I often find that the best opportunities for learning arise from conversations my students initiate themselves. By encouraging and guiding my students’ conversations, I work to bring out their natural curiosity and build their analytical skills.
Here is an example of a recent student-initiated conversation about an earthworm they discovered on the playground:
Child A: Is he dead? He’s not moving.
Child B: No, he’s sleeping.
Child C (asking me): Ying Laoshi, do worms need to take a bath?
Child D: Do worms eat? Can they talk?
Me (asking other nearby students): Do you think worms have mouths?
Child E: No, because they’re too small.
Me: If it has no mouth, then it can’t eat, if it can’t eat, can it live?
Child D: Then how can we know?
Me: Let’s look for the answer together.
In this conversation, students took on the role of inquirers, showing great curiosity about the world around them. When they ask questions, they take an active role in their own learning. They learn about the world by seeking information and building connections between their previous knowledge and the new questions.
When your child asks you questions, take on the role of a facilitator, and help to push the conversation further. Instead of just answering your child's questions, guide them to think about the answers themselves by answering them with another question.
When I asked my students, "do you think worms have mouths?", I was trying to encourage them to take a closer look at the worm, giving them time to make a connection with any previous knowledge they had about small animals or insects.
At school, when students generate their own questions, we often work together in class to research their answers. Children are always especially engaged and enthusiastic when they are working to answer questions they came up with themselves. During the process, partner with your child to co-construct knowledge together.
To answer our questions about earthworms, we read books together, researched on the Internet, and watched documentary videos. Students were not just learning facts about worms, but more importantly, they were building skills as independent learners. We want children to develop a passion and ability for learning on their own. As a teacher, this is my goal for each of my students.
Asking questions is a very effective strategy for learning in the early years. Here are five ways to engage in this type of inquiry with your child at home:
- Model how to ask a question. The best way to get children to do something is to start to do it ourselves first.
- Ask open-ended questions to continue the dialogue and stimulate children's thinking processes.
- Ask one question at a time, so they can focus on that question and not become confused or distracted.
- Give them time to think about your question. Younger children have smaller vocabularies, and they need time to express themselves clearly.
- Always refer back. This helps children to build connections with their prior knowledge, and it is the foundational skill for their future learning.
Take a deeper look at your child’s questions. Every question can become a learning opportunity, as long as we take time to listen to it and respond to it.
*In 2020, the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) formally changed its name to Silicon Valley International School (INTL) to better reflect its bilingual programs, location, and international values.