A Teacher's Journey: Shifting Theoretical Positions in Early Childhood Education


Hunt, Elizabeth Joy 2017. A Teacher's Journey: Shifting Theoretical Positions in Early Childhood Education. Thesis https://doi.org/10.26199/5b877a90ba292
AuthorsHunt, Elizabeth Joy
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This thesis is a self-study conducted from an insider perspective that chronicles the changes I made to my work practices as I moved from using a developmental to a cultural-historical theoretical approach in my teaching.

Early childhood teachers are faced with differing theoretical perspectives with which to work as described within the Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR, 2009). There are still many teachers within the field who have been solely trained in Piaget‟s constructivist theory. Many of these teachers are not able to access newer information that easily explains how to alter their practices as most of the information is presented from an outsider‟s position. New teachers may have a basic knowledge of a variety of theorists but still have minimal knowledge of how to actually put the theory into action within their practices.

An investigation of current literature revealed reports from an outsider‟s perspective on how cultural-historical theory might benefit a child‟s learning through the use of specific aspects of the theory. There is an emphasis on the importance of play and imagination and the use of the Zone of Proximal Development. However, there are few reports on how the educator might use these theoretical concepts in practice. Consequently, there was minimal support available to me via readings to assist my changing theoretical base. This thesis, therefore, aims to fill the knowledge gap and provide an insider‟s viewpoint of what to include from Vygotsky‟s cultural-historical theory to mediate teaching practice.

This thesis presents three findings that the teacher can focus on to mediate practice. These are (1) Practices of interpretation and interaction; (2) Practices of tool adaptation; and (3) Practices of temporality. The practices of interpretation and interaction have put the focus onto the teacher to support the child‟s learning and knowledge development. This is also a focus within the EYLF (DEEWR, 2009) as there is the expectation for the teacher to be involved with the child through intentional teaching and teacher-led play. Practices of interpretation require the teacher to consider the importance of the stages of imagination for the child‟s development – and positions that can be used to support the child‟s learning – such as giving the child practical help to achieve a task, or working in an “under” position to enable the child to practise newly learnt skills as well as enabling the social situation of development to begin. Practices of interaction require the teacher to be involved with the child, and this can be through sustained conversations with the child as well as using the positions to support the child‟s learning and development. Practices of interaction also involve the teacher considering the child‟s position within the Zone of Proximal Development and so work with the child to support the learning that is possible. Practices of tool adaptation require the teacher to reconsider what materials are supplied to support the child, to consider the multi-purpose of the tools, and consider the importance and use of technologies to support the child‟s learning. Practices of temporality is the surprising concept discovered by this research. It focuses on two lines; that of the teacher as well as the child. The teacher needs to take time to learn and understand the new theoretical framework and how to use it within her practices as well as providing time for the child to learn and develop. The child needs the time to progress through the stages of imagination and develop play to the point where it is mature play and becomes a leading activity for the child.

An important finding from this insider perspective is the influence of the dialectic that is important for Vygotsky‟s cultural-historical theory. Outsider research acknowledges the dialectic, but minimal work has been undertaken to describe how it works in practice. This thesis shows the dialectic at work through the three practices; in particular, how one practice can dominate over the other practices and how this dominance can shift depending on the circumstances. This knowledge can support the teacher to understand how to more effectively provide optimal learning opportunities for the children she is educating.

PublisherACU Research Bank
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26199/5b877a90ba292
Research GroupInstitute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education (ILSTE)
Publisher's version
Publication dates01 Apr 2017
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