Friday, 28 December 2007

Inquisitivity - what is it?

Recently I was asked to look at a science project for primary children. In it, photos of animal faces were provided so that questions could be asked about why ear, nose, ears, horns were the way they were.

To my way of thinking the lesson plan was to provide answers which the teacher could encourage the children to ‘find’. A bank of suitable photos were provided with answers.

"We've got a background with a Kenyan person and a fire in the front"

In theory my approach to teaching is not to provide answers.

One of the main reasons that I went into teaching was because I enjoyed trying to get inside the head of young minds (well any minds) to find out what sense they were making of the world around them.

To do this one has to suspend what one believes and try to understand what they are 'seeing'. I do this by asking genuine questions to understand what they see and the sense they make of it all.

This is the way they learnt language, I assume, - without being taught - not a teacher in sight!

Youngsters presumably have this tremendous ability of making sense of the world when to they come to school. But who do they meet there but people who 'know' the answers and in many cases from then on the children's ability to figure things out for themselves becomes secondary to listening carefully to what they are being 'taught'.

And I would label this way of teaching as being taught not to think for yourself. Learn to accept that teachers and parents 'know' the answers. Here teachers and parents are promoting 'training'.

Training is valuable perhaps, education as I would want to define it is far more so. The latter one develops an ability to question, analyse, make predictions - get them wrong,change them again, - have a view of one's own - thinking, reasoning, using logic, is far, far more valuable to both the individual and to the society around that individual. Too often society can't cope with this being who wants to continuously question. "For God's sake lets get the three times table learnt" - "come on now, what is three times eight ? " . . .

I would not want to present information on a plate ie banks of photos as this very choice assumes that the photos chosen are the appropriate ones to look at. I prefer to encourage children to look out on the world of pictures through Google and Youtube and try to make sense of what they find. The role of the teacher would then be to encourage questioning and logic to derive conclusions. These could be radically different to the commonly held views of scientists who may never have really examined their beliefs but just regurgitating what they in turn 'learnt'.

I love lessons where the whole time is used by asking questions and preferably where the teacher doesn't manipulate/guide the exploration but has the confidence to follow the logic of the exploration. Yes and help to maintain logic and clear thinking - assisting the process , not the end . . . .

I would hope that children leave school at the end of the day with loads of unanswered questions and preferably some that 'teacher' doesn't know the answers to! What pride to be able to return next day with your answer - amazing the things you can find out with Google - but then was this true . . . . .?

"Is it easy? Quite easy, we do struggle a lot though. It's not worth the struggle - well it's worth it when it's all finished but when we're not finished, I don't think it is."

To convey what is generally accepted as 'knowledge' is to my mind training.

To encourage questions with many unanswered is what I call education. It leads to a totally different motivation towards learning - one where children and adults are emotionally motivated to finding things out - something that can stay with us all our lives.

I cannot reconcile this approach with lessons that are too structured, neither am I happy with ICT that uses software that is in any way restrictive - where activities are done FOR the student without the opportunity for them to take charge themselves and not do it the way that is presented but rather to change the way something is done so as to arrive at a completely different result that may be different to what everyone else in the class has done.

True, very few children may do this - could it be because inquisitivity has been drummed out of them with "Listen carefully children. Do this, then that, then the other and you will have done it 'right'."

If you are a person who is also exploring similar issues or knows anybody who likes exploring this type of issue, I'd love to make contact with you/them - I would greatly benefit from having others with whom to explore these thoughts and see where they lead and what the limitations are.

My email is gd at


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