Children are able to think things through, but can just as easily dial down their critical thinking. The difference rides on how close they are to almost knowing what is going on. If they have no clue, they are more likely to consider only the surface of a situation or a problem. But if they realize that the problem faced or question asked might be “one of those,” they will venture forth an educated guess. They marshal even more effort to figure things out when their educated guess does not work out. If they make a quick guess, as in the first case, they simply accept the discovery that they were wrong. Nothing more general that that particular case has been proven wrong.
Good teachers know how to move a child from making a quick guess to making a considered or educated guess. An educated guess comes from an assumption about how the physical or social world works. An educated guess is more than remembering an answer to a particular question. An educated guess is more like a new extension to an old rule. If six sugar cubes in a row remain the same quantity when rearranged to a stack, perhaps a given ball of clay remains the same quantity when rolled into a sausage. The child is not remembering something about the clay. The child is applying the rule of rearranging parts (invisible parts of the clay) instead of adding or subtracting parts.
Good teachers attempt to find materials or problems that help the child make an educated guess. The teacher does less to explain the correct way of thinking. She does more to give the child forms of the problem that connect the child to his or her intuitions (aka, the educated guess). Say the child has no idea why the hand feels warm inside a glove and gives a quick answer, “Because the glove is warm.” The teacher might ask “Why do you feel warm under a blanket?”
Not only is the teacher helping the child deal with the issue of insulation using a more intuitive example, her question also models what a problem solver might do on his own to come up with an answer. There is the added likelihood that, since the child has some assumptions about why the blanket works, the child can generalize this to the glove. The teacher has provided a bridging example that does not give the answer away, but bring the child’s thoughts more toward the difference between body temperature and bedroom temperature and not so much the glove being a source of heat itself. Indeed, the child might even know that the blankets themselves are warm only if they are electric and gloves are not electric. Good teachers have fun with these dialogues with children.
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