Posted on November 13, 2016
This is Part One in a two-part blog "series" about the role of provocations in inquiry. Part Two, titled "Storytelling," will be posted next week.
Provocations are developed to help children strengthen their learning process, understand bigger ideas and concepts, strengthen theories, develop strategies to approach learning, and provide multiple modalities to express ideas. In our inquiry approach, we meet with a group of children and provoke learning and ideas in multiple ways (i.e. conversation, drawing, reflecting, discussing, and working with materials). Based on what the children are theorizing, provocations are carefully conceived by the teachers. We document our large and small group discussions, as well as analyze the research done by and with the children. We then toss this back to the children in the form of a provocation, like a ball tossed back and forth between two participants. We, teachers and children, co-construct curriculum and knowledge through these thoughtfully crafted experiences.
As we continue into our inquiry and research how children understand the identity of a place or space, some bigger ideas are emerging. The children's ideas are documented through large group meetings and through different provocations that we present to small groups.
In our larger group discussions, it is evident that the children are really trying to understand the houses we have been visiting by the clues that are directly linked to the people that had lived in the houses. They start their reflections with, "The people in the house had this because..." or "The people put it there because..."
Through their photographs and in group discussions, the children reveal their theories about the houses, the objects/artifacts, the plants and trees, and how they are related to the people that lived there. There is an element of story and history in their ideas, as the children support their theories with evidence found in their photos.
To support the children's ideas and help further this way of understanding place, we offer a few different provocations.
One provocation involves using the camera as a tool in looking at the space as a whole. What pictures would best represent this place and why? During our first visit, the children capture the objects of the space that most interests them. This reveals to the teachers and to our learning community the elements of the space that are truly important in making it special and unique. It also informs us of how the children are viewing the space through these specific objects.
In subsequent visits, teachers introduce a different protocol when using the camera. First the children quietly observe an area of the larger space. Then in small groups, they share what that artifact tells them about the houses and/or the people that once lived there. The children then take photos of the individual artifacts from three different perspectives. This new protocol is designed to help the children focus on observing the space and to look at things from different perspectives to gain deeper understanding.
S1: It's a little crystal that people put glass outside it and nothing in it.
Why is it there?
S1: People wanted to make it a circle, but they couldn't make it a circle, so they just threw it on the dirt because it was too hard to make.
S1: Construction people.
S3: People who died. Probably that was their home, and their home was destroyed. They were trying to make a circle, but it turned into that shape.
S1: I think when they died they put it there so that other people would know that's where they died. [exact spot]
S1: The white stairs are old because the plants are growing through it. I think people have been walking on it for a long time. The people that used to live here walked on it.
S2: The middle of the tree...there's a lot of brown leaves. Animals came to the tree.
S3: The little thing that looks like mud...it's stuck to the tree. It looks old.
In another provocation in the actual space, the children are asked to draw one clue that helps to tell the story of this place. The children reflect on their clues and drawings in the studio and redraw, adding details and ideas to make their drawings more readable. The more details the children see, the more their ideas and thinking are revealed. The children also think about what the specific object or thing tells them about the space or the people, building on this idea of history and place. When revising their drawings, the children are encouraged to draw not just a tree, but to add detail to show the uniqueness, location, and relationship the tree has to the place where it is located. Again, this use of drawing materials helps the children to develop their observational and communication skills.
S1: This is the pipes and there's two of them, but there's more than just two. You know where you walk down from the balcony. I looked in it but no light can go in it. I only could see this little white thing at the very very tippy top. It tells me that kids were there and parents used them as water sprinklers. It kind of looks like sprinklers even though it's not connected.
Why would you think if there are sprinklers there are kids there?
S1: They would play with it.
You're thinking the parents put it there?
S1: These construction workers that builded the house, they builded the water sprinklers.
What does it tell you?
S2: I think it was a sprinkler.
Did you see other pipes, too?
S2: I saw more pipes.
S1: I think there's 5.
In his redrawing of the lion, this student adds not only intricate details to the lion itself, but also details to show location and context, such as the decorative wall in the back part of the house and the many plants that are growing out of the stairs. Drawing, like writing, engenders revision, a re-seeing -- as this child demonstrates in a significant re-telling.
Next week's blog will focus on provocations and the use of "storytelling" to help children further develop their ideas.