Monash University
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Assessment in New Zealand early childhood education : a Bakhtinian analysis of toddler metaphoricity

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posted on 2017-01-13, 01:55 authored by White, Elizabeth Jane
This thesis is located within the context of contemporary New Zealand early childhood education assessment discourse which invites teachers to notice, recognise and respond to children’s learning by responding to multiple voices. In this location I interrogate the dialogic nature of interpretation. To do this I dialogue with an early childhood education teacher and parent(s) as together we seek to notice and recognise the metaphoric acts of two toddlers in an early childhood education and care setting. I draw extensively on the dialogic philosophy of Mikhail Bakhtin and his notion of utterance as the unit of analysis. Consistent with this philosophy, I employ genre as the central framework for analysis in order to explore the oriented use of language in which metaphoricity can or cannot be seen. Bakhtin’s promotion of artistic appreciation, underpins this approach, requiring participants to suspend finalising judgments in favour of polyphony – where ‘voices’ are viewed as complex, internal/external, organic, interanimated and potentially transgressive. With this philosophical stance, metaphoricity can be viewed as a social, aesthetic and deeply embued act and a communicative exchange that generates a degree of incongruity, surprise or wonderment in its delivery. The results of the study highlight the deeply ethical and confronting nature of early childhood education assessment discourse, revealing the dilemmas facing toddlers, parents and teachers when authoritative discourse permeates pedagogy. I claim that metaphoricity, and its potential to illuminate assessment, can only be seen when adults are open to multiple genres, their orientation and symbolic potential. Conversely, when language acts are interpreted as merely transmissive and fixed within adult culture, the symbolic quality of the act is dismissed or ignored. As such, this thesis suggests that uncertainty is an essential feature of assessment practice. In this state adults are able to appreciate toddlers as personalities at play rather than objectified characters in monologically constructed centre narratives that are based on ‘activities’. The implications for early childhood pedagogy that arise from this investigation suggest that meaningful assessment practice is a more complex process than official New Zealand education discourse and praxis would suggest. One of the greatest challenges for assessment is that it requires adults to take both insider and outsider positions, and to embrace ideologies that exist within internally persuasive discourse. When freed up through dialogue, competing discourses re-caste the early childhood education curriculum, and learning, as negotiable, contestable and open-ended. In this location, teachers can dialogue with the priorities of families, and toddlers as dialogic subjects in their own right, in conjunction with their own appreciative and detailed inquiries. Seen in this light assessment offers an important ‘transitory gift’ to other, but does not finalise the child or their learning. The affordance given to adults by toddlers through their genres invites teachers to linger over everyday acts and their symbolic qualities, as a central means of communication for children of this age. This process of dialoguing together, embracing uncertainty while recognising the significance of assessment as authorship in the lives of young children and their families, lies at the heart of dialogic pedagogy. As a commitment to transformative and creative meaning-making, this thesis concludes that such pedagogy is essential if toddlers are to be noticed, recognised and responded to in early childhood education settings. Accompanying DVD not available online. Manuscript is accompanied by the DVD, available via the Monash University Library catalogue.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Joce Nuttall

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Education (Peninsula)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education