Friday, May 18, 2012

Guest Week 5: Questions Come From Interest

Questions Come From Interest

What does your child wonder about?

Emily A. Swan, Ph.D.

Have you been reading to your children? Have you been talking to them about books?

Last week, I talked about ways to make reading more fun and interesting for you and your children. Two of those ways involve questions.

This week, I am going to talk about the topic of QUESTIONS and how important your child’s questions are to teaching you about your child’s interests. If we really listen to our children’s questions and what they wonder, we will truly gain insights into their thinking! When we know what our children’s interests are and what they wonder, finding the right books is easy!

The Importance of QUESTIONS

“WHY?” How many thousands of times have your children asked you this question? How many times have you secretly wished you could remove just a small portion of your child’s frontal lobe after the 47th time s/he asks it in the same day? But, let me tell you… it’s a good thing you can’t! Questions are the secret to learning. Questions are the secret to interest! Questions are the tools our children give to us so we can help them gain knowledge through reading.

These are the reasons WHY questions are so important to learning:

1.    Questions are diagnostic tools! You know exactly what your child is thinking when they ask a question. Their question is what is on their mind right now. And really, until that question gets answered, the child has a difficult time moving on. So rather than answering the question for your child, try and answer with another question, such as: “I’m not sure, what do you think?” Reflecting the question back on the child allows them to solve the problem, figure out sources for the answer, and they will retain the answer for longer periods of time than if we just answer their questions for them.

2.    Questions make more sense to kids when we phrase them as, “What do you wonder?” rather than, “What questions do you have?” Kids wonder about everything. Tapping into this wonder is what makes reading and learning FUN.

a.    Do you have a child within a 2 minute radius of you right now? Go ahead. Go and ask your child, (any age will do), “What are you wondering about?” if they are 5, they might tell you for 30 minutes. If they are 16, they may grunt and say, “nothing. Why?”  So, right there—what did you learn?? Who has more curiosity? Maybe it’s your 16 year old. GREAT! Feed that curiosity with things to help your child find answers to their own “wonderings.” Ask them what the answers are and how they found them.

3.    Questions have different levels of answers, which yield different levels of knowledge. For example, some questions are pretty thin. “Who was buried in Grant’s tomb?” has a pretty thin or simple answer. But “What do you know about Grant’s life and death?” might be a bit thicker question, which will probably take a little longer explanation. The simpler or thinner the question, the easier the question is to answer, resulting in simple or concrete knowledge. A thicker question, however, may take more reading, more thinking, more time, and more resources to answer. Thicker questions result in much deeper levels of knowledge, more abstract thinking, and more complex explanations.

4.    Questions are a GREAT reason to read books! Do you know how roly-poly bugs have babies? Do you know all the constellations in the summer sky? Do you know the state bird of Maryland? Do you know why May 17th was an important day to George Washington and the Patriots during the American Revolutionary War?  If not, START READING!! Reading is the #1 way to answer questions!

5.    The only stupid question is the one you already know how to answer. Here’s a real life story about this principle.  I was a reading consultant in Iowa for several years. I worked with some great teachers, teaching them how to engage their students more deeply. One 6th grade (really smart) science teacher, who had recently begun a unit on Energy, had asked his students what they knew about Energy and what they wondered about Energy. He had their questions written on sentence strips up on the wall. He had a large class and when I went to Iowa for a visit, I observed his classroom and I noticed that there were only about 7 or 8 questions up on the wall, which made me curious. I asked him, “Why don’t you have all of the students’ questions on the wall?” His reply was, “Oh, those are the only good questions.” I then asked, “Who determines which question is good enough to go up on the wall?” and he replied, “I do. The rest of the questions are too dumb to put on the wall.” Of course, I asked to see the other questions. Keep in mind that I am NOT a scientist, nor do I claim to be. But I do know how to engage kids in science using literacy principles; so I was very curious to read the other students’ questions that hadn’t made it onto the wall. When I looked at the questions, I thought they were pretty good, simply because I didn’t know how to answer them either! I felt just like the 6th graders, wondering the same things! I said to the teacher, “What is wrong with these questions? They look good to me. Why do you think they are dumb?” and the teacher replied, “Oh those are so easy to answer.” And my response was, “Yes. To a scientist they probably are easy. But to a 6th grader, or even to me, they are not easy at all because we don’t have enough knowledge to answer them. That’s why you are the teacher and they are the 6th graders!” 

          My point is: The only dumb question is the one in which you already know the    answer! All other questions are where you are (or where your child is) in the   learning process. So listen to your kids’ questions, even if you think they are easy        to answer. Remember, you’re the adult. So of course they’re easy for YOU to     answer!!

Action Plan for This Week:  LISTEN to your children’s questions. Write them down if you can. Pay attention. YOU, as a parent, will discover things about your child that will help you engage them in learning.

Next week I will provide a list of some of my favorite books I have read to and with my children! Hopefully, the list will give you some ideas for fun summer reading!

If you are interested in how to build literacy skills over the summer with your preschooler or Kindergartener. . . My business partner Michelle Roderick and I have created a tool for parents to maximize the time they spend reading to their young children. One tool that will soon be available to parents, grandparents, babysitters, or other caretakers, is our product called DiscoverLit Kits. These wonderful kits are designed around a book (e.g., Bugs) and we have written research-based activities around these wonderful books that increase comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, word study/phonics, and writing. We include easy step-by-step instructions for mothers and others that are easy to follow. We also integrate math, science, or art into our kits to extend learning. They help parents and children discover the fun of literacy. . .in a kit. The kit ships right to your door and all of the materials for the activities are included IN the kit. Simply choose an activity per day. Do as many or as few as you want. You can do them in any order. Easy. Convenient. Portable. We take parents and young children through the steps of creating interest, questioning, discovering, reading, sharing, and making connections. Our goal is to help parents know how to prepare their Preschooler or Kindergartener for school during the summer months. We will soon have kits for grades K-1 too. By fall, we’ll have kits for grades 2-3 and 3-4. We are excited to be able to help parents motivate their children in fun, meaningful ways that truly build lifelong skills and build special relationships between parent and child, by reading together.  

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