Theses Doctoral

Children's Agency within Emergent Curriculum: A Case of Networked Interests

Leu, Kuan-Hui

Children’s interests are often used as a rationale in child-centered approaches to build emergent curriculum that is tailored to young children’s motivations for learning. Against a neoliberal backdrop of standardized learning objectives, emergent curriculum appeals to children’s interests to foster children’s agency through building curriculum alongside teachers. However, research on children’s interests calls for further development of theory regarding children’s interests as the concept may be conceptualized narrowly in research and practice.

This study explored the concept of children’s interests within a child-centered preschool classroom at a private university-based school that implements emergent curriculum. I used critical childhoods studies and Actor Network Theory as analytic and theoretical frames for conceptualizing children’s interests as socially and materially constructed among networks of both human and nonhuman actors. The findings are presented as a case study of a Store project that was developed based on children’s interests in money, stores, and ice cream. Fieldnotes and memos from participant observation, artifacts, and teacher documentation were used to map actor networks acting upon one another in the development of the Store project.

Through the tracing of the material and semiotic transformations of money, stores, and ice cream, I argue that children exhibited agency through expressions of resistance that were made viable in network with material and other nonhuman actors. Children sought free interests that circulated outside the frames of the Store project’s currency by networking with red shoes, emptied bookshelves, and lollipops. Even as teachers supported and sustained the interest-based Store project toward real learning goals through eliciting children’s feedback and sense of duty, children offered silence as well as critique of the shopkeeper/customer dichotomy as resistance. As such, I propose that children exhibit agency through resistance in the process of redefining their interests within the contexts of their particular childhoods.

Implications of the findings explore ways that children’s interests are situated within and propulsive toward particular childhoods and markets of labor futures. Though non-publicly funded child-centered settings that adopt emergent curriculum are partially sheltered from neoliberal demands on proffering real learning outcomes, they are networked within a neoliberal context through their positions within markets of schooling.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Yoon, Haeny S.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2021