Working theories are in the news

I’m delighted to report an interesting few days – working theories are becoming more front and central amongst considerations of learning in early childhood education.

I’ve recently returned from the Aotearoa-New Zealand Early Childhood Convention held in Rotorua October 1-4. This conference is the largest gathering of early childhood practitioners—teachers, professional learning providers, teacher educators, researchers and independent contractors—from Aotearoa and beyond. It has been held four-yearly, although sadly the last one was due to be held in Christchurch in 2011 and was cancelled due to the earthquakes. In a poignant nod to that cancellation, the conference satchels were those we would have received at that conference.

It was exciting to see and hear much interest in working theories. Our own presentation fronted by Maria Cooper, Daniel Lovatt, Niky Veele and me was held in a packed room. We enjoyed the engagement and questions from those who attended. We were pleased to attend other presentations focused on children’s thinking and questioning, especially that of Carol Marks from the Educational Leadership Project I’ve commented to the wonderful Wendy Lee at an earlier conference that the contributions of ELP to the professionalising of teacher knowledge is one of the great yet-to-occur research projects in NZ!

It was good to talk with many people: connections and reconnections are such an important part of conferences. In particular in relation to the motivation for beginning this blog, it was good to talk with Sandra Collins from ERO in person about ways to draw more attention to working theories as a lens for learning in centres through the attentions of ERO reviewers. It was certainly clear in their recent report that attention to working theories is lacking with our youngest learners: We have offered our support to help them if needed 😉

We were also delighted to hear from Raewyn Penman that working theories continue to be a focus of KidsFirst Kindergartens ongoing attention and work and that she would like us to return next year to facilitate some more professional learning for their teachers.

While at the conference two keenly awaited reports were released. The first is the long-awaited report (and related literature review) on the Continuity of early learning which was held up at the Ministry of Education for a long time. The report is located at:

The related literature review (scan), also prepared some time ago, is located at:

As often happens, a literature review can be quickly out-of-date and no publications on working theories post-2011 are listed. So keep referring to and reading this blog for the more recent literature! However, I was pleased to see that the Hedges and Cullen paper about participatory learning theories and associated pedagogies was cited prominently too on p. 7.

The second report was the review of early learning led by Joce Nuttall.

First, I note that it is exciting to see “learning” at the forefront in this title, the emphasis of the report and its recommendations. Second, it is good to see reference to several recent publications on working theories: Maria’s and mine in IJEYE, Daniel’s in EC Folio and Vicki Hargraves in CIEC. See particularly pp. 52-53 re attention to working theories. This section brings in how related the parallel outcomes of Te Whāriki are as it draws attention to reference to working theories amongst publications focusing on dispositions.

So all of this is good news – and provides more motivation to continue posts about the research on working theories that has occurred and is occurring. Stay tuned!


Hargraves, V. (2014). Complex possibilities: ‘Working theories’ as an outcome for the early childhood curriculum. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 15(4), 319-328. doi:10.2304/ciec.2014.15.4.319

Hedges, H., & Cooper, M. (2014). Engaging with holistic curriculum outcomes: Deconstructing ‘working theories’. International Journal of Early Years Education, 22(4), 395-408. doi:10.1080/09669760.2014.968531

Hedges, H., & Cullen, J. (2012). Participatory learning theories: A framework for early childhood pedagogy. Early Child Development and Care, 82(7), 921-940. doi:10.1080/03004430.2011.597504

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

Lovatt. D. (2014). How might teachers enrich children’s working theories? Getting to the heart of the matter. Early Childhood Folio, 18(1), 28-34.


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