I have noticed that many kindergartners do not have the language skills to express their questions, but that they often ask questions with their bodies by moving objects around. I help this ability along. I model the beginning of questions by saying: “I’m going to think out loud now — I’m wondering how I can find out if this prism will work if I move it to this side of the window — that’s asking a question.” As students are working with the mirrors and light, I model how to ask their questions. For example, I’ll say: “I see by the way you are moving that mirror that you are wondering, ‘Can I bend the light?’” I copy down students’ questions and post them for all to see.
I allow time for free exploration with materials in a safe environment, so that mirrors and prisms are as much regular parts of the classroom as are paints and sand. Now that I have learned how to set up the classroom environment, I am trying harder to listen to their questions, watch their actions, and gently guide small groups into planning and conducting longer investigations.
Looking back, I can see how my own experience with inquiry has shaped how I work with my students. I want them to experience the curiosity, success, and perseverance that I felt. I know that they can accomplish much with the right kind of teaching and that their feelings of competence grow with each step along the way. I feel that I am helping students to learn for themselves to become independent thinkers, a skill that will serve them well in their future schooling. And they will never look at light, shadow, and color the same way again.