Saturday morning – I’m sitting down to write my second blog post, which according to the class schedule was supposed to be completed yesterday. I want my post to be thoughtful, insightful, helpful to my learning. But in a two week, intensive, graduate level study on inquiry and technology, I’m trying to pop a question out of my brain, and this baby just won’t come. Sure, I have lots of stuff rolling around in my head, about inquiry questions, and inquiry in the arts, and inquiry using technology. Things are happening, but not happening. Having never had children, I think I may have some idea how mothers feel in their fortieth week of pregnancy.
In order to help me think, I turn to the article, “Teachers and Children Inquire into Reggio.” It describes a group of teachers who seek to understand Reggio Emilia philosophy by living it. They begin by observing a master teacher, Kay, in action. The teacher brings in milkweed seeds and the questions seem to flow, as the children test out their ideas. As I read the documentation of the young children’s questions, comments, and actions, I realize their inquiry seems effortless. I wonder if “school” has made the process of inquiry, which looks like it should be natural and organic, into something forced and difficult. By taking ownership of children’s questions in the name of curriculum, have I taken over their way of learning, their way of being? More and more, I sense that listening to the questions, both theirs and mine, is of critical importance. And perhaps I shouldn’t assume that inquiry for children is easy. They just make it look easy, I think, because they are not afraid to say the wrong thing, or to make mistakes. One thing is for sure, though the children’s work seems effortless, the teacher’s does not.
After reviewing the tape, we talked about Kay’s interest in and acceptance of all hypotheses, regard- less of how untenable they may have sounded. We noted her use of questions to prompt kids to articulate their beliefs, the introduction of new specimens that challenged children’s existing theories, her invitation to use art to represent their current thinking, and the tools she provided to promote careful observation. We also examined the documentation panels she brought with her that displayed the history of the inquiry. We realized that, like Kay, we would have to stay one step ahead of our kids, planning next steps that would honor kids as thinkers, yet challenge them to reconsider “misconnections.” (Clyde et al. 2006, p. 217-218)
Documenting student learning is a key part of the Reggio philosophy. It is all about listening to the questions the children ask and moving their inquiry forward. But in life as in inquiry, it is easy to forget to listen. Carol, one of the teachers who is working to understand Reggio in the article, has become a much better listener. Her learning inspires me, because I see myself in her. Under the guise of curriculum, I often feel that I have to “pull kids back.”
Carol talked of her tendency to try to rein kids in when their inquiry expanded to other areas. “I kept thinking I had to pull them back, but the questions they asked were pertinent to what we were doing,” she recalls. “We covered a lot more ground and they maintained their interest because I didn’t pull them back.” (Clyde et al. 2006, p. 219)
Maybe part of my struggle with writing this blog post was that I was not listening to all my questions. I was trying to rein myself in, instead of allowing the inquiry to expand.
Maybe inquiry is not so much about popping the question; it is about listening to and living the questions.
Clyde, J., Miller, C., Sauer, S., Liebert, K., Parker, S. and Runyon, S., (2006). Teachers and Children Inquire into Reggio Emilia. Language Arts. 83(3), pp. 215-226.