The language of inquiry

We’re taking time to read a poem. There’s some difficult language.

“I see ‘faux pas,’ I am curious what it means..” muses one boy.

Several classmates immediately pipe up.

“It’s French..”

“Pas means not, so it’s not something…”

“I wonder, what is ‘faux’?”

In the background I ponder the first student’s use of language. He didn’t say “I don’t know” he saw something and was curious. He invited a conversation not about the right answer, but on making connections to prior knowledge and opening up further questioning.

And now I had a question.

How often do teachers hear the phrase “I don’t know” each day?

  • “I don’t know how to spell …”
  • “I don’t know where my book is.”
  • “I don’t know how to put a title on my iMovie…”

Did you spot the pattern? It’s of dependence, not curiosity. It’s a child looking for a fix, usually from an adult. What has the child learned by asking that question? When they sound the “I don’t know” alarm all they need to do is wait for the firetruck to show up.

Today’s interaction made me wonder.

As a teacher am I both arsonist and the firefighter by quickly answering the “I don’t know..” alarm with a “how might we find out…?”

“I am curious” invites conversation and genuine collaboration. The phrase creates an environment for children to make connections to their ideas and those of their peers.  It enables children to be an active participant in constructing meaning rather than relying on the teacher for the answer.

As an inquiry teacher I used to think that inquiry meant harnessing the power of the “I don’t know.”

Now I think developing a culture where children take time to see and reflect on what they see before they think and wonder breathes life into that PYP attitude of curiosity hanging on the wall.


3 thoughts on “The language of inquiry

Add yours

  1. Love this! So glad you’re “back” 🙂
    I’m not a teacher anymore but regularly find myself problem solving for students instead of making them do it themselves. I great reminder for me, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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