Inquire Within has become like a steamy cup of my favorite cup of Earl Grey tea and really has brought me along professionally as an inquiry teacher.
I feel like I’m new to the inquiry model. Years ago, I taught 5th grade in a public school in the United States. New to teaching elementary school, I followed along my colleagues, feeling good when I had kept my 29 Grade 5 students under control. I taught content–American history, geometry… I prepped my students for the Grade 5 Washington Assessment of Student Learning. I felt good when I figured out how to design a board with lots of color and pizazz.
Looking back on that, I think I’ve come a long way. I moved overseas, learned the PYP curriculum, and several years ago, I had my first real brush with teaching through inquiry. I was following a unit that had been established years ago that was about ancient civilizations and reminiscent of my Grade 5 teaching of American history. Dull, boring.
I had a conversation with a colleague who, at that time, taught kindergarten. He had been teaching in a PYP school for about 15 years. We got into a discussion about inquiry and opening up the unit and driving questions. I lost track of time and was completely enthralled. That was how teaching should look, I thought. Things started to change. A math workshop got me moving toward constructivist teaching, and then this year, following Inquiry Within and thoughts on Twitter about inquiry. Our most recent unit on the PYP Exhibition helped exemplify how students can get so engaged when delving into their own passionate inquiries.
I love that the in Accra they have a working book group about inquiry. I love the discussions about inquiry and how you shouldn’t plan more than a day in advance. I’m trying. I have a colleague who likes to have the entire unit scripted out, week by week, and so I feel stymied by that, but it’s because I now believe so strongly that inquiry is the only way to teach, and you that’s something you can’t script out.
Which is why I was so infuriated when I recently read an article titled: “Putting Students on the Path to Learning.” Published in one of the predominant teacher union journals in the United States, this article says that its goal is to put an end to the debate about guided versus unguided instruction. According to the authors, “decades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance.” They go on to say that controlled experiments indicate that with new information, students must be shown explicitly what to do and how to do it and then practice only by getting corrective feedback.
Research, albeit older research, backs up their statements and their overwhelming, extremely strong demand is that teachers use direct instruction. It’s the only way students learn. After taking a few deep breaths after reading the article, I realized that US schools are dealing with testing and teaching core content to make the grade in those tests. Due to US educational policy, schools who don’t make the grade are in danger of being shut down. Teachers are ranked and their inadequacies are published in newspapers. That’s an entirely different subject, but it gives me an idea of where the teacher’s union is coming from. Somehow they need to drill a lot of knowledge into students’ heads. Inquiry would be tough in a school so focused on teaching to the test or would it?
I feel privileged to have escaped and to be able to teach in a way that makes sense. As someone said in a post I read, it’s not just about 21st century learning, it’s what makes sense. If I was told what to think, how to think and how to do everything, would I be happy? No. Inquiry makes me happy. It’s my cup of Earl Grey tea, and it’s a path I want to continue to follow with my students.