2. Early Stage 1 (kindy)

TOPIC 2: SECRETS AND A BIG IMPORTANT QUESTION

The benefit of being curious together

Have you ever wanted to ask a question out loud but didn’t, because you were worried it would sound silly?

This is what happens to Max, Mia’s friend, in our ethics class story.

Briefly: Mia’s brother Oscar explains to the pair that the strange pale shape in the sky they see one afternoon is actually the moon. It makes Max wonder why it’s not possible to see the stars during the day. He could ask Mia and Oscar – they might know why – but he’s more worried about how he sounds than about discovering the answer to his question.

Our story shows us that being curious and asking questions can take courage.

[Ask] If your child is nearby, you might like to ask them: why do you think we can’t see stars during the day?

The aim of the questions we ask in ethics class is not to get a single right answer, but to encourage children to strengthen their thinking skills, to consider other perspectives and develop their ability to reason.

BEING CURIOUS TOGETHER

Research indicates that supported, collaborative inquiry is one of the most effective means of bringing about understanding. Collaborative inquiry (or community of inquiry) is at the core of Primary Ethics classes, as classes consist of a group of peers and a facilitator (called an ethics teacher) who plays the role of the co-collaborator, rather than the person in the room who has the answers.

As educator and philosopher Matthew Lipman explains:

If some children offer generalisations, others may offer counter-instances; if some voice opinions without reasons, adequate reasons are promptly requested. They gradually come to discover inconsistencies in their own thinking. As time goes on, they learn to cooperate with one another by building on one another’s ideas, by questioning each other’s underlying assumptions, by suggesting alternatives where some among them find themselves blocked and frustrated, and by listening carefully and respectfully to the ways in which other people express how things appear to them. When participants fully appreciate the process in which they partake, they internalize this process, and it becomes a method of approaching any [ethical issue].

– ‘Philosophy and the Cultivation of Reasoning’ Thinking, Volume 5, no. 4, 1985, p.37

In ethics classes, students are presented with developmentally appropriate ethical issues and encouraged to inquire together so that they make progress towards answers.

Such an approach depends upon students’ willingness to ask questions of each other, even when those questions may not be clearly formulated, to accept help from others and to modify their views in the light of others’ comments.

This requires a degree of courage and some children may initially be afraid to expose their thinking to scrutiny from other members of the group. In the topic Secrets and a big important question we raise this issue openly in the hope that doing so will help students develop the sensitivity to others and confidence in their own thinking that forms the foundation of a fully functioning community of inquiry.

MAKING INFERENCES

This topic also introduces students to the practice of making inferences. This process of drawing conclusions from information we already have comes naturally to all of us, but it is a skill that develops steadily from Kindergarten to around Year 6 and that development is enhanced when these skills are taught explicitly.

Across the Primary Ethics curriculum there are numerous topics focusing on the skills of inference. These topics form a developmental sequence and one that begins in kindergarten. In this topic we make a very simple distinction between drawing a conclusion in such a way that you can be sure that the conclusion is correct and making a ‘guess’ on the basis of whatever scant knowledge or information you have.

ACTIVITY: ASKING QUESTIONS

Resources: You’ll need a coin in your pocket for the last question.

1. [Ask] If Kelly is in the same basketball team as Rory and Rory is in the same basketball team as Phoebe, is Phoebe in the same team as Kelly?

Give your child space to think the question though, and develop a technique for working out the answer. Encourage your child’s process by smiling, nodding, showing that you are listening.

Once they’ve given an answer, ask your child [Ask] Was that a guess, or did you know?

If the child suggests it was a guess: [Ask] Why did you make that guess? 

OR If the child says they knew: [Ask] How did you know?

Listen to their reasons and support them to explain this thinking process as much as they can.

Don’t say ‘no’ if you think they are getting the answers wrong. It’s better to ask, ‘is there another way we can work this out?’

Next, you could ask a question like:

2. [Ask] What did I have for lunch/breakfast?’ (if possible, choose a meal that you didn’t eat together – it could be the last time you ate out, if you can remember back that far!)

Once they’ve given an answer, ask your child [Ask] Was that a guess, or did you know?

If the child suggests it was a guess: [Ask] Why did you make that guess? 

OR If the child says they knew: [Ask] How did you know?

If your child wasn’t with you, they will have to have guessed, although the guess doesn’t have be a total stab in the dark. It’s more likely than not that you didn’t eat ice cream or jelly. It’s more likely to be in the range of rice, a sandwich or a salad, for example. Your child’s background knowledge of your diet will guide their response, despite there still being a lot of guesswork involved.

Lastly, hide a coin in one hand.

3. [Ask] Which hand is the coin in?

Give your child time to answer.

Then ask your child if that [Ask] Was that a guess, or did you know?

If the child suggests it was a guess: [Ask] Why did you make that guess? 

OR If the child says they knew: [Ask] How did you know?

This time it is a stab in the dark – pure guesswork, although the child is still likely to get the answer right half of the time.

These questions help us see the different types of ways we can use inference to answer a question along with the limitations of inference when limited information is available.

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