Defining a disposition to enquire

In a Centre of Innovation report (Ako Ngatahi Teaching and Learning Together as One.  From Leadership to Enquiry.  Teachers’ work in an Infants’ and Toddlers’ Centre) which describes the research done into infant and toddler enquiry (the Hoiho Section at Massey Child Care Centre Inc Palmerston North, between February 2005 and August 2007), there is some interesting discussion of ‘the disposition to enquire’. Under the title, “Defining a disposition to enquire”, the authors write:

“To enquire is to “make a search or investigation”; enquiring is “seeking or tending to seek answers, information” (Collins’ English Dictionary). According to Wells-Lindfors (1999) to enquire is also “to seek to learn by asking”, or “to seek information by questioning; enquiry is the act of asking” (p.ix). These definitions do not adequately capture the situation of preverbal children engaged in acts of enquiry, and educational research on enquiry tends to address the age groups of children who are verbal.

The psychosocial theory of dispositions provides some help in deciding what enquiry is for infants and toddlers. Dispositions to learn are defined as learning (or coping) strategies that [-p.53] have become habits of mind, tendencies to respond to, edit and select from, situations in certain ways (Carr, 2000). By four or five years of age children are believed to have settled into one of two major dispositions that influence their approaches to learning. These are: a disposition towards mastery of learning, or a disposition towards approval of their performance from others (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Smiley and Dweck, 1994).

Research suggests that children who are oriented towards mastery continually strive to increase their competence, relishing and striving to understand new and difficult situations. They view problems as solvable, and persist, seeking the expertise and support of others. On the other hand, children who seek approval from others tend to choose any option on offer, avoiding difficult tasks in order to maintain their appearance of competence by avoiding being judged negatively. Learning-oriented children maintain an even emotional keel when faced with difficulty, whereas performance-dependent children have few resources when they feel their performance is judged as lacking in some manner.

While to some extent dispositions are regarded as reflecting innate traits of temperament, research indicates that learning dispositions are strongly influenced by the cultural and social context of children’s experiences (Carr, 2001; Davies, 1993). Stipek and Byler (1997) identified the influences of contrasting teacher beliefs and teaching/learning programmes on the development of children’s learning orientations. They found that programmes where children learn through teacher-directed sequences of learning, often reinforced with the completion of worksheets to practise skills, encourage the development of children’s performance orientation towards learning. Children are expected to follow instructions, thereby gaining the reward of praise and points for their efforts. In contrast, a teacher who believes in supporting children’s mastery of learning will offer a programme of authentic activities based on children’s interests and strengths.

Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996) adopts a sociocultural approach as a framework for curriculum implementation. The principles of empowerment (whakamana), holistic development (kotahitanga), family/whānau and community (whānau tangata) and relationships (ngā hononga), demonstrate the document’s sociocultural foundations. The strands, goals and learning outcomes developed from these principles are further indication of the expectations that learning for this age group (birth to five) will be largely child-initiated and process-oriented and aimed at developing children who see themselves as capable and competent learners (Jordan, 2003). In furthering her work in developing Te Whāriki, Carr (2001) identified five domains of learning dispositions, all of which support children’s mastery over performance orientations: taking an interest; being involved; persisting with [-p.54] difficulty or uncertainty; communicating with others; taking responsibility. There are elements of all of these dispositions in “enquiry”.” (52-54)

Ref: (Ako Ngatahi Teaching and Learning Together as One.  From Leadership to Enquiry.  Teachers’ work in an Infants’ and Toddlers’ Centre, published 2008. Author(s): Raewyne Bary, Caryn Deans, Monika Charlton, Heather Hullet, Faith Martin, Libby Martin, Paulette Moana, Olivia Waugh, Barbara Jordan & Cushla Scrivens. Summary and full report available at the education counts website:


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in early years education, Images of Parent Child and Expert, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, Parent and child, Standardised Testing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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