The continually and continuously neglected sibling?

So it seems I’ve worked out how to set up a blog – tick! I have a working theory now about comments I’ve received… I’ll get some dialogue possibilities going when I’ve ‘working theoried’ my way through that…

In 2008 Anne Meade identified that working theories were amongst topics in need of research attention in New Zealand. I suggested that ‘working theories’ were hiding behind their big sister ‘dispositions’ in terms of attention to Te Whāriki’s outcomes at a reference group meeting. This meeting related to the first substantive project on working theories: a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative on working theories led by Keryn Davis and Sally Peters. Margaret Carr was sitting beside me and commented ‘bossy big sister!’ Yes indeed – Margaret and her research teams have done terrific work on understandings and practices associated with assessment related to dispositions. And thanks to a wonderful professional development programme and Kei tua o te pae we have excellent resources for teacher education and professional learning about dispositions. Margaret has commented to me though that she never meant for dispositions to become so dominant.

In 2012 Sarah Jones and I published an article in Early Childhood Folio that called working theories the neglected sibling of Te Whāriki’s two learning outcomes. We began efforts to define the term beyond the description in Te Whāriki and provided some examples to help teachers think about what these are and ways they might be recognised and documented. In future blogs I will talk more about this article, the research programmes the Ministry of Education has funded through the TLRI programme and other projects that have occurred.

In this post I identify that despite this research programme, working theories continue to be neglected in 2015.

In the recent Education Review Office report on the continuity of early learning there is not one single mention of working theories apart from in the ERO evaluation indicators on p. 57.

And dispositions? Oh yes – 27 times… and several are links to the key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum.

But there are also links between working theories and the key competency of thinking as I point out in a 2014 article (full text freely available – see below).

“Parallels between the outcome of working theories in Te Whāriki and the outcome of thinking in the New Zealand Curriculum are apparent in the emphases on personal inquiry and understandings in developing and creating knowledge and influencing action” ( p. 38).

Creative, critical thinkers are vital in the modern and global world. Why has ERO ignored attention to the other learning outcome of Te Whāriki yet again?

It seems there is a need to continue to advocate for attention to working theories before it becomes further neglected. This blog will be one way of pointing out what working theories are, how research is helping us understand these, and how teachers (and ERO and policy makers?) might be supported to pay more attention to children’s working theories/thinking.

References and URLs

Education Review Office. (2015). Continuity of early learning: Transitions from early childhood services to schools. Wellington: ERO.

Hedges, H. (2014). Young children’s “working theories”: Building and connecting understandings. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 12(1), 35-49. (full text of this article is free on this site)

Hedges, H., & Jones, S. (2012). Children’s working theories: The neglected sibling of Te Whāriki’s learning outcomes. Early Childhood Folio, 16(1), 34-39.

Meade, A. (2008). Research needs in the early childhood sector. Paper prepared for the TLRI programme. Retrieved from


One thought on “The continually and continuously neglected sibling?

  1. Big Picture Sport July 13, 2015 / 5:22 am

    Hi Helen
    This seems like a really important project and you make the imbalance of attention to working theories really clear. Good luck.


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