Environments of Inquiry

April 14, 2015

How does one create an environment of inquiry in the pre-k classroom?  What happens when children participate in open-ended discussions using art images that engage their interests and concerns?

Here is an excerpt from a discussion with four-year-olds focused on an image of Picasso’s Child with a Dove:

Facilitator: What’s happening in this picture?
Adam: There’s a boy.
Facilitator: You’re noticing this figure in the center, and you’re thinking it might be a boy. What are you looking at that is making you think it’s a boy?
Adam: Boys have hair like that.
Facilitator: So you’re noticing the hairstyle and it reminds you of the way a boy might wear his hair. What more can we find?
Bella: Uh ah, it’s a girl!
Facilitator: Bella has another idea about the child and she thinks it might be a girl.
Bella: No, it IS a girl!
Facilitator: Bella, what do you see that is making you say girl?
Bella: She has a dress.
Facilitator: So the outfit is your clue and it reminds you of a girl’s dress. What more can we find?
Bella: It is!
Facilitator: Marta, I see your hand is up. What’s happening here?
Marta walks over to the image and points at the ball, smiles at Facilitator.
Facilitator: Marta noticed that there is a ball near the bottom left of the picture. What more can we find in this image? Jon, what more?
Jon: Zoe is a girl and she has short hair.
Facilitator: You’ve been thinking hard about this person and notice Zoe sitting next to you, wears her hair short, so perhaps it’s a girl. Pieter, I see your hand up. What more can you find?
Pieter: Those are boy shoes. It’s a boy.
Facilitator: We have a different clue from the clothes. Bella thinks it’s a girl because of the dress, and you noticed the style of shoes and speculate it might be a boy. We have a few different ideas about who this child might be. What more can we find, Junie?
Junie: What’s she holding?
Facilitator: Junie is looking at another part of the picture and wondering what this might be? Facilitator is pointing at object in figure’s hands.
And so it continued, the total discussion was approximately 15 minutes. The discussion strategy is VTS. For more information go to www.vtshome.org

What did you notice?

Did you notice how the facilitator maintained neutrality and was able to include all the children’s responses?  Neutrality combined with the developmentally appropriate open-ended questions, permitted a child with limited vocabulary as well as a child capable of articulating evidential reasoning to participate.  An age-appropriate four-year-old’s rigid thinking was evident as well as responses from a child able to consider multiple perspectives.  All responses were paraphrased to validate the child, to offer vocabulary, build fluency and communication skills.  All responses were viewed as ideas for the group to consider and wonder about.

Pre-K teachers, who learn how to facilitate image discussions in this manner, comment that they find themselves transferring open-ended questions to other curriculum activities.  They mention how much they learn about their students from listening carefully to their ideas, a skill essential for planning activities and documenting cognitive and socio-emotional growth.  And they notice children slowing down to look more carefully, listen to multiple ideas, problem solve and spend time wondering and discovering.

Imagine how learning to listen, to observe carefully, to have ideas and respectful discussion skills prepares a child for kindergarten and beyond!  After all what we learn when we are young, we carry with us through life.

Listening to a child say respectfully without hesitation, “I have a different idea. I think this could be….”, reminds me of a quote from Carlina Rinaldi, a former pedagogista and an education professor in Reggio Emila.

“Real listening requires the suspension of judgment and prejudice.  The relationship between peace and prejudice concerns the ability or disability to be good listeners.  This is where education for peace begins.  There is a connection with the pedagogy of listening. Peace is a way of thinking, learning and listening to others, a way of looking at differences as an element of connection, not separation. Peace is a way of remembering that my point of view is not the best and I need that of others.  Here we find roots of participation in school as a place to encounter differences.  We must have courage to share, to agree or disagree.  Listening provides the opportunity for professional development and human development.”

– Rinaldi, C. (2004). The Relationship between Documentation and Assessment. Innovations in Early Education: the international reggio exchange, NAREA, Vol. 11 (No. 1), pages 1-4.

Listening to each other is a key to citizenship, a key to respecting and appreciating differences. Listening enables us to build strong communities and opens up a multitude of opportunities for learning and growing.

-Dori Jacobsohn, M.Ed, April 14, 2015

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