Supporting children's working theories in early childhood education: what is the teacher's role?

Hargraves, Victoria
Grey, Anne
Item type
Degree name
Master of Education
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

‘Working theories’ are recognised as a significant outcome within the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996), and yet there is a notable lack of research into how this particular way of constructing knowledge is understood and informs teachers’ roles.

This thesis documents the growth in understanding and practice that occurred as a result of my self-study, as an early childhood teacher, into teaching practices which support children to articulate and develop their ‘working theories’. Theoretical perspectives considered for the illumination of this under-theorised concept include cognitive constructivism, sociocultural theory and complexity theory. Drawing on the findings from the observation of my own teaching over four episodes, some insights about the way that children seem to form working theories in this context, and the nature of their working theories are put forward. The methodological approach was informed by complexity theory, which recognises teaching as a complex act in an ‘open’ system (C. Robson, 2002), and ‘living theories’ methodology (Whitehead & McNiff, 2006, p.9). Both supported me to reject the possibility of any one view of best practice (B. Davis, Sumara, & Luce-Kapler, 2000) and instead offer a personal account of the way that I am seeking to realise my educational values through my practice (McNiff, 1993). Important concepts which helped me to explain and understand my own teaching practices in supporting children to develop working theories are offered, with key teaching roles conceptualised as ‘supporting visibility’ and ‘extending depth and breadth’, within ‘open and focused themes’ and a ‘context for sharing ideas’. A metaphor is introduced, and the findings of the research related to conceptions of thought as a rhizomatic act (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). The study thus offers multiple possibilities to support teachers to reflect upon their own practice engaging with children’s emerging theories.

Working theory , Early childhood , Living theory , Complexity theory , Teacher role
Publisher's version
Rights statement