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The blank stare phenomenon. Gordon Lawrence

Posted By: Gordon Lawrence on October 8, 2004
Thanks for the good article. And I especially appreciate Barbara Acosta's commentary. The blank stare, whether coming from "disadvantaged" or mainstream children, is a sign of cultural disconnect, in my experience. One of the cultural gaps is that between the culture of childhood and hood. Some teachers -- my wife is one of them -- have the amazing knack of knowing with great clarity how to enter the child's world and get connected. In the supermarket isles or anywhere she has conversations with young children. She penetrates the blank stare instantly and the child is full of talk about his or her world.

Dewey's essay on interest and effort in education provided some wonderful insights into how teachers make this connection. Children are so accustomed to having their minds treated as blank slates, by virtually all s, that they have only blank stares to offer when a teacher confronts them with the expectation that they are inquirers. HOTS seems to be one technique for moving them toward inquiry. Barbara Acosts reminds us of the principle behind the technique: engage the children on a topic in which they have a passionate interest. The emotion attached to their interest impells their participation. Beyond that, if they are enticed into helping shape the goal of the conversation -- as co-owners of it -- they have an investment in it.

As I recall Dewey's insight it was that interest can be captivated for a while, but the lasting enticement to inquiry comes from finding the student's existing interests and hitchhiking on them. If the student is in the zone of his or her interests, where the passion is, inquiry into how to keep the zone experience going is exactly what the student wants to do. Looked at this way, the principle applies to any school activity, not just dialogue. So long as the student truly wants to do it, any activity can pprovoke inquiry and the growth that comes with it.
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 The blank stare phenomenon. Gordon Lawrence by Gordon Lawrence on October 8, 2004
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