There has been something really bugging me of late, and it connects to the theme of this years Gifted Awareness Week – a concern with diversity.
I have worked in the early childhood field for (eeek) over 15years now. I have always been very grateful for a curriculum which – while being very complex – was able to represent the rich variety of learners I worked with every day, and seek to meet them where they were at and take them further. If you are a child in early childhood education, whether you are gifted or not, our curriculum is about your individual learning journey, and ensuring that you are making progress suited to your learning strengths and interests. Our teaching is about supporting you on that journey with strategies based upon the learning outcomes of Te Whāriki which were varied and nuanced enough to represent diversity; a vast array of aspirations we hold for our children, translated into outcomes which gave us a picture of what these could look like in real life. Our reaching for the skies was based upon a rich tapestry, a whāriki (trans. ‘woven mat’ – hence the title) woven with many strands full of colour, depth and complexity. Understandably intricate as it is our task to represent the richness of life itself.
The strands with which we wove were numerous – 118 – and could have even been more. A broad pallet of colours to sketch the world with and alongside children. Although there could have been more shades to add, the concepts and ideas within the learning outcomes could be used alone to paint a bold streak of personality, or combined to create the shade, hue and tone which demonstrate the movements children make over time and experience. The learning of our gifted children within early childhood education, especially those who experience intensities and demonstrate varied passions, could be sketched also. Our gifted children’s diversity, both as a part of the wider group, and the diverse range of expression within them, was able to be drawn out and highlighted. This is not a treatise to say that we were able to fully represent children, to compartmentalise them and to consider them ‘known’, but rather to illustrate the way through which we could attempt to build an image of the child with the child.
Now let’s consider the colours we have to work with in Te Whāriki 2017.
While I understand that a vast amount of the curriculum has not changed – the Principles, Strands, Goals all remain the same, there has been a huge shift in the area of learning outcomes. A huge drop should I say…from 118 to 20. Ministry of Education state that this reduction is to make it easier to navigate and improve clarity. But it is my concern that these limitations will affect teachers’ ability to represent variation in children’s learning, and is one step closer to technical teaching practice. Our broad pallet is reduced to a few simple shades. Our creativity bound by limited language. The threads with which we weave our tapestry – our whāriki, our turangawaewae (place to stand) – are limited, leading to a much flimsier and less intricate weaving.
These boundaries detrimentally affect early childhood teachers’ ability to interpret curriculum in order to represent diversity. The reduction of learning outcomes reduces the material the educator as ‘curriculum weaver’ can work with, diminishing the ability of Te Whāriki to represent the rich tapestry of educational experiences and replacing this with something more simplistic and less representative of the variety of human life.
This is certainly contrary to the recent whakatauki which spearheaded the giftEDnz roadshow (and one of my personal favourites)
Ko te ahurei o te tamaiti arahia o tatou mahi: Let the uniqueness of the child guide our work.
If we are to allow this uniqueness guide our work, and with gifted children I certainly believe this is hugely important, but we cannot represent this individuality in our planning and assessment, will we no longer be able to see it? Will younger generations of teachers who have never worked with the varied learning outcomes of the original Te Whāriki have a sense of the variation which can be seen if they are never encouraged to see it by their national curriculum. Will we lose our ability to discern and appreciate diversity?
I hope most teachers will continue to use the old learning outcomes, as I will be. But I fear that it will be a case of watch this space. I will be watching closely…