‘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.
Keywords: questions, Vygotsky, Halliday, elementary school English as a foreign language
Published online: 16 April 2021
Kellogg, D. & Ripp, A.
Aljaafreh, A., & Lantolf, J. P.
Chin, C., & Osborne, J.
De Guerrero, M. C. M., & Villamil, O. S.
Halliday, M. A. K. & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M.
Leontiev, A. N.
Martin, J. R.
McClimans, L. M.
Richardson, I. M.
Swain, M., & Watanabe, Y.
Wertsch, J. V.