Friday, January 02, 2009

Teaching for Understanding

By chance I happened onto a book by Stephanie Harvey (1998), titled, Nonfiction matters. In this book I don't know if she ever mentions "open education" networked learning," "elearning" or a host of other buzz words that are common these days, but she has wonderful insights about how to engage young people in what she calls "inquiry." She writes,
"Students and teachers gain understanding through inquiry. Inquiry projects born of learners' passion and curiosity encourage students to understand what they learn, rather than merely retell it. This understanding leads to insight, which occurs to kindergartners as well as Ph.D. candidates. Insight leads to new questions not possible before" (p. 2).
I especially enjoyed her chapter titled "Questions that Compel" in which she makes the case for why it is important to encourage people to ask questions. Here is a sample of some of her thinking--
"Kids have a natural sense of wonder. They wonder about all sorts of things--nothing is too trivial. And knowledge expands because what what kids wonder" (p. 23).
"Students who ask sincere questions become motivated learners who solve problems and perhaps prevent problems in the process. Traditionally, schools have focused on answers to the exclusion of questions. Sincere questions are rare in schools" (p. 26).
In this chapter as well as the rest of the book she provides specific ways for teachers to inspire children to develop questions, pursue answers, and write and present their ideas as they gain insight and understanding.

She concludes her chapter on questions noting,
"Learners are naturally curious. Teachers who invite kids to identify an interest and ask questions about it are rewarded with classrooms filled with excitement, enthusiasm, and wonder. Classrooms like these give students the courage to wonder and take risks that lead to deeper explorations, longer journeys, and more valuable insights. Teachers and schools that celebrate curiosity and value wonder provide the foundation needed for lasting learning to take place. Live the questions. Value the questions. They are the doors to understanding" p. 31).

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