Academic journal article Language Arts

Loving "Killdeer Pond": The Multiple Signs of Children's Inquiry

Academic journal article Language Arts

Loving "Killdeer Pond": The Multiple Signs of Children's Inquiry

Article excerpt

The story that follows is a love story. More specifically, it is a pedagogical love story. It situates us, as readers, in the midst of the excitement, curiosity, passion, movement, imagina- tive play, creative experimentation, and caring rela- tionships of a class of six- to nine-year-old children, as they participate with their teacher, Chris, in lit- eracy practices and inquiry processes that flourish in a supportive, reciprocal relationship. It is also a story that challenges us as educators and literacy researchers to rethink and revalue children's liter- acy practices and inquiry processes.

Theoretically inspired by Leander and Boldt's (2012) provocative article, "Rereading 'A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies': Bodies, Texts, and Emergence," this story shifts our focus away from the future texts that may evolve out of children's literacy practices and toward the children's literacy practices themselves, as they arise "in the ongoing present, forming relations and connections across signs, objects, and bodies in often unexpected ways" (p. 26). Leander and Boldt argue that "texts are not 'about' the world; rather, they are participants in the world" (p. 25). In this story, the children use, invent, embody, and share texts-"signs and symbols"-as these texts feed into the excitement of their "spontaneous," "emergent," and often "surprising" inquiries (Leander & Boldt, 2012). If we view this story from the children's perspective, it refutes any notions we might harbor that inquiry pedagogy can be scripted in advance, or that as teachers we can map predetermined learning outcomes onto children's futures before an inquiry is actually afoot.

As readers of this story, we accompany Chris and the children as they engage in individual and shared inquiries that involve them in forming affec- tive, aesthetic, intellectual, and ethical relationships with one another, with "expert" others (especially Michael, a retired biologist and frequent classroom volunteer), and with a local pond. We also learn how the children's literacy practices and inquiry processes circulate in and through their encounters with "materials, time, space, experiences, move- ment, play, emotion, and desires" (Leander & Boldt, 2012, p. 43).

This is also a "social semiotic" story, because it closely attends to the children's use of multiple sign systems-oral and written language, art, move- ment, drama, and music-as the children make and share meanings. (For conceptual elaboration and examples of children's use of sign systems, see, for instance, Berghoff, 2007; Cowan & Albers, 2006; Harste, 2010; and Short & Kauffman, 2000).

Reading the story, we witness Chris's peda- gogical stance toward literacy learning, where the "whole child" is always foremost in her mind. Chris co-constructs literacy curriculum with the children in fluid and dynamic ways premised on her know- ing and caring about who they are as individual literacy learners and inquirers (Johnston, 2004) as they bring their multiple identities, experiences, theories, passions, and affiliations with them into the classroom. Observing the responsive decisions she makes as a teacher, we understand Chris's com- mitment to the social and collaborative nature of the children's literacy learning as she supports them in identifying and exploring issues they care about, and as they draw varied and authentic literacy prac- tices and materials into inquiries that have personal meaning for them. (For grounding in the theoretical constructs and practices of "literacy as inquiry," see such foundational texts as Berghoff, Egawa, Harste, & Hoonan, 2000; Mills, O'Keefe, & Jennings, 2004; and Short, Harste & Burke, 1996). This is also a multiage class, where the children are sup- ported in figuring out how to teach and learn with and from one another. It is important to note that this is a classroom where Chris purposefully makes time and space for the children's play, confident in her theoretical and practical knowledge of how play has the potential to provide "rich opportuni- ties for children to flexibly use language in a range of communicative events" (Genishi & Dyson, 2009, p. …

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