Home > Knowledge generation, Workshop 2012 > Finding discipline-related problems, asking discipline-related questions

Finding discipline-related problems, asking discipline-related questions

April 12th, 2012

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.

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  1. Silke
    | #1

    How would a teacher decide if it is a good problem or not ? Hmmm … the question indicates that it is the decision of the teacher, not of the student … an assumption that may be relevant to question in the process of “shifting thinking”.

    Two possible criteria for a question being “good” may be:

    1. If the problem brought forward allows the “investigator” to explore the text or him/herself deeper (without being good at literature I believe that the purpose of exploring a text is that you get to know not only the text better but also yourself – why otherwise explore the text?! … unless of course your teacher tells you to ;-) )
    2. If the problem is brought forward in a state of curiosity and investigation – i.e. the student who puts the question is sincere

    I guess I would judge the value of the problem more on with which energy and intention the problem was put, and less on the nature of the problem.

  2. | #2

    Sue I find your examples really interesting and helpful for developing this idea about students becoming better problem-finders within disciplinary learning. I have so many additional questions – first of all, I am wondering what a not-very-disciplinary-relevant “problem” might look like – for example did you see or can you think of the kind of problem a reader might address in the text that isn’t really taking them closer to being a miniature literary critic? What would a superficial or not-discipline-related problem look like in this context, and how would a teacher decide that it was or wasn’t a good “problem” for readers to have brought to their reading of the text?

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