“What is a question? Everything. It is a way of evoking stimulating response or stultifying inquiry. It is in essence the very core of teaching.” John Dewy
When we engage in conversation with children, we are often are met with stilted responses such as “I don’t know”, “I can’t remember” or “nothing”. Of course as teachers, we know that children are brimming with intriguing ideas and imaginative thoughts, so perhaps if the answers to our questions don’t illuminate our view of the child, we need to reflect on the type of questions we are asking them. So how can we facilitate a dialogue with children that empowers them to share more of their own knowledge? We have to think critically about the questions we pose to children, and the timing of these. One of the key techniques Bear Park’s teaching teams employ it the use of open-ended questions. Questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
For example when children are invited to engage in the garden spaces of the classroom, they may discover an acorn on the ground, instead of asking “What is that?” we might say “What do you think that could be?” If the child or children already have an understanding of what an acorn is, perhaps instead of “What colour is the acorn?” we would consider how to support the child to observe finer details by instead asking “What do you notice about the acorn?” The simple rephrasing of this question shifts the perspective from the child feeling they should perhaps give the ‘correct’ response, and instead opens the opportunity to share more of their thought process with us. At Bear Park teachers’ work is guided by a pedagogy of listening. This means we listen to everything children tells us- not just verbally but through their movements, gestures and creative expressions. While they are engaged in drawing, dancing, using clay, dressing up and role playing or painting, we aspire try to ‘listen’ to what they are telling you through their play.
Cultivating this style of communication takes time, but it can support children to understand that we are truly interested in them, in what they think and how they are building knowledge. Taking the pressure off children to have the ‘right’ answer for our questions creates a more authentic conversation.
It is through this style of listening that find the right questions to use in order to understand their unique and fascinating thought processes.