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Arkansas State University

Learning in Early Childhood Education

Traditional classrooms position the teacher as the source of all information. The children, in turn, memorize this information and repeat it back in essays and exams. In an inquiry-driven classroom, however, the teacher gives the children only basic information and then guides them through an interest-driven learning sequence. This guided inquiry helps children stay focused and motivated, but it is only effective in the hands of intentional teachers who coach rather than lecture. Children especially benefit from this kind of learning at an early age, so the sooner teachers adopt this method, the better. When children discover early on that they can guide their own learning, they are more likely to assume the responsibility of their education year after year.

Children Learn by Observing, Experimenting and Asking Questions

In inquiry-driven early education, children receive the tools they need to make observations, experiment with what they have observed, and then ask questions to clarify understanding. Often, guided inquiry involves notebooks in which children log their observations. The children spend a great deal of time drawing and then labeling what they see, and then they spend time thinking about what might be happening. The teacher guides their thinking and helps identify ways they can answer their own questions. Rather than disseminating information as the all-knowing authority, the teacher shares methods for finding accurate answers. In this way, students learn to identify appropriate sources of good information. However, the process is not as simple as it appears. Teachers who would like to implement guided inquiry and intentional teaching would do well to enroll in an online master’s degree in education program designed to create and manage this kind of classroom.

Documenting Learning Through Guided Inquiry

In the small Italian town of Reggio Emilia, teachers have been documenting children’s learning for generations. These teachers document the children’s daily experiences and then monitor the presentation (or the “visible trace”) of the children’s thinking. This attention to how children respond to their learning environment is critical to inquiry-based learning. Children may not follow their own learning processes until they see the stages presented in sequential order: think, observe, think, draw, think, experiment — each in turn. This is the essence of guided inquiry; teachers must help children learn, but they must also help children see how their learning develops over time. Documenting this learning can take the form of a gallery of drawings and observations, a slideshow of completed work, or just a notebook tracking a child’s path to discovery in pictures and words.

Guided Inquiry Is About Respecting Children and Their Families

One of the most exciting aspects of guided inquiry is how much teachers can learn about their students and their students’ families. Interest-driven learning is different in every class due to the diversity of students a teacher encounters. The more that teachers respect who a child is and where he or she is from, the more that child will focus on learning. When people feel respected, they feel comfortable engaging material they do not understand, which can help teachers guide them to answers for their questions. This kind of learning looks haphazard, but teachers must be quite intentional and knowledgeable about guided inquiry in order to use it effectively. One way to become knowledgeable is by earning an online master’s degree in education.

Inquiry-Driven Learning Is About Building on Experiences

Research shows that people learn best when they can connect new experiences with established information. In traditional learning environments, teachers present information to students as one learning group. In inquiry-driven classrooms, however, students use their established knowledge to foster inquiry into new information. This helps students connect their experiences as they go, which dovetails with what research shows about learning. Guided inquiry allows children to encounter new ideas in the context of what they know and then build upon it in layers, documenting their path along the way, until they arrive at new understanding.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online MSE in Early Childhood Education.


ASCD: Guided Inquiry in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning

The Curious Kindergarten: The Butterfly Inquiry

<!– Let the Children Play: Be Reggio Inspired: Documentation and Display –>

Let the Children Play: Be Reggio Inspired: Documentation and Display

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