The comments from Rachel Bolstad and NZteacher both point to the kinds of questions children ask. Ideally (in my mind) we want children to ask questions and find problems that are consistent with the ‘whole game’ they are playing – whether that is the game of science, mathematics, or – in the example I gave – literary criticism.
If students are playing the whole game of literary criticism we want them to ask the types of questions of text that literary critics ask. The question asked by the students I observed – whether or not there really was a lion in the meadow – is a good example. It concerns the relationship between story and ‘reality’, and would not be out of place in a post-graduate English class. These children were also finding answers to their problem in ways consistent with the ‘whole game’ of literary criticism – by drawing on evidence from the text, their prior experiences, and the interpretations of others.
Do children and adults ask different types of questions of text? In my experience they sometimes do and this is usually due to different world views. That’s why I find talking with diverse others (including people of different ages) about a shared book more interesting than talking to people who see the world in much the same way that I do – because sometimes they ask different questions and sometimes they find different answers, or find their answers in different places. For example the children referred to above found another problem they wanted to solve in The Lion in the Meadow that never would have occurred to me. Their question was whether or not the dragon the little boy claims he sees in the meadow at the end of the story is in fact a friendly one (like the lion was). This is a very interesting question (given the ambiguous expression on the dragon’s face) and one I would never have thought to ask. I am now thinking about how we can best work together with children to construct problems and define questions that are consistent with the disciplines in which we are working.
I’m still thinking about the question I asked myself in my earlier posting. I think the main way the learning opportunities I offered my students differed from ‘playing the whole game’ was that my students did not get to be problem finders. According to David Perkins, playing the whole game involves not just problem solving but problem finding that is, figuring out what the problems are in the first place. In the context of subject English, for example, I was good at selecting ambiguous texts with complex problems to solve, but I rarely gave my students the opportunity to be the problem finders – I had already taken for myself the fun and the challenge of finding the problems that I thought were worth solving.
Not so long ago I was involved in a research project where I observed a group of five-year-olds being offered the opportunity to be problem finders. Their teacher dedicated a week to reading and responding to Margaret Mahy’s The Lion in the Meadow and during this time a shared problem emerged from the collective analysis of the text that was child, not teacher, initiated. The problem related to the question of whether or not there really was a lion in the meadow. This problem deeply engaged the students. It was a problem that required thinking, explanation and justification. It was a problem that stimulated the ‘curiosity, discovery, creativity, and camaraderie’ that David Perkins identifies as indicators of a ‘whole game’ activity. I am interested in what being a problem finder in other learning areas might entail. Do you know of any examples?
(You can find out more about this series of lessons here and here.)
In this video NZCER chief researcher Rose Hipkins says getting students to participate in and contribute to the creation of new knowledge is something she has long seen as a dilemma, since she was a classroom teacher. She talks about the entry point session at the 2012 Shifting Thinking Workshop. Read more about this session in Sue McDowall’s previous blogposting.
Work in the field of 21st century learning talks of the need for students to not just ‘receive’ knowledge but to produce it. As an ex- primary school teacher I am curious about what providing students with opportunities to produce knowledge actually means in practice. How do we provide opportunities for seven-year-olds, for example, to produce knowledge and what does it look like when they do? I found David Perkins’ book Making Learning Whole helpful in answering questions like these. You can hear David Perkins talking about some of his ideas here.
In this book David Perkins argues that we need to provide students not just with opportunities to practice skills in isolation, but with opportunities to ‘play the whole game’ of different learning areas. Using baseball as an example, he describes how teachers might go about doing this in the context of school learning, suggesting that for beginners what we need is a good junior version of the game. According to Perkins, organizing learning around a ‘whole game’ involves engaging learners in some kind of inquiry or performance and producing something such as a solution, an image, a story, an essay, or a model. This got me thinking ‘How is this different from what I already did as a teacher?’, at least in the areas I felt most proficient, such as art and subject English.