How did I get interested in the topic of working theories? (2)

In this post I now include work of Judith Lindfors and Gordon Wells who, alongside Jerome Bruner mentioned in the previous post, have been influential on my thinking about children’s interests, inquiries, intuition and working theories. The following was included in my 2014 article.

children-500065_960_720Lindfors (1999) identified three human urges: “to connect with others (social), to understand the world (intellectual), to reveal oneself within it (personal)” (p. 46). Lindfors describes what she labels inquiry acts as a fundamental human drive “simultaneously and inevitably acts of connection, of understanding, of personal expression” (p. 4). She argues that inquiry acts have purpose, expression, participants and context and that they “engage others in going beyond one’s present understanding; seek information; seek confirmation of an idea; seek explanation of some phenomenon; and wonder about something [in] a stance of openness to a world of possibilities” (p. 4). Lindfors’ position on inquiry therefore has congruence with viewing the notion of children’s expression of working theories as an inquiry act. Lindfors provided examples of ways that as emergent inquirers, children argue, challenge, negotiate, compare, evaluate, hypothesise, predict and reflect to deepen their investigation and understandings. As children absorb information through intent participation and inquire further into aspects of their lives that appear related in some way, working theories likely evolve during inquiry acts as attempts at explanatory connections between experiences, information and understandings.

Wells (1999) argues that inquiry learning for children and teachers is most effective when it engages with authentic questions and issues. Wells (1999) argues that an inquiry orientation emphasises:

“… starting with ‘real’ questions that are generated by students’ first-hand engagement with topics and problems that have become of genuine interest to them. For it is when learners have begun to formulate their own theories, to test them in various ways, and to submit them to critical evaluation by their peers, that they can most fully appreciate contributions to the problems with which they are engaged that have been made by more experienced workers in the field” (p. 91).

Understandings in Wells’ (1999) spiral of knowing find further parallels in the notion of working theories in that understandings are “personal, holistic and intuitive” (p. 85).

Considerations of inquiry are included in much work of educators – the word “inquiry” likely means different things along the way. Hence it’s important that I am clear about the ways Lindfors and Wells’ definitions and ideas have informed my work.

For another perspective on play and inquiry, see Keryn Davis’ blog post about the importance of both for children in their school experiences:

This is really helpful in providing links too to projects that can support children’s inquiry and knowledge building. Teacher planning is a vital aspect of pedagogy and related considerations.

If working theories are an important part of a child’s thinking and knowledge development, two further pedagogical matters are important: (1) the situational conditions in relation to ways curiosity is stimulated and provided for; (2) the ways that teachers respond to children’s curiosity and working theories. Such considerations place responsibility on a teacher to know children well in order to make professional judgements about the direction of conversations and have the knowledge and skill to foster understandings.

I think that accepting and allowing children to explore their intuitive, creative and, at times, illogical ideas may be just as important in fostering thinking and intellectual curiosity at times as confronting children’s understandings or introducing more scientific explanations. Teachers being knowledgeable about topics and “subjects”, and pedagogical strategies that foster working theories and enable theories to become connected are very important. Here, we see the link to another related strand of my research programme: teachers’ subject content knowledge.

And if you were wondering about the theorising of children’s interests in my thesis, that’s a whole other story… but there’s a reference below.


Hedges, H. (2014). Young children’s “working theories”: Building and connecting understandings. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 12(1), 35-49.

Hedges, H. (2014). Children’s content learning in play provision: Competing tensions and future possibilities. In L. Brooker, M. Blaise, & S. Edwards (Eds.), The Sage handbook of play and learning in early childhood (pp. 192-203). London: Sage.

Hedges, H., Cullen, J. & Jordan, B. (2011). Early years curriculum: Funds of knowledge as a conceptual framework for children’s interests. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43(2), 185-205. doi: 10.1080/00220272.2010.511275

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