning Story.
Teachers express their enthusiasm for this work and the implications for their teaching practice.

Environment Creation
The following photos give a sense of the environments that are being developed in the kindergartens to provide a wide range of affordances for the children and their learning. Shenzhen Experimental Kindergarten teams are shifting their thinking, so that children choose, explore, operate, through the material, environment, peer interaction to promote children holistic development!

Shenzhen Experimental Kindergarten 26th Pioneer Technology Festival Opening

While I was at the kindergarten, they held the opening of the Technology Programme. They asked me to officially open the event. This was for me quite an extraordinary event quite different from anything that I would experience in New Zealand. There are two very strong parent clubs at the Shenzhen kindergartens, one for fathers and another for mothers. The parents are deeply engaged in the life of the kindergarten. For this Technology Festival they were key participants in this very special production….

The Technology Festival was held in both the Shenzhen Kindergartens, these are images from the opening of the Festival.

An exploration of the robot!
Older children join the younger children as they explore some of the technologies.
A range of technology is on display for the children to play with.
Children contribute to the programme.
Parents also contribute to the programme. This is a mother singing a song from 'Frozen'.
Much to the delight of the children, snow fell during the performance by the mother.
Fathers also contributed to the performance!!
Teachers were also very much a part of this event!!
I spoke a little about the importance of technology as part of the opening.
Teachers contributing.
Children contributing.
And now the formal opening!!!
A celebration with all contributing.

Children participating in the festival.

Dehui Shuangxiu - Shenzhen experimental kindergarten "Wisdom College" was formally established
This is another development at Shenzhen Experimental Kindergarten. While I was in Shenzhen they were launching a new professional learning initiative called the Wisdom programme. I was invited to address the gathering and assist with the launch.

Wisdom Institute is initiated by the Shenzhen Experimental Kindergarten and set up a teacher training camp for teachers to provide opportunites for learning and practice, designed to cultivate freedom, innovation, content, and to support the hard work carried out by teachers. They were developing a space where anyone has the opportunity to express their personal ideas, fully agreeing that ideas can be respected, that there is no standard answer, there is no black or white right or wrong, in the space of the Wisdom College they are hoping that innovation and excellence will flourish.

Here are some images from the opening of the Wisdom College

Traditional growth file versus the Learning Story growth file
Shenzhen experimental kindergarten teachers,  have begun a new attempt to challenge the traditional growth of the file to "study the story" for children in the kindergarten to establish a happy file. There has been such wonderful progress with the notion of the Learning Story entering the lives of the children and their families at Shenzhen Kindergartens. Teachers are sharing stories and providing their own professional learning around Learning Stories. Our books have been translated into Chinese and provide an important foundation to the work. In particular the books they are using are:

Assessment in Early Childhood Setting: Learning Stories by Margaret Carr
Learning Stories: Constructing Learner Identity in Early Education by Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee
Learning in the Making: Disposition and Design in Early Education by Margaret Carr, Anne Smith, Judith Duncan, Carolyn Jones, Wendy Lee and Kate Marshall.

The books translated into Chinese.
Teachers sharing their work.
Teachers celebrating, they have been given a copy of our book on Learning Stories - Learning Stories: Constructing Learner identity in the early years.

Another opportunity for a photo!!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The impact of Neuroscience on our practice

What an absolute pleasure it was to have Neuroscience Educator; Nathan Wallis, join us in Hamilton to present a seminar: The impact of Neuroscience on our practice.  This was a Ministry of Education sponsored seminar, organised by ELP.

An extremely informative presentation covering many vital topics of neuroscience and child development. 
Some of the key concepts Nathan covered were:  
-  The four parts of the brain, and their role in learning – neurosequential development
-  The importance of the first 1000 days
-  The dyad relationship
-  Social/emotional learning
-  Reinforcement of dispositional learning
-  Risk and protective factors

Here is a sample of some of the feedback we received from the participating ECE teachers; covering what new insights/useful strategies etc. they gained from this seminar; and how it will impact/change their practice.

“Importance of the dyad. 4 areas of the brain. Fundamental importance of the first 1000 days.”

“The key importance of relationships in the first three years for brain development”
“Looking at how our team works - using key teacher practice correctly rather than sticking to rosters. Understanding the brain and what needs to happen to support healthy brain development.  Realizing that the brain is moulded by the environment and the implications of this on our children.”

“Understanding the ‘calmness’ approach to learning. Going back to the basics of human relationships.”

“The children in our centre need love and encouragement for their interests to show. This will then help us plan for interests. The new information reminds me to remember what brain they are in to help them develop. Also helps re-think our rosters and mat times.”

“The importance of neuroscience knowledge in ECE. The importance of the first 1000 days – Wow! So very interesting and informative.

“I have a better understanding of how our two year old children find it difficult to be part of a programme set up for 3 and 4 years old. To develop a way for our two year olds to have more of a relationship with one teacher. I will share this information with other teachers and parents. I will consider more where the two year old children fit in our programme.”

“I will continue to practice with respect and by building strong dyadic relationships with my primary care children. I have always believed that they are important but I do have a better understanding of why.”

“By documenting with my educators about planning for children where they are at, not where I think they should be.”

“Doing further research and reviewing dyad relationships.”

“Reinforced a lot of what I already know. Reinforced not to ‘push’ cognitive learning in the early years even though that is often what parents ask for especially around age 4½.”

“I have gained more knowledge about what children actually need rather than preparing them for the next stage. This will support my evaluation and curriculum documentation as I will be able to look at what children need now to inform how we provide the curriculum.”

“It will enable me to write [learning stories] with more assurance about the importance of dispositional learning and enable me to disseminate current research to both colleagues and parents.”

If you would like more information on these research findings, please follow this link to resources that will provide more information and detail on these topics.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Exciting News!

--> This is very exciting news. The following three New Zealand books have been translated into Chinese, they are: 

1.Assessment in early Childhood Settings: Learning Stories by Margaret Carr

2.Learning Stories: Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education by Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee

3.Learning in the Making: Disposition and Design in Early Education by Margaret Carr, Anne Smith, Judith Duncan,Wendy Lee, Carolyn Jones and Kate Marshall

Learning in the Making, has made the Chinese list of the top 100 books that are influencing teachers in 2016. This list was initiated by the Chinese Education News Network, and the Chinese Education Press Agency is the supervising board of this network.

The list was decided based on readers' feedback, major educational book publishers’ recommendations and a group of expert judges’ opinions.

There are 6 catagories of the books:  educational theories, educational psychology, teachers’ professional development, early childhood education, general education, and culture.

“Learning in the making” is one of books chosen under the early childhood educational books category. It is one of only 9 early childhood books that made the list and it rates number 52 on the list of 100.

All of the chosen books were published in 2016, and they are regarded as high quality books and have good influences on teachers.