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Teaching Through Guided Discovery

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Michelle Mallonee Long

Often as teachers or parents, we want to tell our children how to do something new. It is more natural for us to use a direct approach to teaching by giving directions and providing examples. Although this method works well to save time, produce immediate results, produce a uniform or replication of movement (such as ballet), demonstrate the ability to follow directions, and provide the opportunity for immediate evaluation, it does not allow for creativity, self-expression or individual abilities.

When we tell the children what to do we are taking away the opportunity for them to learn and discover in their own way and their own time frame, thus allowing the experience to be more meaningful.
We can help children through the discovery process by asking open-ended questions that guides their thinking without telling them what to do.

For example: A child playing in the block area becomes frustrated that his/her building keeps falling down. The easy thing to do would be to tell the child that they need to use a large block on the bottom so they have a sturdy foundation to support the rest of the building. But, we need to think about how we can get the child to come up with that solution on his/her own. Asking guiding questions such as: “Why do you think the tower keeps falling? Which block is heavier? What would happen if you put the heavy block on the top? What would happen if you put the heavy block on the bottom? Should we try it both ways to see which way works better? Do we have any other blocks that might work better?” These types of questions can steer the child’s actions and learning to help him/her arrive at the solution through a series of trial and error, helping the child learn to problem-solve and think things through without getting frustrated.

Guided discovery can be used when we have a specific task in mind. We can lead the children through a series of challenges/questions toward the discovery of the task. This can be done by simply converting the directions we want to provide into questions.
For example:
Can you walk forward and in place? Can you walk with springy steps?
Can you hop in place? Can you hop forward?
Can you hop on one foot then the other? Can you change feet often?
Make up a combination of walks and hops. Try it in place and then try moving forward.
Can you alternate one springy walk and one hop as you move forward?
Give it a try. Did you end up galloping or skipping by the end?

Another example:
Can you show me an upside down position?
Can you show me an upside down position with only your hands and feet on the floor? (If they crab walk ask – can you do it with your tummy facing the floor?)
Can you put your bottom in the air?
Can you look behind yourself from that position?
Can you look at the ceiling?
What happens if you try to stretch your nose to touch the ceiling?
Give it a try. Did you end up doing a forward roll (summersault)?

This indirect approach to teaching helps to stimulate the cognitive process and enhance critical thinking. It can also reduce the fear of failure, allow for individuality, as well as develop patience and self-confidence.

This concept can also be taken out of the classroom and into the workforce. When we are dealing with staff and co-workers we often find that we get a better response and higher levels of morale when we remember to ask instead of tell.

For more information on using the guided discovery approach in a coaching role try

5 Coaching Skills That Every Manager Needs to Have

“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.” – Galileo

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