‘JONK’ is an intriguing approach to improving children’s learning

‘The joy of not knowing’ might seem like an odd, even somewhat counterintuitive, statement to make in the context of a discussion about learning — after all, most people probably think about education in terms of the acquisition of knowledge — but it is at the heart of a learning-to-learn culture promoted by Marcelo Staricoff in his latest book The Joy of Not Knowing: A Philosophy of Education Transforming Teaching, Thinking, Learning.

‘The Joy of Not Knowing’, or ‘JONK’ — both the phrase and the acronym are capitalised and trademarked — is an approach to and philosophy of education developed over more than two decades by Marcelo Staricoff. After initially pursuing a career as a research scientist, he retrained as a primary school teacher, with a particular interest in finding out how children learn best.

His CV is highly impressive. He is described in the book’s opening pages as “the creator of the Joy of Not Knowing (JONK) approach, founder and director of JONK Thinking and Learning Ltd, a School Tutor in Education at the University of Sussex and an educational consultant, speaker and trainer working with schools nationally and internationally on applying the principles contained in this book … He is a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching (elected in 2019).”

In contrast to the traditional — and sadly all too prevalent — teacher-expounding-and-children-listening approach to learning, JONK promotes a learning-to-learn culture in the classroom. The difference in learning approaches is illustrated by one of Staricoff’s own examples (his book, though a contribution to academic debate, is also a practical guide and includes lots of ideas, strategies and case studies relevant to early years and primary settings):

When the plan is to teach children about an aspect of time – the concept of seconds, minutes, hours, days, telling the time, the 24 hours clock, digital time – the learning objective could be phrased as a statement, a question, or a philosophical question:

Statement – To be able to tell the time on an analogue clock.
Question – Can we learn how to tell the time using the hands on an analogue clock?
Philosophical – Does time exist?

By setting up the enquiry ‘Does time exist?’, children are drawn into a deeper understanding of the concept of measuring time than the traditional approach of ‘Here is a clock. What hour is the big hand pointing to?’ The factual knowledge is absorbed by the learners in the course of the Staricoff enquiry approach, but with the boredom element removed.

Staricoff himself notes: “The philosophical approach generates a great amount of motivation and interest as it presents the learning in a way that children find amusing, unusual and interesting as it makes them think in a completely different way about something they already know.”

The Joy of Not Knowing is certainly of relevance to anyone with an interest in aspects of the life-based learning approach. Engaging children’s natural sense of curiosity and desire to find things out, allowing them to try out possible solutions and search for answers in classrooms that are ‘communities of enquiry’, offers an intriguing and exciting approach to accelerating children’s learning.

‘JONK’ has the potential to take teaching teams on a transformational journey of understanding of their role as facilitators, providing inspirational learning by making it fun and stimulating for the children and for the adults too!

The Joy of Not Knowing: A Philosophy of Education Transforming Teaching, Thinking, Learning and Leadership in Schools by Marcelo Staricoff is published by Routledge, ISBN978-0-367-17272-5

Marcelo Staricoff features on our Changemakers page, a directory of education changemakers whose ideas on provision for primary-age children [5- to 11-year-olds] resonate with the life-based learning approach.

If you would like to be included on our Changemakers page, you can contact us here.

The Joy of Not Knowing

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The image at the head of this article is by cherylt23 from Pixabay.

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