Wonder is the beginning of all learning (Rowen, 2007). But wonder alone will not insure that learning occurs in a classroom. Wonder by itself is a subjective manner of confronting the world around us. As a subjective approach, wonder may be transformative but there is no way of validating the importance of the wonder fed inquiry, no way of relying on the evidence collected nor is there any way to confirm the relevance of the analysis of the data collected. It is entirely conceivable that I could wonder about how to convert lead into gold, a preoccupation of the Medieval alchemists. Believing that lead can be converted to gold does not make it so and all the wondering about a methodology to do so will not provide a method that works. If wonder is not subjected to what Dewey (1938) called warranted assertability then wonder is necessary but not sufficient to learning.
Wonder certainly stirs passions. Wonder is the beginning of interest. But passion and interest must be guided by reason and experience. In this sense, wonder is a political activity that is embedded in cultural expectations. Medieval alchemists drew on the culture and climate of their own times to wonder about what, today, we might consider a fool’s errand. Wonder can be guided as well by self-interest—I wonder because it is in my best interest to wonder about this or that. It can also guided by group interest—I wonder because it is in my group’s interest to wonder about this or that. I might also wonder because I have always wondered about or have been taught to wonder about this or that. In each of these cases, wonder is not enough; in fact, it can play a destructive role in learning.
In the classroom, teachers have a responsibility to kindle wonder in students at all ages. This is an awesome responsibility that can be guided by principles laid out by Newmann and his colleagues (Newmann, Byrk, & Nagaoka, 2001; Newmann, Marks, & Gamoran, 1995; Newmann, Secada, & Wehlage, 1995; Newmann & Wehlage, 1993) for authenticity. Viewed as a three-legged stool, authentic planning and execution in the classroom rests on three integrated and integral legs:
- Work must have value beyond the classroom for students.
- Work must be academically rigorous.
- Work produced must have an audience beyond the teacher.
If the work planned is not valuable there is little, if any, incentive for students to become interested in the work, to wonder about what they are learning. If the work is not rigorous, if it does not challenge students (not frustrate them but challenge their thinking) then students will seek out things that do challenge them. Finally, by creating an audience beyond the teacher, the responsibility for performance shifts from the teacher to the student creating a context for high levels of performance.
Wonder, coupled with authenticity, then is the beginning of developing classrooms that invoke serious inquiry, focused wonder, and awe for and about learning.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Harper & Row.
Newmann, F. M., Byrk, A. S., & Nagaoka, J. K. (2001). Authentic intellectual work and standardized tests: Conflict or coexistence (Special Report Series). Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research.
Newmann, F. M., Marks, H. M., & Gamoran, A. (1995). Authentic pedagogy: Standards that boost student performance (No. Issue Report No. 8). Madison, WI: Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools.
Newmann, F. M., Secada, W. G., & Wehlage, G. G. (1995). A guide to authentic instruction and assessment: Vision, standards and scoring. Madison: Wisconsin Center for Education Research.
Newmann, F. M., & Wehlage, G. G. (1993). Standards of authentic instruction (No. Issue Report No. 4). Madison, WI: Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools.
Rowen, T. B. (2007). A retrieval of awe: Examining disruption and apprehension in transformative education. In N. C. Burbles & D. Vokey (Eds.), Philosophy of Education 2006 (pp. 212-220). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.