Often when I was a homeroom teacher I would do tuning-in activities with my students at the beginning of a unit of inquiry with the aim of showing me where the students were currently in their understanding of the concepts we were going to explore. At this point I wasn’t really looking for answers, but just for dialogue, so that I would know what the students were thinking and why they were thinking that. From that prior understanding the students would be moving forward, exploring and inquiring to build new knowledge. At the beginning of a unit of inquiry all students have some knowledge and therefore it’s important to find out what the students are thinking and to value their opinions – even if what they think they know is wrong. For me as a teacher it was often hard to accept answers or opinions that I knew were incorrect – but I also knew that I had to accept them. If I started off by correcting them and they just accepted my explanations, then where was the inquiry and how could students construct their own knowledge? If I told them that their ideas were incorrect then the message I was sending them was that their opinions were not valued, whereas what I wanted was for them to feel that it was OK not to have the right answers and that they shouldn’t be afraid to take a risk and say what they were thinking – that it was fine to wonder and not to know everything and that we could all learn from each other. If students’ misconceptions could be challenged by others in the class and if that challenge led to new ways of thinking, so much the better. Of course some students were very resistant to these challenges while others were more open-minded to the views of others. I remember seeing an interview with a school principal a couple of years ago who said that some children learn quicker than others and that this could be because they are more open to having their opinions changed. In an inquiry based classroom, asking students what they think and accepting all their answers definitely makes them more open-minded and also more open to changing their minds to develop new and deeper levels of understanding.
Photo Credit: Son and Moon by Swissrolli