|YOUNG CHILDREN | July 2014|
Research in Review. Good Thinking!
Fostering Children’s Reasoning and Problem Solving
|by Jessica Vick Whittaker|
Sandy teaches 3- and 4-year-old children in a Head Start classroom. She often asks children to be investigators and to solve problems or questions that arise. For example, during outside time one day, Sandy notices Keira and Amir playing on the slide. Sandy hears Keira say, “Hey, you’re going really fast down that slide! How come I’m not going so fast?” Sandy comments, “Keira, you made a really interesting observation. You noticed that Amir is going down the slide faster than you. Why do you think that might be?” “Well,” Keira says thoughtfully, “maybe because his pants are more slippery than mine.” Sandra responds, “That is really good thinking! You’ve made a guess, a hypothesis. Can you think of some way we could test out whether Amir’s clothing is making him go faster?”
Keira decides that she can test whether clothing makes a difference by using clothes from the dramatic play area. She finds two pairs of pants: one pair from a wizard outfit that is very shiny and made of what Keira calls “slippery” material, and the other a pair of jeans from the construction worker outfit. They look rough and less slippery. Sandy times Keira as she goes down the slide to see whether the slippery pants make her go faster. They find that Keira can indeed slide faster with the slippery pants on.
From this experience Keira learns several things. She learns, for example, that the texture of a material—whether it is smooth or rough—affects how quickly or slowly an object (in this case, a person) moves down a ramp. She learns that if she doesn’t know the answer to a question she can make a guess and then test that guess to determine if it is correct (she also discovers that another word for guess is hypothesis). If something puzzles Keira, she now knows that she can ask her teacher for help and information.
If asked, Sandy could identify particular content areas she supported during this interaction. She could respond that she fostered Keira’s knowledge about the physical world and how things work (science), encouraged her thinking about inclined planes (mathematics), and expanded her communication skills by teaching her new words and how to explain her thinking (language). As important as these skills are, however, there was more to this learning experience than just science, mathematics, and language. In this interaction, Sandy encouraged Keira to construct a possible explanation, a hypothesis, and then test that explanation to better understand cause-and-effect relationships. Sandy promoted “good thinking,” the ability to logically think and reason about the world . . . . Continue reading
About the Authors
Jessica Vick Whittaker, PhD, is a research assistant professor at the Center for Advanced Teaching and Learning, University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. Her work focuses on developing and evaluating professional development aimed at improving teacher–child interaction quality to support children’s math and science skills. She also studies children’s self-regulation. firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Benson McMullen, PhD, is professor of early childhood education at Indiana University, in Bloomington. Her current research focuses on fostering physical and psychological well-being through relationship-based practices in infants and toddlers and those who care for them in birth-to-3 group care settings.