Original Research Article
‘What does the fox say?’
Why some questions come before others and what it means for young learners
The late M. A. K. Halliday sketched a language-based theory of learning which posited three overlapping functions of
learning language, learning through language, and finally learning about language as the young learner struggles to direct his or her own
learning from language. Here we focus on one aspect of this struggle for what Vygotsky called conscious awareness and mastery of learning,
namely questions. First we examine Hasan’s case that learning particular kinds of questions enable participation in classroom discourse
while others disable it. Next, we look at Vygotsky’s case that self-directed questions (rhetorical and narrativized questions) have a key
role to play in learning through questions. Finally, we consider what path the child has to take in learning about questions in English as a
foreign language. Using ordinary classroom tasks under ordinary classroom conditions, we trace changes in children’s questions over six
months, and we find statistically significant changes, particularly remarkable in retelling dialogues containing questions as narratives.
But we also find very few new wh-questions, and we suggest that this is because mastery and conscious awareness of the structure of
wh-questions still lie in the next, or proximal, zone of the children’s development.
- 1.Introduction: The Fox and the Crow
- 2.Why questions?
- 2.1Learning questions
- 2.2Learning through questions
- 2.3Learning about questions
- 3.Vygotsky and Halliday: Development as the development of choices
- 4.The system network: Left turns and high roads to development
- 5.Study: Three questions about learner questions
- 5.1Learning language: Does MOOD improve over six months of ordinary teaching?
- 5.2Learning through language: Do the children turn dialogue into narrative?
- 5.3Learning about language: Do the children create their own questions or simply rely on structures found in the book?
- 6.Conclusion: The Crow and the Fox