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.
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