As I continue to write my dissertation, I find myself increasingly interested in words, and in particular, their meanings, definitions, and the possible underlying messages they may or may not imply. Last week, as I explored assessment in the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum document and Te Whariki, New Zealand’s Early Childhood Education curriculum, I came across two really interesting words – expectations and goals.
Our Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum outlines overall and specific expectations for students during their time in the kindergarten program, while Te Whariki outlines goals for students. These two small words got me thinking … and even though I know what they both mean, I decided to take a closer look at their definitions:
Expectation – (noun)
- a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
- a belief that someone will or should achieve something.
Goal – (noun)
- the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
When thinking about early childhood education and children as co-constructors of knowledge, I wonder if the term expectations is outdated. The word ‘expectations’ to me implies a hierarchy in the classroom – teachers as keepers of knowledge, students as recipients of that knowledge. We measure our students against a set of predetermined outcomes and while we do our best to meet the individual needs of students, the set of outcomes their learning is quantified with remains the same. By its very nature, an expectation is something you have of someone or something, we cannot reach an expectation with someone.
In contrast, Te Whariki uses the word goals to describe assessment in the curriculum. The word ‘goals’ feels better. To me, goals are something we can work towards with someone; they require effort and encouragement, and once reached, are a cause for celebration. Having ‘goals’ for, and more importantly, with our students implies that we consider them to be active participants in the learning process, and that we share the responsibilities of teaching and learning with them.
It is so interesting to me how two seemingly simple words (expectations vs. goals) can imply different dynamics of teaching and learning. I’d like to think of the expectations found in the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum as goals. While I value the importance of measuring academic achievement in early childhood education, I believe the words we use also reflect our values and beliefs about children and the learning process. What do you think? Are expectations and goals the same thing? Is it just a question of semantics, or do we need to take a closer look at why we use the words we use?