Megan and Lisa’s story
As a new site, we’re constantly thinking about our environment and our learning resources and what that really shows to the children and the families who come to us. This project has really been great for learning about our roles as teachers with children and families. Of course, relationships are core, but I love the ‘high intellectual challenge’ and ‘connecting to children’s life-worlds’. I think that hasn’t really ever come through from my other training.
For this research, we examined vocabulary. It was important for us as we began this action research to ensure a level of coherence with the improvement goals we had already identified as a team. So we looked at our oral language improvement goal and reflected on how we could strengthen that, with our developing knowledge of culturally responsive pedagogy.
One of the strategies we had begun to focus on was improving children’s ability to process and produce complex sentences to describe and express their ideas. The importance of oral language skills as a foundation for literacy is widely acknowledged. Likewise, communication and language is inextricably linked to a child’s identity and wellbeing. We believe that a focus on this area of communication would support children’s learning across all learning outcomes in the Early Years Learning Framework.
We had already started book-based planning as a tool to support children’s vocabulary and concept development, through the use of a consistent storybook text across the whole site. Earlier in the year, we had chosen a particular book for our book-based planning, however we felt some kind of unease about our choice. And then when this project came along and we viewed all the CRP principles, I think that was a bit of a light bulb moment for us. We realised we could actually revise our book-based learning tool by looking at texts through the lens of culturally responsive pedagogies and connecting to children’s life-worlds. With our developing understanding of culturally responsive pedagogies, we thought about how we could strengthen what we had already begun and our action research project provided a great opportunity to think critically and dive deeper into this learning space.
We were due to change our focus book no matter what but we thought, when we pick a book this time, let’s find something that’s either written or illustrated by an Aboriginal person, or find a book that could maybe give us a little bit more connection to where we live. The previous book was Mr Magee and they’re fun stories, but ‘Mr Magee lived under a tree and he drank cups of tea’; even the landscape which he lived in was very ‘English’—with vocabulary like the word steeple. So we chose Summer Rain by Ros Moriarty, illustrated by Indigenous design studio Balarinji.
We had five focus children who were part of the action research, and we gave information to the five families about what culturally responsive pedagogy was. I think that they wanted to support us in it, they were really happy. It was very valuable in explaining exactly what we were doing. When we asked families about the word ‘crawl’, they related it straight back to babies crawling. But in the book there’s other creatures, other ways of exploring that word. So it was ‘turtles crawl and lizards creep’. And it was such a joyous way to learn, the children using their bodies. We’re always learning with our bodies, but maybe it was more about us recognising or acknowledging that it is one way we can learn, naming it. It was just so much fun for the children, and for them to experience that word but also to share that word.
We took photos and videos of the children learning, and then we connected that learning with a page in the book and put them together. So we re-imagined Summer Rain, using the text but using our children to demonstrate their understanding of words in it. Every page in the text ended up with a corresponding picture of a child at kindergarten. For example, ‘The turtles crawl’, then we might have Jewel crawling in the photo next to it.
We thought about the importance of the children performing their learning to an audience other than the teachers and that was a really great way to do that with those action words. The focus children performed the vocabulary to the rest of the kindergarten through the video, but also to all the families on a large screen at their end of term celebration. And once we showed the book with just the five children in it on the large screen, the other children said, ‘I want to be in that book too’. So that learning went out and more children became different pages of the books, more words than we chose to focus on for the vocab learning. So although we just concentrated in the research on the five children, it very easily spread to the whole group. So, in the end we made about four or five versions of our book because we kept adding new photos and then, by the end of the term, we shared that with all the families and the children and it had video, photo, sound.
We had Aboriginal twins, and for our focus group of children, we picked the one that was more reluctant to talk with other children just so we could hear her voice. So I think that was really special for her. Over the whole term she became more confident and willing to talk in groups. And when she watched herself on the large screen, you could see her joy and delight and her friends were saying, ‘Wow, look at you!’ It had an effect on her wellbeing and social growth.
One of our three year olds in our occasional care program, a Māori child, his grandmother just happened to be visiting from New Zealand, and we had some photos of him leaping. And our occasional care educator said Grandma was just so delighted, and also the child was so delighted to be able to show his Grandma something that he was a part of for kindy. So that was a really nice.
Lastly one of the boys, an Aboriginal boy and his brother who started just towards half way through the term, we involved him and he supported his brother. So it was great also for those two in particular to have them involved in this project, because we hadn’t seen them much in term two, And to be able to share the learning and send documentation home for the family—to show ‘this is a project and your child’s part of it’. I think his mum felt really proud. That particular series of photos in the book is a bit special.
It was great because the focus group wasn’t all Aboriginal children, but to send home a book that was illustrated by Aboriginal people, I think was a great opportunity. The children borrowed it and they brought it back but then they reborrowed it. And the Aboriginal twin girls were saying that they had to take home two. And the Maori family have four children and they had their eldest daughter reading it to the whole family. So there were great opportunities for those families to have that book and know that that’s what was happening in their child’s learning. We do always value culture but this was an opportunity to show how maybe.
Amongst all of the children, we definitely heard the vocab that we’d chosen spread into different areas of learning. So a group of children were using Connex to make robots and they’d be saying ‘Look, the robot is crawling, the robot is creeping’. So that was powerful to see that word transfer into a new context. And also in their outdoor play. If it was a sunny day, the lizard would be lying on the rock or creeping down in our play space or the geckos were stretching over the play equipment so they were using that language within their spontaneous play.
And although the aim was to adapt one part of our intentional teaching, it’s also trickled in to lots of different areas. For example, we have specific forms that we give the families at the beginning of the year so that they can tell us about their children. And we use those forms when we write learning stories. But I think we can maybe look at those forms again and add something else into them, so that we’re touching base on a slightly different level.
Each year when we start, we do have a bit of a struggle when we introduce to children about the land that we’re learning on, and who lived here first and our history, and this could really help us dive deeper in that. I think now when we connect to our families, and particularly Aboriginal families, we want to explore this more with children. It’s just at a deeper level perhaps, it’s just that it’s constantly now in our heads as educators, in what we do or what we’re going to do.
We want to review our processes with our new Aboriginal families and our three year olds’ families. This hasn’t happened yet; we’re still wondering and questioning how we can change some of those processes to make them more culturally responsive. This was one of the other ‘niggles’ we identified in the early stages of brainstorming for this action research. We want to explore how are we responding to the rights of our three year olds and our multi-age group of learners in an integrated program of both kindergarten and occasional care.
And, in the past, when we are in our planning processes for new projects or new learning experiences for children we wouldn’t have necessarily spoken to the families about ‘we’re doing this research on bugs because the children are really interested in these insects’. But now, that connecting to home lives, we can see how just asking one question is important. We’ve always been quite conscious about who’s culture’s operating at any one time, but I think we’re probably more in tune with that as well.
We feel like we’re still a work in progress and we do need time to think and reflect, but I certainly don’t see this sitting by itself, ’We’ve done that, and we’ve finished now’. I think this is, ‘We did a little bit of that, now we want to do a lot more’. The project was just a small snippet to see how we went. I want to be part of this journey, so I’m excited to see what happens next year. And you know, it was so great to have two of us being involved in this project. I know we wouldn’t have ever done anything this deep without being in a project working together, we were empowered to do it, being accountable as well helps. It was inspiring, but it was also really valuable to connect with the other sites at workshops. And I really enjoyed the end-of-year conference, it was so interesting to see everybody’s project and where they went, all so different.
I’m so excited to keep going. I can see the importance and the value in the culturally responsive pedagogies and I want it to be part of everything we do here. We just need to connect to the life of the learners first. I think that’s in my head the whole time, how do we connect more with the life-worlds of our children over lots of things. And for early childhood I think that’s really important to remember we’re working with the youngest children and to keep teachers in early childhood developing and growing as educators. It was such rich learning for us.