David Macaulay on Asking Questions to Explore Non-fiction Subjects

As goals of information literacy have been expanded to include skills and attitudes that ultimately allow students to construct their own knowledge based on deep learning of interest to them, all of us can gain insight from professional authors who naturally incorporate those inquiry skills and attitudes into their own writing process.

David Macaulay is one such author. Whether it’s exploring questions that interest him, creatively expressing his new understandings, or just generally feeling an excitement about learning that drives his research, Macaulay lives out the process of inquiry that we envision for our students. When encouraging students, consider his following remarks about the making of his books.

Macaulay on Questions of Interest

“When I was a kid, I was inquisitive and often went outside and looked for answers. I was an explorer.”

“The key behind all of the books I do, particularly with the information books, there’s a sense of curiosity. I’ve always had it and I’ve always been willing to keep asking questions until I understood the larger picture.”

Macaulay on Researching a Chosen Topic

“When I choose a subject, I choose a subject that interests me because I know that I’m going to be with it for a long time. So you read. You visit the sites. I photograph a lot. I’m sketching a lot. I have sketchbooks filled with notes from various trips. I sometimes make models of things to help me understand how things go together. I have a microscope. I have a library. It really is important to me that when I produce a book that is supposed to have information in it, that that information be reliable. That’s critical.”

Watch the making of The Way Things Work, David Macaulay.

Macaulay on Creative Expression of New Knowledge

“My job primarily with The Way Things Work (HMH 1988) was to interpret through pictures how things work and what the connections are between the principles behind different kinds of technology.”

Macaulay on How Reflection Leads to New Explorations

“After doing all the filming of the PBS series, I found myself re-researching this stuff for each of the five subjects and putting together sort of concise chapters that dealt with half a dozen examples to offer another way of seeing the information we had presented on camera.”

Watch the making of The Way We Work, David Macaulay.

Macaulay on Excitement for Research

Years before he began writing The Way We Work (HMH 2008), David reflected on his hopes for the project:

“[I’d love to produce a book] filled with exciting drawings that made you think, ‘Wow, that’s a fantastic thing. That’s what a knee is. Or a hand, you know, that’s how that finger sort of bends and straightens and bends and straightens.’ Those things, those are the questions that really appeal to me, and I think that they can be answered in a very exciting way. … If I could just make the engineering of the body as exciting as I happen to think it is, then that would be a contribution I’d be happy to make.”

Questions related to David Macaulay’s inquiry process:

  • Your students are being asked to explore questions that are meaningful to them. What is of interest in their lives?
  • How do students know when their initial questions are helping understand a bigger picture?
  • What steps can students take to learn about a subject of interest? Macaulay read, examined images, sketched, sculpted, journaled, and more.
  • What options do you give students to creatively express their new understandings?
  • How would you react to a student who wanted to re-research a topic after completing one project on it?

 

This post was originally published as an article in Carin Bringelson and Nick Glass’  monthly column for School Library Monthly.

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