A Teacher’s Teacher: Eleanor Duckworth

The ACT Board was recently reflecting on the amazing educators who inspire us and broaden our conception of what learning can be. In this piece, ACT Board member Sonja de Groot Kim, takes us on a journey about her experience with a giant in constructivist learning.

Eleanor Duckworth was one of the keynote speakers at our ACT conference in 2015. I observed her as she came into the conference room, looking around at the clusters of tables that had been set up for the participants. Instead of heading to the speaker’s podium that had been set up, she walked over to one of the tables, sat down and began a conversation with the people at the table.  After a few minutes, she walked over to another table, sat down and talked. I was so struck by this, her focus on people as individuals and wanting to get to know them. It confirmed to me everything I had read about her. She was truly a teacher’s teacher!

I am quoting from her article, “Helping Students Get to Where Ideas Can Find Them”: Winnie the Pooh said, of the hums that came to him from time to time, “Poetry and hums aren’t things which you get. They’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you”. Duckworth believes that the teacher’s role is not so much to convey knowledge to the students but “is about helping students get their minds, their awareness, and their feelings so active and thoughtful and informs that they are in a place where hums–or connections, understandings, new ideas–can find them (p. 185).

She derived this knowledge and understanding through her work as a research assistant with Jean Piaget and his colleague Barbel Inhelder in Geneva, Switzerland. Briefly, Piaget developed the Clinical Method, or Clinical Interview, a way of talking with children about their ideas and understandings. Barbel Inhelder and Eleanor Duckworth use the terms Clinical Interviewing and Critical Exploration to further explore this way of working with children in the field of education.

Duckworth continues to work with educators and researchers in the non-profit organization she founded, “Critical Explorers”.  In their work as teacher/researchers, teachers explore the way children think about a topic and engage them in deeper intellectual exploration as their interest develops.

Photo of Eleanor Duckworth and Constance Kamii at the ACT Conference

If you are interested in learning more about the brilliant and compassionate mind of Eleanor Duckworth, here is a list of a few links for exploring. Take a deep dive—you won’t be disappointed.

Helping Students Get to Where Ideas Can Find Them
Article by Eleanor Duckworth

Because Eleanor Duckworth Took Us to the Moon
Article in the 2020 Harvard Graduate School of Education Centennial issue by Victoria Short

Critical Explorers Website
Eleanor Duckworth is President of Critical Explorers

“The Having of Wonderful Ideas. And other essays on Teaching and Learning” by Eleanor Duckworth  (Link to 3rd Edition on Amazon)



About ACT:

The Association of Constructivist Teachers (ACT) aims to grow the use of constructivist practice for all students and educators, pre-kindergarten through university. We invite you to join us as we construct a new understanding of equity in education at our Annual Virtual Fall Conference: Constructivist Teaching is Social Justice Teaching held online from October 23-24, 2021. Continuing education credits and scholarships available. Reserve your spot now!