How We Make Meaning

How does this baby learn about his world? For the most part, this child is constructing his own meanings and ideas about how things work. While some of the parental guidance has been edited out of the video, there’s still four hours of footage (condensed into two minutes) of a baby simply exploring his world and making sense of it all.

Why can’t this be the same approach we take with students? Students can explore, inquire, and investigate the world around them in order to create their own meaning just as this baby is doing in the video. Of course, there are key elements that make this exploration possible.

The baby has some limitations. There is a limitation of space where the baby is learning. He is generally contained in this one room, not permitted to roam throughout the house. Part of this limitation is due to his lack of mobility, but it’s a limitation nonetheless. Similar limitations can be set for student inquiries. Identifying essential, guiding, and content questions can help with focusing the inquiry. Also, hooking them with engaging examples of the phenomena to be studies will provide parameters.

Another thing the baby has that encourages his inquiry is the ample supply and variety of resources. No matter where the baby turns or what he decides to do, there are toys (or sometimes other household objects) with which he can experiment. Providing resources can be challenge for cash-strapped schools, but the internet more than makes up for these shortcomings in the form of limitless literature, multimedia, and simulations.

Finally, the baby’s inquiry goes so well because there is a skilled, caring adult providing an opportunity to actively explore his world. Much of the child’s interaction with adults has been edited out, but one can tell by the way toys have been laid out and the simple fact that his entire play session has been recorded that this baby has adults who are looking out for his well-being. The same can be said for students with teachers who care enough about their learning that they sacrifice their time and financial gain in order to help their students grow intellectually.

With these support systems in place, students, like the baby in the video, will succeed in their efforts to inquire about the inner-workings of their world. Of course, this inquiry can’t take place in an environment that is too restrictive or encourages passivity. Structure, access to resources, and caring and thoughtful facilitation are musts for inquiry to succeed.

What lessons about learning do you glean from the above video? How might these lessons inform your teaching? What can you do better in providing opportunities of inquiry for your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center. A special hat tip is given to eMINTS staff members Carla Chaffin and Carmen Marty for pointing out this video in connection with inquiry.