Popping the Question

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.




About sandralbecker

An educator who is passionate about the creation of a school Learning Commons, which supports inquiry, critical thinking, and collaboration.
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4 Responses to Popping the Question

  1. kelasher says:

    You have clearly articulated the challenges which many of us are finding ourselves faced with through this journey of Inquiry & ICT. Your discussion of the Reggio philosophy and the seemingly effortless use of inquiry indeed generates thought provoking questions about our system of schooling. In reading your post, I began to wonder about report cards. Do you think that our need to pull kids back and direct the learning results from the structures in which we are required to assess student achievement of specified learner outcomes of a mandated curriculum? If we focus our assessment on students as learners rather than on what they have learned, would we be less likely to constrain their natural curiosity and honour them as individual thinkers? I think it may be valuable to explore assessment practices which support or hinder the inquiry process as we continue our inquiry.

  2. A thoughtful and insightful post. I had similar questions about the implications for assessment. If we are asking students to “drill deep” through inquiry, is it possible to align that type of learning with the traditional assessment that we still engage in?

    I wonder if you are feeling pressured with the intensive two-week time frame of the course? Or if you value “time to ponder”? I wouldn’t blame you if you did. I am a ponderer myself and find myself anxious and exasperated when I feel I have to engage in deep thinking with a timer ticking down.

    If it is helpful, I want to assure you that I recognize that the “pondering” element is all but impossible in such a short course. We do what we can, which is always evolving. We strive for excellence within a given set of limitations, but never for perfection. At least, not in this class. Actively engaging in the journey is key.

    I appreciate that you gave yourself permission to use your blog as a space to ask questions and reflect.

  3. caroleware says:

    Sandra – I enjoyed reading your blog post. The work done in Reggio Emilia has helped to guide my practice in the past 10+ years. I’m glad you touched on the importance of documentation in this approach.

    In our team taught kindergarten classroom, one of us would document our group conversations using Microsoft word. Initially, I saw the benefit of documenting in this way as a guide to thinking, questions and helpful to find entry points for inquiry work. In working with my last teaching partner who was strongly educated/grounded in the Reggio philosophy, I saw a connection to how important these documented conversations could be when sitting down to write our report cards. We could take a look and see concretely; what kinds of questions students had, the depth of their understanding, the ability to listen to others and debate or add to their understanding, who was contributing in group discussions, etc. It was a real “light bulb” moment for me!

    Many years ago I took an introductory grad level course on the Reggio Emilia Philiosophy taught by Dr. Pat Tarr which begun my journey. I always thought that documentation was to help parents understand what was happening within the classroom as well as to guide our teaching, but had not seen this other important use: for assessment! In “Documentation and
    Assessment: What is the Relationship?” in the book, Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners., Carlina Rinaldi writes, ” Assessment is an intrinsic part of documentation and, therefore, of the entire approach of what we call progettazione.” (Gandini & Kaminsky, 2004) Especially in classrooms with young learners, that formative assessment is so rich to help us guide our work and speak about our students as learners.

    You said, ‘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?” I think there can be a balance between what we as professionals are mandated to teach and to really honour our students questions and thinking. Sometimes they will ask the questions and guide the inquiry, other times we will need to be the ones to guide the inquiry. We often ask our students, “What questions and thoughts do you have about ______________?” They draw and (some) write about the topic, then we scribe any additional thinking on their pages. This allows us to see individual thinking and questions and after reflection and thought, decide how to facilitate/introduce the work.

    I’ll leave you with this thought from Loris Malaguzzi (the founder of the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy), “Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by; instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water.” (Gandini, 1998)

    Edwards, C., L. Gandini and G. Forman (1998) The Hundred Languages of Children: The
    Reggio Emilia Approach – Advanced Reflections, 2nd edn. London: Ablex.

    Gandini, L., & Kaminsky, J.A. (2004). Reflections on the relationship between documentation and assessment in the American context: An interview with Brenda Fyfe. Innovations in Early
    Education The International Reggio Exchange, 11(1), 5–17.

    • What great idea to have one team member document, while the other guides the conversation. I think because we are just learning how to do this, we would need a fairly structured approach to documentation. Did you find that? I can definitely see how this documentation would be insightful when writing report cards. Though I think most teachers really know their kids, this would provide such rich evidence. By the way, the last quote is beautiful – it’s a keeper!

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