I have noticed that many kindergartners do not have the language skills to express their questions, but that they often ask questions with their bodies by moving objects around. I help this ability along. I model the beginning of questions by saying: “I’m going to think out loud now — I’m wondering how I can find out if this prism will work if I move it to this side of the window — that’s asking a question.” As students are working with the mirrors and light, I model how to ask their questions. For example, I’ll say: “I see by the way you are moving that mirror that you are wondering, ‘Can I bend the light?’” I copy down students’ questions and post them for all to see.
I allow time for free exploration with materials in a safe environment, so that mirrors and prisms are as much regular parts of the classroom as are paints and sand. Now that I have learned how to set up the classroom environment, I am trying harder to listen to their questions, watch their actions, and gently guide small groups into planning and conducting longer investigations.
Looking back, I can see how my own experience with inquiry has shaped how I work with my students. I want them to experience the curiosity, success, and perseverance that I felt. I know that they can accomplish much with the right kind of teaching and that their feelings of competence grow with each step along the way. I feel that I am helping students to learn for themselves to become independent thinkers, a skill that will serve them well in their future schooling. And they will never look at light, shadow, and color the same way again.
Joanna’s story demonstrates her continuing development of “pedagogical content knowledge,” a term coined by Lee Shulman (1986) to represent a third component of teaching expertise that is unique to teachers. Pedagogical content knowledge is the integration or synthesis of teacher’ pedagogical knowledge (what they know about teaching) and their subject matter knowledge (what they know about what they teach) (Cochran, 1992). As Shulman (1986) notes, pedagogical content knowledge
… embodies the aspects of content most germane to its teachability. Within the category of pedagogical content knowledge I include, for the most regularly taught topics in one’s subject area, the most useful forms of representation of those ideas, the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations — in a word, the ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others… [It] also includes an understanding of what makes the learning of specific concepts easy or difficult: the conceptions and preconceptions that students of different ages and backgrounds bring with them to the learning (p. 9).
As an example, experienced biology teachers planning a unit on photosynthesis draw on their peda-