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Eleanor Ruth Duckworth (born 1935 in Montreal, Canada) is a cognitive psychologist, educational theorist and constructivist educator. A former student, colleague, leading translator and interpreter of Jean Piaget as well as renowned Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, she is one of the leading progressive educators today. Duckworth earned her Ph.D. (Docteur en sciences de l’éducation) at the Université de Genève in 1977. She grounds her work in Jean Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder's insights into the nature and development of understanding and intelligence and in their clinical research method. She has developed the clinical interview method of the Genevan school into a teaching/research approach, now called "critical exploration". As a teaching-researcher and reflective practitioner she is especially interested in teaching and in the experience of learners and teachers of all ages, both in and out of schools. She applies Piaget's pioneering observations on intellectual development directly to her research in the development of ideas and to teaching and training prospective and experienced teachers at Harvard University and on many continents. Duckworth also has been an elementary school teacher. Her participation in the 1960s curriculum development projects Elementary Science Study and African Primary Science Program was germinal for her insights and practices in exploratory methods in teaching and learning. She has conducted teacher education and program evaluation in the United States, Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Canada. She also is a coordinator with Cambridge United for Justice with Peace. In 2011 the new website of Critical Explorers, a non-profit organization, was launched. Critical Explorers creates and shares inquiry-based curricula and teaching approaches that support critical exploration in public school classrooms.

The having of wonderful ideas is what I consider the essence of intellectual development.
— (Duckworth, 2006, p. 1)

Short Biography[]

Duckworth is the daughter of Jack and Muriel H. Duckworth, Canadian peace workers and social and community activists. Jack Duckworth, born in 1897, was a highly regarded leader in the national YMCA movement and an outspoken pacifist from the 1930s until his death in 1975.[1] Muriel Duckworth, born in 1908 (maiden name Ball), who celebrated her hundredth birthday on October 31, 2008, has become renowned as a crusader for social justice, women’s rights, peace, educational development and fighting poverty. She was one of the 1000 women worldwide nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. In 2008, the Jack and Muriel Duckworth Fund for Active Global Citizenship was launched in their honors. Eleanor Duckworth has two brothers, Martin, born in 1933 and John, born in 1938.

(Re-)Discovering Piaget[]

Piaget first influenced the child study and progressive education movement in Europe and the U.S. with publications such as Le langage et la pensée chez l'enfant (1923) and Le jugement et le raisonnement chez l'enfant (1924), which were translated into English in the 1930s. However, Piaget's work found minimal use in the educational community during the two decades following World War II. It was Eleanor Duckworth, a student of Piaget during that time, who would reintroduce Piaget's methods and analysis into the classroom and the educational research community.


Jean Piaget and Eleanor R. Duckworth

Eleanor Duckworth first met Jean Piaget in 1957 in Paris at the Sorbonne where she was a graduate student. She sat in the front row of his lectures. After several months, Piaget approached her to join his research team. Saying he had noticed that she laughed at his jokes, he added that he put his most important ideas into his jokes. For the next two years Duckworth studied with Jean Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder at the Institut des Sciences de l'Education in Geneva, Switzerland. She served as a research and teaching assistant for the second of those years. She subsequently entered a doctoral program in cognitive psychology at Harvard University, and dropped out. For the years to come, the work with Piaget and Inhelder would have an important impact on her thinking and further development, and the bond with Piaget and Inhelder would last for a lifetime.

At Inhelder's recommendation, Duckworth began to participate in the Elementary Science Study (ESS) in 1962 - a curriculum development and science education reform project in Watertown, Massachusetts. Participating scientists and teachers included, among others, Philip Morrison, David Hawkins, Claryce Evans, Bill Walton, George Hein, Randolph Brown, Charles Walcott, Edith Churchill and Mike Savage. The project involved creating inexpensive and simple materials to provide children with opportunities to generate and solve problems. The main idea was to "[put] physical materials into children's hands from the start and help each child investigate through these materials the nature of the world around him" (ESS, 1970, p. 7). Teachers and students experimented with natural materials like bulbs, batteries, pendulums or butterflies, ice cubes and earthworms. During her four years as a staff member at the ESS, Duckworth struggled to incorporate the theory and clinical method of Piaget into the work she and her colleagues did in classrooms (Duckworth, 2006, p. 1).[2]

A breakthrough for communicating Piaget's work to a broader educational community occurred in 1964, when Duckworth acted as the English translator and interpreter of Piaget during a bi-coastal conference at Cornell University and University of California, Berkeley.[3] Duckworth reported to her colleagues at the ESS about the conference by writing a short paper, "Piaget Rediscovered". This paper gave its name to the book that came out of the conference - a collection of papers on developmental psychology and curriculum development. The book was instrumental in re-awakening interest in Piaget's work among educators.

Deciding to devote herself to education, she sought work as elementary school teacher in Montreal. In 1970 she took a job at the Atlantic Institute of Education, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as director of "The Lighthouse Project" - a curriculum development and teacher education program for the four Atlantic provinces of Canada.

Collaborating together with Jeanne Bamberger at the Division for Study and Research in Education at MIT, she initiated "The Teacher Project". During this project Duckworth and Bamberger worked to facilitate research experiences among teachers who worked in elementary schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1978. Duckworth continued to work with a smaller group of these same teachers for seven more years. This group - the Moon Group - explored the behaviour of the moon as a practice of learning and teaching.

Duckworth wrote essays based on some of these experiences with Piaget, the Cambridge Teacher Project and the Moon Group, in her landmark book The Having of Wonderful Ideas (1987|2006).

The Developmentalist Tradition[]

Within teacher education in the United States in the twentieth century, Duckworth's contributions relate to a progressive or developmentalist approach. The idea of a teacher acting as a researcher is embraced by the following four traditions of reflective teaching practice: academic, social efficiency, developmentalist and social reconstructivist. The developmentalist tradition considers that the teacher is both a practitioner and a researcher: "The teacher as researcher strand of this tradition has emphasized the need to foster the teacher's experimental attitude toward practice and to help teachers initiate and sustain ongoing inquiries in their own classroom" (Zeichner, 1992, p. 165).

Duckworth (2006, p. xiii) wrote in her book The Having of Wonderful Ideas that she built her developmental approach on two foundations very powerful to her:

  1. The work of Jean Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder. Duckworth was a student and colleague in the late 1950s and she acted as the English translator and interpreter of Piaget during his American lectures, until his death in 1980. Two aspects in the work of Piaget and Inhelder were especially important for Duckworth (2005b, p. 258–259): First, the basic idea of assimilation, that is, every person creates meaning on her own, while taking any experience into her own schemes, structures, previous understanding. Second, the clinical interviewing or clinical method, that is, engaging children in talking about their ideas with a researcher.
  2. Her experience with the Elementary Science Study (ESS) curriculum development program. This program is consistent with the work of Piaget and Inhelder in psychology and it is considered to be a milestone in the history of science education. The Elementary Science Study tackled the following main question: "So how do we present material 'from without' so that the activity that 'the mind itself undergoes' is valuable?" (Duckworth, 2005a, p. 142)

As a constructivist who defines teaching as helping people learn, Duckworth emphasizes the importance of engaging learners with phenomena, understanding students' current understandings and trying to facilitate students' own thinking. The central question of Duckworth's (2006: xiv) research over five decades continues to be: "How do people learn and what can anyone do to help?" In the process of investigating this question, she has developed a research method which she has called expanded clinical interviewing, teaching/learning research and critical exploration. These three phrases emerged in the course of her research and are used interchangeably (Duckworth, 2006, p. xv).

Critical Exploration[]

Bärbel Inhelder first applied the name critical exploration to Piaget's clinical interviewing which included observing children as well as interviewing and interacting with a child who is experimenting and investigating a problem set by the researcher. Inhelder introduced this method to pedagogical contexts (Inhelder, Sinclair & Bovet, 1974, p. 18–20). Duckworth (2005b, p. 258–259) describes critical exploration as having two facets: curriculum development and pedagogy. In the context of critical exploration, curriculum development means: the teacher is planning how to engage students' minds in exploring the subject matter. Pedagogy constitutes the practice by which teachers invite students to express their thoughts:

Critical exploration as a research method requires just as much resourcefulness in finding appropriate materials, questions, and activities as any good curriculum development does. Whether it be poems, mathematical situations, historical documents, liquids, or music, our offerings must provide some accessible entry points, must present the subject matter from different angles, elicit different responses from different learners, open a variety of paths for exploration, engender conflicts, and provide surprises; we must encourage learners to open out beyond themselves, and help them realize that here are other points of view yet to be uncovered – that they have not yet exhausted the thoughts they might have about this matter.
— (Duckworth, 2006, p. 140).

During critical exploration, exploring goes on in two modes: In one mode, the child explores the subject matter and in the other mode, the researcher-teacher explores the child's thinking. Hence, for the teacher, critical exploration finds itself at the nexus of research and teaching where teacher and learner support each other (Shorr, 2007, p. 369–370):

Critical exploration, then, as a research method, has two aspects: 1) developing a good project for the child to work on; and 2) succeeding in inviting the child to talk about her ideas: putting her at ease, being receptive to all answers; being neutral to the substance of the answer while being encouraging about the fact that the child is thinking and talking; getting the child to keep thinking about the problem, beyond the first thought that comes to her; getting her to take her thinking seriously.
— (Duckworth, 2005b, p. 259)

Consequently, Duckworth (2009, para. 1) suggests that a classroom teacher can take on the role of a researcher, "observing what students have learned, while guiding students' explorations towards a deeper understanding of the subject". The teacher explores too, by interacting with students' learning. It is the teacher's work to present engaging problems, and attend to students' ways of figuring them out helping them to notice what's interesting. For example, the teacher listens to students explain their ideas and asks them questions that seek to take students' thinking further (Duckworth, 2006, p. 173–174).

The main ideas of the teaching/learning research[]

Outlining her approach, Duckworth (2006, p. 173) states: "As a student of Piaget, I was convinced that people must construct their own knowledge and must assimilate new experiences in ways that make sense to them. I knew that, more often than not, simply telling students what we want them to know leaves them cold". Considering learning and teaching, critical exploration stresses the following aspects:

  • Students bring their prior expectations, interests and knowledge to the learning experience: The students' experience and insights are of high value as the development of their personal intelligence emerges through actions and the having of wonderful ideas. To reach deep understanding, students need to start from their own sets of ideas, be engaged in the subject matter and make a connection from the actual problem or subject matter to what they already understand. Consequently, the students do the talking as they explain the sense they are making, while the teacher listens. However, this requires a learning culture that accommodates students in feeling free and safe to say what their emerging ideas are, and that what they say is valued (Duckworth in Meek, 1991). "[B]y opening up to children the many fascinating aspects of the ordinary world and by enabling them to feel that their ideas are worthwhile having and following through, their tendency to have wonderful ideas can be affected in significant ways" (Duckworth, 2006, p. 12).[4]
  • Students need something complex that challenges them to explore: Students need to engage with the phenomena of study, not schematic substitutes. It is in struggling with complex problems that every learner undergoes the process of constructing their own knowledge. As learners experience internal cognitive conflicts in what they believe about the subject matter, their minds become more deeply engaged with the problem at hand. Learners' efforts in figuring out questions and puzzles are more productive than knowing the right answer because higher order thinking processes are involved. Therefore, teachers of critical exploration value the diverse efforts that students make during their explorations even where these efforts do not arrive at expected answers. In facilitating this investigative work, the questions that are asked over and over again by students and teachers alike are, for example: "What do you notice?" What do you mean?" "How you are thinking about it?" "Why do you think that?" "Is that the same as what (someone else) thought they saw?" "How did you figure that?" "How did you do that?" "How does that fit with what she just said?" "Could you give an example?" The responses that teachers and students give to each other might have the form of: "I don't quite get it." "It doesn't make sense (to me)." "I don't really get that; could you explain it another way?" Hence, most important: It is the students who make sense and understand by trying out their ideas, explaining them to others, and seeing how this holds up in other people's and their own eyes and in the light of the phenomena itself (Duckworth, 2002).
  • Teacher as facilitator with a researcher mind-set: The teacher creates situations and selects environmental resources that get students excited and engaged in learning that is meaningful to them.[5] The teacher is sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of learners, puts students at ease, engages learners, invites them to talk about their ideas, waits for learners to think and listens and then, reacts to the substance of their answers without judging them. The teacher takes a neutral researcher's stance. Instead of lecturing, the teacher creates situations that put learners into confronting their thinking processes, where they are responsible for their own learning.[6] The teachers' role then, is asking questions like “When you say x, what do you mean by it?" "How would that work if applied to this situation?" "Am I right in understanding your idea, if I say it this way?” to reveal students' thinking and take their own thoughts further. That way, the teacher refrains from signaling to the students what he might expect them to say. Instead, the teacher provides opportunities for learners to reveal their own understanding. The thoughts that learners have become visible through the responses they make including: actions, drawings, gestures, constructions, dialogues and sound, for example. Guiding questions for the teacher himself might be as follows (Duckworth, 2005b, p. 261): "What lies behind this response? How may the other children be responding to it? What question shall I ask next, or what experience to offer next, or where to direct their attention next?" The students' work is to make sense of the phenomena of study. The teachers' work is to ensure safe and supportive conditions in the classroom so that the students can take intellectual risks and do their work investigatively.

Some learning/teaching examples[]

The quote that follows is taken from a reporter's account of a session in Eleanor Duckworth's class T-440 for teaching teachers in the method of critical exploration. In the session described below, Duckworth involves two high school students in exploring how mirrors work while her own 50 students of teaching sit around the perimeter of the room and watch:

(1) Learning science with mirrors (Chira, 1989, para. 6)
Two shy teenagers, Dan and John, on loan from a local high school, stood facing 50 student observers as Professor Duckworth presented them with the mirror puzzle. Self-conscious at first, their embarrassment disappeared as they were drawn into the problem, with the professor egging them on at every turn. Soon they aligned themselves so they could see each other in the small mirror, and they glanced at her, thinking they have solved the puzzle. What were you thinking about when you decided that was where you would stand? she asked. It was a guess, replied John. I'll bet it was based on something, she pressed, and asked them to test every possible place they could stand and still see each other in the mirror. When they did so, she made the problem even more difficult. Do you think you could try to explain to somebody how it works? she asked.
For the next two hours, the two boys walked back and forth, dropping to the ground to measure the angles at which they stood with lengths of string. Every time they came close to what they thought was the answer, she asked another question, trying to chart for her 50 student observers how the teenagers were moving toward understanding and deliberately throwing out wrong answers to test just how deep their understanding lay.
Gradually, the boys grew more certain of their responses. The angles have to be equal, they told her. By the end of the class, they had discovered for themselves the physics formula that Professor Duckworth never stated: The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.

The following example is written by an instructor who participated in Duckworth's class T-440 as a learner. In this passage she discusses the central assignment of that course, which is to watch the moon and make personal sense of what you discover:

(2) Moonwatching - the moon project (Pettigrew, 2007, p. 43–44)
Our most dramatic assignment required that we watch the moon for an entire semester. Every day we recorded our sightings and shaped questions. It was astonishing to discover how pitifully little most of us knew about the moon. At first our questions were simple: When does the moon rise? Where does it rise? Wait, does it rise in a different place sometimes? Why was it still in the sky this morning at 8:45? How does that happen? We drew pictures in our journals; we reflected in writing on what we saw. And then we brought our jottings to class, sharing observations, sharing information, and sharing our confusions. We worked together. Eleanor listened. Her utterances were invariably inquisitive and open-ended and completely nonjudgmental; she was singularly focused on understanding the meaning we were making. Her focus seemed to be on how we were building our understanding rather than on what we understood. I wonder if you could say more about that, she might say. Or, I’m curious about what you see happening here. Over the course of our first semester, my classmates and I experienced a change: our observations of the moon became more subtle and our questions became very much more complicated, more sophisticated. One night, late into our second term, I came into class with a question about the rotations of the moon as it revolves around the Earth. Eleanor brought me - and my question - to the front of the room. She let me explain the problem. I drew pictures on the board, thinking out loud. She and the class listened hard; I could feel them listening. I can’t tell you how affirming such listening is. And then, when I seemed to hit a wall, a dead-end in my process, Eleanor asked, Would it help if you used this flashlight and this orange, and before long, I was the sun and a classmate was the Earth, and another classmate rotated the orange as he revolved around the “Earth.” I was directing the action out of my own body of understanding, and I could feel myself moving toward a solution. It took time. It felt like a few minutes to me, but it must have been much longer because Eleanor, sensing that I was on the brink and knowing that learning is a series of “flights and perchings,” put her hand on my shoulder and asked me if I’d like to let it rest a little. I went back to my desk in the far rear of the darkened room and pulled out a notebook in which I began to draw, still noodling the problem. I could feel that my solution was imminent; I could feel it. One of my classmates, sitting in the dark on the floor next to me, whispered urgently that he knew the answer to my question. He could tell me. And he began to explain. He wanted to be helpful, but resentment and self-protection rushed up inside me: here was a robber entering my house. He would steal from me an understanding that in a minute or two, by my own efforts, would be mine. I was desperate. I leaned down and hissed into his face: “Shut up!” And he did. I began then, for the first time in my life, to solve a problem by laying out an algebraic formula (I don’t know where that impulse came from), and as I constructed the formula, the pieces fell, breathtakingly, into place. It was an “aha” moment. I knew, perhaps, for the first time, the euphoria of discovery. I walked home that night with the knowledge that there would be a fundamental change in my teaching.

In the following passage a student teacher who had taken Duckworth's class T-440 talks about a exploratory lesson that she taught in a public school classroom where she was training to be a teacher:

(3) Teaching commas (Stewart, 1995, p. 1–2 cited in Duckworth, 2005a, p. 146–147)
On Friday, I taught the lesson on commas that I had been working on. It went superbly well. The students were engaged in the lesson throughout the period and really seemed to both enjoy and learn the material (and we’re talking about commas here). I also felt confident and knowledgeable about the purposes and pedagogy, especially after discussing my plans with [fellow students of teaching and learning].
I introduced the lesson by asking if any of the students felt comfortable using commas. None did. I then spoke about the wonderful ideas I had seen in many of their papers and how important it was to polish their papers by using commas correctly, for, if they don't, their brilliant ideas will be lost in the world's judgment of their mechanics. I handed out the materials: sheets of comma-less sentences from the students' writing, sheets of correct comma usage in the students' writing for them to refer to, and newspaper clippings. After I had arranged the students to work in pairs, one student called me over. She wanted to tell me that I was 'doing it wrong,' that I was supposed to give them all the rules regarding commas and then they were supposed to fill out the worksheets demonstrating what they had learned.
After the pairs of students worked together on the passages that needed commas, the class as a whole worked on them with an overhead projection that allowed them to share a single conversation. When students disagreed on comma placement, much of the class would get involved in the debate. I would move the commas to different places on the transparency according to their thinking. During this time, the students were completely engaged in the class. Together we developed a few basic rules of comma usage...I...was impressed with how much more engaged the students were when they had a chance to 'figure things out.' ...One student came up after class and thanked me for the class, saying that she had always felt unsure of herself and her writing because of commas.

Implications for teacher education: Teaching teachers to understand understanding[]

What I love to do is to teach teachers. I love to stir up their thoughts about how they learn; about how on earth anyone can help anyone else learn; and about what it means to know something. I love to help them feel that any aspect of human endeavor is accessible to them and that they can make it accessible to any person they teach. I love to try to find ways into a subject that will catch everybody's interest; to find out what people think about things and to find ways to get them talking about what they think; to shake up things they thought they knew; to get people wrapped up in figuring something out together without needing anything from me; to help build their fascination with what everybody else thinks, and with the light that other people's thinking might shed on their own. I love to see the most productive of questions be born out of laughter, and the most frustrating of brick walls give way to an idea that has been there all along.
— (Duckworth, 2006, p. 173)

The delight that Duckworth expresses in the above quote reflects how the teaching of teaching is core to her educational vision. If teachers are to teach their students exploratively, they must have experienced learning as explorers themselves (Duckworth, 2006). Teachers should have both, a chance to watch themselves learn and the possibility to spend a significant amount of time in a one-to-one teaching situation or in tutoring different individuals in the same topic. In the teacher education work that Duckworth does at Harvard University and elsewhere, she provides teachers with the opportunity to live through and think about the phenomena of teaching and learning. She involves teacher education students in the effort to understand somebody else's understanding. She considers it important for teachers to know what their students are understanding, that is: what sense the students are making of the subject matter (Duckworth in Meek, 1991, p. 32).

In her courses at Harvard University she applies her teaching approach by using critical exploration to teach critical exploration. Her famous T-440 course titled Teaching and Learning: "The Having of Wonderful Ideas" is usually conducted with two parallel groups, each having up to 50 teacher education students. Duckworth states on her course website: "The course starts from the premise that there are endless numbers of adequate pathways for people to come to understand subject matters. Curriculum and assessment must build on this diversity. A second premise is that every person can get involved with and enjoy and get good at every subject matter."[7]

In her university teaching Duckworth (2006, p. 9 and 173–192) tries to engage teacher education students with three major kinds of teaching and learning phenomena:

  1. Films and/or (life) demonstrations with one or two children or adolescents. In this way teacher education students can observe children/adults learning while instructors are teaching by engaging those learners and by listening and understanding the explanations of those learners;
  2. Teacher education students carry out a similar inquiry outside of classtime, where they meet with one or two people who are their practice learners. In this way, each teacher education student creates, on his own, a trial critical exploration for learners and then reflects on it in writing;
  3. Teacher education students learn as a group about a particular subject other than teaching and learning. Through this exploratory study by the group, the teacher education students are learning in the same way that the children in their classes will be learning. This subject could be from any area of study such as: pendulums, mathematical permutations, history, arts and poems.

In the paragraph below Duckworth describes what teacher education students learn both about teaching and about learning from observing children who are exploring something:

The first time I did such clinical interviews in this group, the teachers' reactions were, from one point of view, similar to the reactions of other groups who have watched such demonstrations: They were impressed with the children's involvement and spontaneity, and their willingness to think hard about difficult problems. They noticed that the emphasis was on what the children were thinking, not on its rightness or wrongness. They noticed the effort put into finding a way to ask a question that does not at the same time tell its answer. They noticed that the adult is often silent and that the silence is productive. They saw examples of how weak data is in the face of a strong conviction, and how children 'really do' think things as Piaget has described.
— (Duckworth, 2006, p. 87)


  • "My way of teaching was an extension of finding out what the kids did and didn't understand, and I had fun extending my discussions with kids. The more they told me about their explorations, the more their understanding developed; they also heard and responded to each other's ideas" (Duckworth in Meek, 1991, p. 30).
  • "In all of my formal schooling, I have only three memorable learning experiences. And they were all where I was called upon to have some ideas of my own... All these were examples of times when teachers gave me the opportunity to think on my own" (Duckworth, 1999, p. 29).
  • "[Y]ou can't assume people have understood something because you've led them through it very carefully. Nowadays that is absolutely critical to everything I do... Taking them through my sequence fails on two counts - one, it's boring to the learner and, two, it doesn't correspond to the ways their minds are taking on the subject. So it misses the boat" (Duckworth, 1999, p. 29).
  • "Real learning, attentive, real learning, deep learning, is playful and frustrating and joyful and discouraging and exciting and sociable and private all the time, which is what makes it great" (Duckworth, 1999, p. 30).
  • "Knowing the right answer requires no decisions, carries no risks, and makes no demands. It is automatic. It is thoughtless" (Duckworth, 2006, p. 63).
  • "The virtues involved in not knowing are the ones that really count in the long run. What you do about what you don't know is, in the final analysis, what determines what you will know" (Duckworth, 2006, p. 67).
  • "For Piaget the question is not how fast you go but how far you go" (Duckworth, 2006, p. 69).
  • "Our challenge as curriculum developers is to find the ways to engage learners, young or old, in the complexities of the areas we think it is important for them to know about. As researchers who are interested in how ideas actually develop, I think we have exactly the same challenge. I hope I have made clear how intertwined these challenges are" (Duckworth, 2006, p. 154).
  • "Teaching is helping people learn, and you have not taught if people have not learned. Teaching is not telling" (Duckworth in Bobilya & Daniel, 2009, p. 115).
  • "When I'm working well, I speak maybe four times in a 50-minute period - and I try to make those remarks brief. Such teaching requires continual self-discipline: I will admit that my own enthusiasms are sometimes hard to contain. My interests and interpretations - my understanding - continually threaten to burst into the open. Put another way: my ego is always ready to get between the students and their explorations - 'like a robber breaking in upon their thoughts.' I must be vigilant. To practice a pedagogy of critical exploration, a listening pedagogy, the teacher must be ready to stand out of the way" (Pettigrew, 2007, p. 45).
  • "Becoming a critical explorer, a creative teacher, or a thoughtful citizen all require a willingness to forgo the comfort of certainty and engage with the discomfort of ambiguity and uncertainty" (Shorr, 2007, p. 371).

Awards (Selection)[]

  • Inaugural Barbara K. Lipman Award for Advances in Early Childhood Education given annually to a researcher, writer or program designer who has significantly influenced early childhood education or child growth and development, University of Memphis (2008).
  • Doctor of the University, Honoris Causa, University of Ottawa (1993).
  • The book "The having of wonderful ideas" and other essays on teaching and learning won the American Educational Association Award for writing on teaching and teacher education (1987).
  • Invited to give Catherine Molony Memorial Lecture at City College School of Education, Workshop Center for Open Education (1979).
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, Lesley University (1977).

Bibliography (Selection)[]

  • (1964a). Piaget rediscovered. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 2 (3): 172–175.
  • (1964b). Floating color tubes. Nature and Children 1 (2): 6–7.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (1973a). Language and Thought. In M. Schwebel & J. Raph (Eds.), Piaget in the classroom (pp. 132–154). New York: Basic Books.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (1973b). The having of wonderful ideas. In M. Schwebel & J. Raph (Eds.), Piaget in the classroom (pp. 258–277). New York: Basic Books.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (1973c). Piaget takes a teacher's look. An interview with Jean Piaget. Learning: The magazine for Creative Teaching, 22–27.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (1978). The African primary science program: An evaluation and extended thoughts. Grand Forks: North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation.
  • (1979). An introductory note about Piaget. Journal of Education 161: 5–12.
  • (1983). Teachers as learners. Archives de Psychologie 51: 171–175.
  • (1987). Some depths and perplexities of elementary arithmetic. Journal of Mathematical Behavior 6: 43–94.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (1990). Opening the world. In E. Duckworth, J. Easley, D. Hawkins & A. Henriques (Eds.), Science education: A minds-on approach for the elementary years (pp. 21–59). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • (1999). Engaging learners with their own ideas: An interview with Eleanor Duckworth. The Active Learner 4 (1): 28–30.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (2001a). Inventing density. In E. Duckworth (Ed.), "Tell me more": Listening to learners explain (pp. 1–41). New York: Teachers College Press. Original publication 1986.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (2001b). "Tell me more": Listening to learners explain. New York: Teachers College Press. Booknote retrieved, April 12, 2009 at Book review retrieved, April 12, 2009 at
  • Duckworth, E.R. (2002). "The having of wonderful ideas" and other essays on teaching and learning. Fieldwork - Notes from expeditionary learning classrooms, X(2), 11–12. Book review retrieved, April 12, 2009 at
  • Duckworth, E.R. (2005a). A reality to which each belongs. In B.S. Engel (Ed.), Holding values: What we mean by progressive education (pp. 142–147). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • (2005b). Critical exploration in the classroom. New Educator 1 (4): 257–272.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (2006). "The having of wonderful ideas" and other essays on teaching and learning. Third edition. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (2008). Teaching as research. In A. Miletta & M. Miletta (Eds.), Classroom conversations. A collection of classics for parents and teachers (pp. 119–144). New York: The New Press.
  • (2009a). Helping students get to where ideas can find them. The New Educator 5 (3): 185–188.
  • Duckworth, E.R. (2009b). Critical exploration in the classroom. Harvard Graduate School of Education - Usable Knowledge.
  • Duckworth, E.R. and the Experienced Teachers Group (1997). Teacher to teacher: Learning from each other. New York: Teachers College Press.Book review retrieved, April 12, 2009 at
  • Duckworth, E.R. (2010). The Soul Purpose. Learning Landscapes, 3 (2): 21-28.
  • Duckworth, E.R. & Julyan, C. (2005). A constructivist perspective on teaching and learning science. In C.T. Fosnot (Ed.), Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice (pp. 61–79). 2nd edition. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Duckworth, E.R., Easley, J., Hawkins, D. & Henriques, A. (Eds.) (1990). Science education: A minds-on approach for the elementary years. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.


  1. See
  2. Duckworth states: "My colleagues did not seem to be any the worse for not taking Piaget seriously. Nor, I had to admit, did I seem to be any the better. Schools were such complicated places compared with psychology labs that I couldn't find a way to be of any special help. Not only did Piaget seem irrelevant, I was no longer sure that he was right. For a couple of years, I scarcely mentioned him and simply went about the business of trying to be helpful, with no single instance, as I recall, of drawing directly on any of his specific findings" (2006, p. 2).
  3. Verne N. Rockcastle, the conference director of the bi-coastal conference in 1964, wrote in the conference report of the Jean Piaget conferences: "Piaget, when looking over the list of participants at the Cornell conference, noticed with pleasure that Eleanor Duckworth of Educational Services, Inc., was going to attend. She had studied with Piaget and knew both him and his theories well. With little urging she agreed to translate Piaget's lectures for the conference. It soon was apparent that Eleanor Duckworth was a real key to the success of the Cornell conference. She was outstanding not only in her interpretation of Piaget's complex phraseology, but in her fielding and translating of the questions directed at Piaget at the close of each of his lectures. There was not any question but that she should translate at Berkeley as well. Again, the success of the conference was due in large measure to her superb translations" (1964, p. xi).
  4. "Exploring ideas can only be to the good, even if it takes time. Wrong ideas, moreover, can only be productive. Any wrong idea that is corrected provides far more depth than if one never had a wrong idea to begin with. You master the idea much more thoroughly if you have considered alternatives, tried to work it out in cases where it didn’t work, and figured out why it was that it didn’t work, all of which takes time" (Duckworth, 2006, p. 70).
  5. A good learning situation "[m]ust permit the child to establish plans to reach a distant goal, while leaving him wide freedom to follow his own routing" (Blanchet, 1977, p. 37 cited in Duckworth, 2006, p. 42). "If we can create situations like this, then differences among children are by definition taken into account – without our having to diagnose in advance each child’s level in a dozen domains. We can also be sure that children will take their own individual notions further as they strive to make sense of any situation [...]" (Duckworth, 2006, p. 48).
  6. There are two aspects to providing occasions for wonderful ideas. One is being willing to accept children’s ideas. The other is providing a setting that suggests wonderful ideas to children - different ideas to different children - as they are caught up in intellectual problems that are real to them (Duckworth, 2006, p. 7).
  7. See


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