NZ study tour

NZ Early Education Through the Eyes of US Head Start Content Manager, Judi Stevenson-Garcia

“(New Zealand) educators enjoy being with children and respect them as young people who bring value to the world. This is clearly reflected in the curriculum and assessment practices.”

Judi Stevenson-Garcia

The winner of the 2019 Educa New Zealand study tour was New Jersey-based Judi Stevenson-Garcia, senior manager of content development at the National Center for Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning (NCECDTL), supporting best practices in Head Start and Early Head Start programs. In her role, Judi focuses on assessment and assessment practices.

Judi and Kelly Goodsir on New Zealand ECE Study Tour
Judi and Kelly Goodsir enjoying a meal on the NZ Study Tour

Run by Kelly Goodsir, the NZ study tour included workshops, center visits and participation in the Learning Stories Conference.

Educa sat down with Judi recently to hear about her experiences.  As you will read, the trip was illuminating for Judi, particularly in her particular area of interest, assessment.

The Power of Language

“The purpose of assessment is to build the identity of the child and to support the child in understanding who he/she is as a learner.”
Wendy Lee

Judi came away from this trip with new language to talk about childhood assessment.

Wendy Lee said the purpose of assessment is to build the identity of the child and to support the child in understanding who they are as a learner. As an expert in early childhood education, Judi appreciates this perspective, putting the child’s identity and learning first in the goals for assessment.

“This was not a shift in my perspective because it is everything I agree with, but it’s nice to put words around it.”

Respect for Children as Individuals

The language of assessment guides practice in New Zealand. Judi commented that “Educators enjoy being with children and respect them as young people who bring value to the world. This is clearly reflected in the curriculum and assessment practices.”

Initially, New Zealand’s ECE guiding document read “we expect children to grow up as capable and competent.” After discussions, the new document was revised to “we expect children to be capable and competent.” This subtle yet impactful shift in language illustrates the degree of respect educators have for young children now.

Assessments with Heart

“There’s so much feeling in these learning stories… I was amazed at how they jump off the page!”
Judi Stevenson-Garcia

In New Zealand, educators use learning stories to assess in formative and authentic ways. Instead of highlighting deficits in a child’s education, learning stories illuminate children’s learning dispositions and individual journeys. While looking at learning stories in centers in New Zealand, Judi commented that she was “amazed at how rich the stories are and how they jump off the page!”

Also unlike checklist assessment, “there’s so much feeling in these stories.”

Because teaching young children is an emotional endeavor, it makes sense that educators would use this type of language. “These stories are emotional. It contrasts sharply with approaches to assessment that are more focused on being objective and factual.”

In New Zealand, tests and checklists do not “define the child.” Instead, learning stories emphasize the child’s potential.

In New Zealand, tests and checklists do not “define the child.” Instead, learning stories emphasize the child’s potential.

Translating vs. Interpreting

In New Zealand, educators write guiding documents in both Maori and English. The Maori version is not a simple linguistic translation but instead a cultural interpretation of the document.  The guiding principles are written in two languages and interpreted differently because there are words and language in context that simply don’t translate.

While looking through child portfolios, Judi noticed that the children at these centers came from diverse backgrounds. She was impressed with the ways that family traditions and language were incorporated into the learning stories and center activities.

At each center Judi visited, she saw the underlying vision clearly and yet “each center implemented this vision uniquely.” She appreciates the guidance these programs receive while still having permission to create spaces at centers that reflect the input from their children and families.

“You can tell that the children had an influence on the programs. That’s unique. It was clear that children and families help shape the environments.”

Theory Is Practice

“Everywhere we went, children wanted to show us their portfolios.”

Judi was excited to see NZ theories in practice. “So many times you go to a conference and you think ‘that’s great,’ but I can’t imagine that idea in practice. It was great to hear the NZ approach and then see it.”

“Everywhere we went, children wanted to show us their portfolios. They were so excited to share their stories with us.”

Indoor Outdoor Play Spaces
Indoor-outdoor play spaces in New Zealand’s ECE classrooms

In each center, outdoor spaces seemed like a natural extension of the classrooms, rather than a separate play space. “I think the inclusion of so many natural materials in the indoor spaces also contributed to that seamless feeling.”

And although each center Judi visited had a slightly different environment, the overarching theme was welcoming nature into the classroom. “It was a bit like what I saw in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Indoor-outdoor spaces are key.”

Intentionality

At the conference, Judi found the following quote by Lorraine Sands to be particularly inspirational: “Find the thing you love because the thing you love will take you to places you haven’t explored yet.”

“I love early childhood, especially the practice of observing and documenting children’s learning. That led me to Educa and then to New Zealand – a place I hadn’t explored yet! I’m hoping to continue pursuing, with greater intentionality, what it is that I love about ECE and continue exploring.”

 

Judi concluded our talk with the following sincere statement about her experience on the NZ study tour:

I am extremely grateful to Educa and Kelly Goodsir for this amazing learning opportunity. And to the learning stories experts, early childhood colleagues from NZ and Australia who attended the conference and the tour, and the staff and children who so graciously welcomed us into their programs. I felt welcomed from the moment I landed and appreciated the warmth & hospitality I received from everyone I encountered. I hope to have the privilege of returning someday in the future. 

Learn more about past NZ study tour winners and about New Zealand ECE here.

One Comment

  1. Holly

    It is great to know NZ ECE educators approach clearly reflects respect and trust in the young learners. This is best understood only when someone form outside can see it.

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