Intentional teaching and investigations

Intentional teaching and investigations

Intentional teaching is an important approach for extending and expanding children’s learning in early childhood. Our webinar with Dr Anne Meade and Meg Kwan from Daisies Early Education and Care Centre discuss how they utilise an intentional teaching approach in the planning and implementation of their investigations with children. Below are some of the key ideas discussed.

Intentional teaching is a mindset. 

Intentional teaching involves kaiako carrying through with what they’re thinking and planning with children everyday; in the way they set up the environment and in the way they interact with children in order to extend and expand children’s learning and thinking. Intentional teaching is not didactic teaching, however, the concept of intentional teaching recognises teachers as an important resource for children’s learning. The concept of mana which underpins Te Whāriki puts responsibility on teachers to strengthen children through supporting their communication, resilience, exploration and well-being. Te Whāriki is explicit about intentional teaching and the role of the teacher in supporting learning.

Advantages of intentional teaching through and with investigations

Investigations provide a forum for intentional teaching, although intentional teaching should be occuring in all events, activities and routines across the day. Investigations enable children to understand learning to learn, and enable teachers to gift children some very important dispositions such as being researchers, feeding their curiosity and taking their curiosity further. Investigative approaches enable children to achieve an impressive depth of learning, and to tackle complex concepts and questions.

Investigations support intentional teaching as teachers observe children with questions in mind (such as “what draws our toddlers to play with water?”) and make hypotheses. They then intentionally set up provocations related to those hypotheses, being very intentional in terms of planning the right time and the right level of support, and observe children’s responses. There is lots of uncertainty with this process, lots of room for trial and error, and part of the investigation involves teachers researching their approaches and their pedagogy, through evaluation of the impact of their intentional teaching practice.  

Systems for teaching through investigations

The team at Daisies has found that they have had to create times for teachers to do planning for investigations in small groups, and this has been achieved by restructuring non-contact time. Small groups of teachers plan for particular age groups, using an A3 art book for mind maps and adult “wonderings”, as well as recording planning on Storypark for teachers of other groups to read, while headteachers are with children to maintain ratios. Wall displays about investigations are used for interacting with families and children, and might include a snippet or portion of dialogue that is stimulating or guiding the direction of an investigation, plus explanations about what is planned in response. Photos enable children to engage with the display too.

Life worthy investigations

The teachers at Daisies use the term “life worthy investigations” to reflect their intention to focus on meaningful investigations. A life worthy investigation avoids the kind of superficial learning that children are going to pick up anyway – like colours or the names of vehicles. Examples from Daisies include coming to know, and developing a sense of kaitiakitanga (stewardship) for, the local maunga (mountain), or developing an appreciation for good food.

The braided river metaphor: the uncertainty of investigation

Learning outcomes from Te Whāriki are weaved into the investigation as indicators, as “this is what we hope to see”, but these learning outcomes can shift and new learning outcomes can be inserted. It is often not clear at the beginning nor at other times quite where an investigation is going, and there is some freedom for investigations to evolve, but the teachers intentionally aim to maintain a general direction in line with their investigation focus and priority goals. A useful metaphor is that of the braided river – which heads in the direction of the sea but meanders down different paths. Children or groups may take different directions within the same investigation focus.

Investigations are only one part of the curriculum

Investigation experiences take place in small groups, and only include the children that are interested in participating. The teachers don’t try to accommodate all children’s interests, nor include all children, and they find that even children who remain observers gain a lot of information from the sidelines. In the investigation’s small group experiences, the teachers are being very planful and thoughtful about taking the learning forward. There are many other opportunities during the day for teachers to work with children on other interests and learning needs, and plenty of opportunities for child-led learning. A key teacher system is used for all children, with key teachers being responsible for getting to know and responding to the children and their interests, as well as keeping an eye for, and addressing gaps in the richness of their learning.


Dr Vicki Hargraves

Vicki runs our early childhood webinar series and also is responsible for the creation of many of our early childhood research reviews. Vicki is a teacher, mother, writer, and researcher living in Marlborough. She recently completed her PhD using philosophy to explore creative approaches to understanding early childhood education. She is inspired by the wealth of educational research that is available and is passionate about making this available and useful for teachers.

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