Questions and questioning exemplar: studying the school buildings

Children generating questions

Teacher Janet Webb took their own school as a starting-point for a local study with a Year 6 class. The buildings played a key part, providing opportunities for questioning, investigation and recording. Questions generated by the children drove the investigation.

The school buildings consist of three large Victorian houses (two detached and one semi-detached) and a new block built a decade ago. The school is situated in an established residential area, a mile from the city centre.

Janet began with four different activities to examine changes at the school. She asked the children to do the following.

Instructions to the children
1. Look at the school buildings and site and draw plans of them. Note the differences in building age and style between the Victorian buildings and the new block.

2. Consider any changes that had occurred in the seven years the children had been at the school.

3. Look at photographs of school events over the past 20 years. Note any changes to the school.

4. Walk around the school site and find evidence of some of the changes discovered from the above sources, and more if possible.

Children's findings
On their walk, the children found much additional evidence, including the names of the houses which form the school. They found evidence that the houses were all once private residential homes. (Outdoors there were post boxes, bell pulls, boot scrapers, and front and back doors. Indoors there were ceiling roses, curtain rails, and ornate banisters.)

Children's questions
From the four activities, the children generated the following key questions.
Q When did the houses become a school?
Q Did they all become a school at the same time?
Q Why did the houses become a school?
Q Who lived in the houses?
Q What were the people like who lived in the houses?
Q Did just one family live in each house?
Q When were the houses built?

Children's investigations
For the remainder of the local study the children carried out investigations to try to answer their questions. They worked in five groups, with each group focusing on a different historical source of evidence. These were as follows.

  • The school's log book, sampled over time
  • The school's admission registers, sampled over time
  • Kelly's street directories - the relevant pages at 10-yearly intervals
  • Census data for the street from the 1895 Census
  • Old maps of the area, from 1854 and 1878.

From the various sources, the class built up an extensive knowledge of the history of their school site.

Based on p63-5 of History 7-11 "Developing primary teaching skills" by Jon Nichol with Jacqui Dean. Routledge, 1997.

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