A Fine Balance: Understanding the Roles Educators and Children Play as Intentional Teachers and Intentional Learners within the Early Years Learning Framework
Leggett, Nicole, Ford, Margot, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood
Influential early childhood programs such as the Reggio Emilia approach (Malaguzzi, 1998), Nature Schools in Scotland (Warden, 2012), Te Whariki in New Zealand (Ministry of Education, 1996) and the many contemporary contexts within Nordic educational systems such as the Swedish National Curriculum (Sandberg & Arlemalm-Hagser, 2011) demonstrate how various countries have responded to local historical, social, environmental, cultural and political conditions. Within these programs is a global recognition that children are viewed as competent beings, thus shifting a deficit discourse to one of empowerment. Furthermore, the programs cited above have a strong social justice framework, reminding us of the rights of young children. Finally there is a contemporary focus on the sociocultural contexts in which young children operate, echoing the need to see young children as individuals who already have complex worldviews.
In Australia, the EYLF with its signature of Belonging, Being and Becoming is no different (DEEWR, 2009). It is the first early childhood national curriculum, which is uniquely identifiable as a national approach in Australia. Integral to the EYLF is intentional teaching, a new emphasis for the approach of Australian early childhood educators. However, there are debates and tensions with this re-emphasis on intentional teaching. This paper sets out to closely examine intentionality and an extension of this concept to encompass the learner as well as the teacher. To further inform the debate, early childhood educators in three Australian centres will outline their understandings of intentional teaching as it relates to their own practice. In conclusion, the paper will argue that a much broader understanding of intentionality is required in its application within an intentional teaching framework.
The role of the intentional teacher requires careful consideration, balancing an intentional curriculum that acknowledges the rights of children's active participation within the teaching/learning nexus. There follows a confirmation of the relationship between teaching and learning with an emphasis on the co-construction of knowledge.
The EYLF presents a definition for intentional teaching based on strategies for teaching developed by Ann Epstein (2007), later adopted by the High Scope approach to early education and care in America It has a history in developmentally appropriate practice within the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in the United States of America. According to Epstein (2007) intentional teaching means that teachers act with specific outcomes or goals in mind for children, requiring wide-ranging knowledge about how children develop and learn. Epstein identifies this process through the combination of child-guided and adult-guided educational experiences and how teachers interact with children. However, the EYLF has eschewed discourses located in developmentally appropriate practices where adults were the primary decision makers of events, in favour of more contemporary approaches drawn from an emergent curriculum philosophy, most notably Reggio Emilia. The EYLF therefore signals the maintenance of a curriculum that has children's interests at its centre, while at the same time introducing outcomes to frame teaching practice. In other words the EYLF is drawing together different ways of operating under one curriculum model, thus creating debates and possible tensions around the roles of the early childhood educator in relation to the child as learner.
The nature of intentionality is at the centre of this debate together with its connection to relationships of power. In the EYLF intentional teaching is defined as 'educators being deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and actions. Intentional teaching is the opposite of teaching by rote or continuing with traditions simply because things have always been done that way' (DEEWR, 2009, p. …