Working theories in ECE
Working theories are an important process of knowledge construction and meaning-making for young children.
Working theories are a way in which children make sense of their world and integrate new knowledge accumulated from their personal and social experiences into their existing understanding of the world. Working theories involve children in abstracting information from their experiences and observations, and connecting it with their existing knowledge in meaningful ways.
Working theories are defined as provisional (subject to change), functional (supporting children’s understanding and action), situated (stimulated and created within children’s relationships, contexts and experiences) and created and owned by children.
Working theories engage children’s thinking and meaning-making, and support individual knowledge construction and early academic learning. Working theories may assist children in moving from everyday concepts to more formal scientific concepts, while a focus on supporting and developing children’s thinking and working theories is likely to provide cognitively challenging programmes for children. Keeping track of the working theories that children develop around their identity as learners and their learning processes may be important as these theories are likely to mediate children’s learning and participation.
Working theories is a concept unique to New Zealand, and the research base is limited but growing. There is no empirical evidence linking particular pedagogical strategies with children’s working theory formation and development, nor has the concept of working theories as a curricular outcome been evaluated for its impact on learning. However, case study evidence, and teacher action research are used to make a set of recommendations for pedagogically-sound practices related to working theories.
The following strategies can support teachers in implementing play pedagogies:
- Be clear about how play pedagogies can best support the desired learning in your setting
- Structure play opportunities through careful planning of the environment
- Intentionally plan to extend children’s self-directed play
- Observe carefully and take care when determining how to intervene in play in order to support children’s autonomy
- Teach and support play skills
- How do you identify, document, and respond to children’s working theories?
- Do children understand that you value their unique theorising and processes of learning?
- What opportunities do children have to engage in knowledge-building and theorising?
- How do you promote collaborative inquiries that involve groups of children, teachers and families in developing and testing working theories?
- How important is it for children to develop accurate concepts and knowledge?
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