Understanding the Link between Context and Curriculum Change in Early Years Education

O DONOGHUE, Margaret (2019). Understanding the Link between Context and Curriculum Change in Early Years Education. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00211

Abstract

The role of context in relation to curriculum enactment in early childhood education is generally under-researched and under-theorised. This thesis explores the pedagogical approaches of early childhood education teachers in Ireland. It examines the implications of two policy documents: Aistear (NCCA, 2009), the early childhood curriculum framework, and the new primary language curriculum (DES, 2016). The new curriculum has both implicit and explicit links with Aistear. Aistear advocates a pedagogy that involves learning through play and allows the child some autonomy in the learning process. Given the policy recommendation that the principles of Aistear be integrated into enactment of the primary curriculum, this study formulated two research questions: How do primary school teachers understand and implement Aistear? How can primary school teachers be supported to enact the new primary language curriculum in relation to Aistear within their contextual settings? The study is situated within a social constructivist paradigm and takes an interpretivist approach to the research endeavour. Purposive sampling was employed to identify and select two primary schools as case studies. The research participants were two teachers and the principal from each school. Data was generated primarily through in depth interviewing and classroom observations, although documentary, school website, and photographic data was also considered. Data analysis identified three key contextual dimensions to be considered in the enactment of policy: teachers’ understanding of Aistear and play; pedagogical approach; and, leadership; and these form the structure of the discussion chapter. The study found that the teachers and the principals understood Aistear to be something separate from the curriculum which they described and enacted as “Aistear Hour” or “Aistear Time”. A gap was identified between the teachers’ descriptions of their pedagogical approaches and the practices observed in their classrooms. While the study participants in both schools acknowledged the importance of play in enhancing children’s learning experiences, they doubted that the children were ‘really’ learning through play and tended to direct the play towards activities that would meet the curriculum objectives. v Aistear and the new curriculum promote the individuality of children’s cultural identity and the need for teachers to support and celebrate the language of children for whom English is an additional language. The study found that the teachers did not have the time to get to know these children and their priority was to get the curriculum objectives covered. A predominantly didactic approach was adopted by the teachers in both schools. The children were given very limited choice or voice in guiding their learning, and any choices they were given were teacher-led. The teachers were given limited training on how the principles of Aistear might be integrated into the curriculum, and were afforded limited opportunities for collaborative discussion. Based on the study findings and informed by learnings and insights gained through the research, I designed a model of practice to serve as a practical tool for teachers in the enactment of Aistear within the new primary language curriculum. This model will also inform future action research projects I intend to undertake.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Director of studies: Caron Carter
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00211
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2019 10:51
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2019 13:15
URI: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/25122

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