In the know - Answers on a postcard

3rd October 2008 at 01:00

For many of our lessons we need children to gain an understanding of an idea or concept. We know that it's often more successful if children play an active part, rather than the teacher telling or explaining. Guided discovery is a way of achieving this - hopefully with the child thinking that they have discovered it for themselves.

As teachers we want to avoid surprises - children discovering things we cannot immediately explain andor that are not relevant. These get you sidetracked and stall the learning. To state the obvious: we want them to discover what we want them to learn.

To do this we need to plan for it to be discovered. This can be straightforward or it can challenge their misconceptions. Take for example a big fat potato that they think will sink, but in fact floats, when investigating sinking and floating.

Use simple questions to lead children down your learning pathway to the point of discovery. Giving children alternatives is a good idea to move them on. Try to avoid asking general questions, such as: "Does anyone know anything about .?" These will sidetrack you and distract the children. Sometimes we are lucky enough to get a right answer or answer that is helpful in moving the learning on. Explain and expand the answer in your own words to show the reasoning behind it, and hopefully other children will see the logic. We are not particularly looking for right answers, but answers that we can teach from.

By the same token we should avoid making children struggle to find the right answer. This will only lead to frustration and stall the learning. Sometimes we can successfully get other children to help. Do not be afraid to tell them in order to move the learning on to the point of discovery.

When it comes to the plenary, expand and explain the discovery to show the reasoning behind the concept and its implications for learning: "So not all big things sink and not all little things float. It seems to be something about how heavy they are for their size. We'll look at that next time."

Alan Haigh is the author of The Art of Teaching: Big Ideas, Simple Rules (Pearson).

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