What is pedagogy? What is curriculum?

In 2005, Edwards and Nuttall wrote that:

pedagogy is ultimately about educators’ interpretations, including their response to issues of injustice.” (34)

Traditionally,” they explain, “curriculum is understood as the ‘what’ of early childhood education and pedagogy as the ‘how’. In the most narrow definitions, pedagogy is reduced to the techniques or behaviours that educators employ in the classroom.” (34)

“In our view,” they write, “understandings about pedagogy in early childhood education are complicated, rather than clarified, by the relationship of pedagogy to curriculum. For example, if curriculum is defined as everything that the learner experiences in the educational setting (as in Te Whariki), then surely the educators’ pedagogical actions also form part of the curriculum?” (35) They note that some commentators do find such a distinction useful, though, and cite Siraj-Blatchford, Sylva, Muttock, Gilden,and Bell (2002) as stating: “Curriculum may be understood as denoting all of the knowledge, skills and values that children are meant to learn in educational settings. For many alternative purposes curriculum has also been defined to include all the hidden and/or unintentional learning as well. Pedagogy is often referred to as the practice (or the art, the science or the craft) of teaching but in the early years any adequate conception of educative practice must be wide enough to include the provision of learning environments for play and exploration (Siraj-Blatchford et al., p.27)” (35)

In our respective research with early childhood educators,” Edwards and Nuttall write, “we have come to understand pedagogy as the interpretive response (and subsequent actions) that an educator makes to her or his observations of phenomena and which they understand to constitute the curriculum.” (36)

They assert: “This means that the pedagogy, or the ‘act of teaching’, is not only mediated by educators’ understandings about the children, learning, and the curriculum; their understandings about the social settings in which they work, their personal experiences beyond the workplace, and their engagement with the centre’s wider community all have a role in determining educators’ actions. This definition of pedagogy views the educator as an active interpreter of the context in which she or he works, not just as an interpreter of curriculum guidelines.” (36) They continue, by noting that: “According to Gage (1985, cited in Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2002), this active dimension of pedagogy reveals educators’ ‘ideographic’ knowledge, meaning the ways in which educators understand a particular person or event within a certain teaching context.” (37)

What does this mean?

“When pedagogy is considered as an interpretative process as well as an educational act, questions can be raised about how curriculum framework documents are used in early childhood settings. In the case of Te Whariki, the ideographic aspect of early childhood services is understood as a key source of curriculum construction. Unfortunately, we know very little about how early childhood educators incorporate such knowledge into their pedagogical decision making.” (37)

The freedoms this implies, however, come with moral obligations, as Edwards and Nuttall go on to discuss, with reference to Siraj-Blatchford (2004).


Edwards and Nuttall ask a number of questions in this article, such as:

“What do we mean by pedagogy in early childhood education?” (34)

“Do the principles and strands of Te Whariki, for example, dictate particular approaches to teaching?” (34)

“does the pedagogy of early childhood education represent a distinct form of educational provision?” (34)

“Do you think there is a distinctive pedagogy of early childhood education?” (34)

They ask “whether the division between the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of teaching is entirely useful in early childhood education” (34)… a question still worth thinking about.

“When you think about curriculum arrangements in your centre or service, how do you distinguish between what you intend to be learned and how you will arrange to teach it? Is this a useful distinction?” (35)

Ref: Suzy Edwards and Joce Nuttall (2005) ‘Getting beyond the ‘what’ and the ‘how’: Problematising pedagogy in early childhood education’ Early Childhood Folio 9, pp.34-38 [Note that at the time of publication, both authors were lecturers at Monash University in Melbourne]

Reference is made to: Siraj-Blatchford, I., et al. (2002) Researching effective pedagogy in the early years. Research report RR356. London: Institute of Education, University of London.

Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2004) Quality teaching in the early years. In A. Anning, J. Cullen, & M. Fleer (Eds.), Early childhood education: Society and culture (pp. 137-148). London: SAGE Publications.


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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