The concept of working theories has gained traction internationally. Michelle Hill wrote an excellent thesis under the supervision of Professor Liz Wood at the University of Sheffield. At the time (at least), Michelle was a teacher of young primary school aged children in Switzerland.
Titled Dead forever: Young children building theories in a play-based classroom, Michelle undertook a focused and in-depth study using video recordings and participant observation of children’s play and classroom conversations to gather evidence of children’s theories. Michelle’s thesis suggests that as young children participate in the life of their peer culture they build working theories related to human nature, to the social world and to the physical and natural world. These working theories are a way for children to explore and develop their ethical, social and gender identities, and may act as a bridge between cultural understandings of morals, ethics and gender roles and children’s own understandings of who they are and their place in the world. In pedagogical practice, through being sensitive and responsive to children’s working theories, practitioners may be able to engage more deeply with children about fundamental life issues that are of concern or interest to them.
I hope you are keen too to read Michelle’s work more closely, the reference to her full thesis is below.
If you have a good memory, or if you are a recent reader you can check back, you will see there may be a link to my June 2016 post that discussed the work Maria and I did interpreting children’s real questions and links to identity formation in our TLRI. Here’s a reminder:
We realised that the notion of identity was central to their range of inquiries and working theories, and came up with the following fundamental inquiry as underpinning children’s interests, inquiries and working theories:
How can I build personal, learner, and cultural identities as I participate in interesting, fulfilling, and meaningful activities with my family, community, and culture?
Children’s identities included personal (‘Who am I?’, ‘Who are my parents/family?’, ‘What does it mean to be a girl/boy?’), learner (‘Who am I as a learner?’, ‘What learning strategies can I build here?’, ‘How will teachers help me learn?’), and cultural (‘Where do I come from?’, ‘Who am I as a member of a family/culture/ community?’). The latter incorporated inquiry into a shared national identity (‘What features do “New Zealanders” share?’). These interests and the ways they were expressed served to create a sense of multiple personal and shared identities for the children as members of peer groups, families, and wider communities and cultures.
The questions of importance that followed from this were interpreted as:
- What can I do, now that I am bigger, that the older children do?
- What do intelligent and responsible adults do?
- How can I make special connections with people I know?
- How can I make and communicate meaning?
- How can I understand the world I live in?
- How can I develop my physical and emotional well-being?
- How can I express my creativity?
Hedges, H., & Cooper, M. (2016). Inquiring minds: Theorizing children’s interests. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 48(3), 303–322. DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2015.1109711
Hill, M. (2015). Dead forever: Young children building theories in a play-based classroom. EdD thesis, University of Sheffield. http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/9379/
Photo credit: “Pudge being helpful” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Phyllis Buchanan