Opal School closed in 2021. You can continue to access these resources for free. To learn more visit teachingpreschoolpartners.org.

Any questions?

Westside at OpalThis week, the Museum Center for Learning had the pleasure of hosting a gathering of Los Angeles' Westside Collaborative.  Seventy early childhood educators and center administrators flew to Portland to join us for two days of classroom visitations, presentations, and facilitated discussions.

Many teachers commented on the central role questions play in learning at Opal School.  Student and teacher questions are prominently displayed on the walls of the classrooms; it was clear to participants that curriculum and class conversations are catalyzed by student questions – both those clearly stated and others that are lurking behind comments and behaviors.  Questions at Opal School are pursued as a pleasurable intellectual and social-emotional voyage.  Elliot Eisner tells us,

Great ideas have legs. They take you somewhere. With them, you can raise questions that can't be answered. These unanswerable questions should be a source of comfort. They ensure you'll always have something to think about! Puzzlements invite the most precious of human abilities to take wing. I speak of imagination, the neglected stepchild of American education.

Honoring the recognition Westside Collaborative teachers gave to the role of questions – and wanting to support a disposition toward inquiry – we set aside a piece of our two days to generating questions. To foster this, we applied a discussion protocol designed by the Right Question Institute (RQI). Discussion protocols level the playing field, removing the dominance of any one voice and, in turn, elevating inclusivity leading toward a conversation that benefits from all voices.  RQI takes this aspect of the work so seriously that they call their work "A catalyst for microdemocracy." 

As with other discussion protocol, the RQI tool has guiding rules.  In this case, they're:

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Do not stop to judge or answer the questions.
  3. Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
  4. Change any statement int a question.

Questions are generated around a "Question Focus" – a provocation.  Because both playful inquiry and Story Workshop were foci for study, we selected this passage from What About Play:

Opportunities for playful inquiry are enhanced within environments that contain abundant invitations for story making and story sharing.

Not surprisingly, the questions that they generated were juicy.  Just a few examples:

  • How does story making contribute to the development of relationships and democracy in a classroom?
  • How is the early telling of stories liked with our cognitive and emotional development?
  • How do you notice when playful inquiry is happening? What's the difference between play and playful inquiry? Is there a distinction?
  • How do we hold the history of these stories to change the context of our future?
  • What are different ways we can capture the stories they share (both verbal and nonverbal)?
  • How can we, as teachers, think creatively about story structure to tell stories across disciplines?
  • How do we encourage children to tell stories without words?
  • How do you decide which materials to use in order to enhance a specific environment and stories?
  • What kind of questions most fully support story?
  • What are the elements to feeling invited?
  • How does storytelling create and support community?
  • How do you create a safe environment to share your stories?
  • How do you set up an environment that nurtures collaborative storymaking?
  • How do we set up an environment for children to make their stories visible?
  • What is the role of the teacher and the role of the children in making these opportunities possible?

 I'm curious:

Which of these questions inspire you?

What protocols are you aware of that support the social construction of ideas?

What is the role of questions in your practice?

 Is you're school or organization interested in working with the Museum Center for Learning and Opal School – either in Portland or your location?  We'd love to explore possibilities – send us an email outlining your interests. 

Thanks to the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program Western Region office for introducing us to the Right Question Institute!