Being the inquirer I want to see: lessons from an inquiry into Twitter part 1.

Somewhat late to the party,  I have finally entered the twittersphere.  I am still very green  and I’m a long way from the ’wow’ column in the assessment rubric –  but far enough into the process to glean some very useful learning.  What I am learning from the offerings of fellow tweeters goes without saying.   It is what I am learning (and confirming) about inquiry that is the most fascinating aspect of all (as predicted by those who suggested I do it!)   I have long challenged teachers around the world to “be the inquirer they want to see” by engaging in a new learning experience for themselves.   Over the last few weeks, it has been my turn.   So here are a few musings from the journey so far – and what they might mean for the way we work with our students:

 

1. While personal interest is a powerful motivator – passionate others can (and should!) plant the seed for investigation.

 If it had been solely up to me to “choose” to investigate twitter, I would still be none the wiser!  It took the suggestions of others to provoke enough curiosity – and then the offer of someone to actually sit with me and get the ball rolling.  This person knew me. She knew my role in the field and knew professional communication through Twitter could be hugely interesting and beneficial.   She knew there could a real connection to my work and helped me see that personal connection quickly.

 What’s the lesson? While I firmly believe students need opportunities to inquire into questions and contexts they self select and are passionate about – I also believe that our role as teachers should include that of “seed planters” and “curiosity provokers”.    By  (passionately) inviting students to explore compelling, rich contexts and questions for inquiry  – even those that may be outside their initial interest area – we can do much to widen and deepen learning and open doors that would otherwise remain closed.  It doesn’t need to be teacher OR student ‘led’ – it can be both.

2. The known is the most important ingredient to take into the unknown

For years I have championed the importance of “tuning in” to students’ thinking before exploring new territory.   This is the key to formative assessment and to the nuanced questioning and scaffolding used by great inquiry teachers.   As I ventured into the twittersphere.  I was acutely conscious of the way I used my prior knowledge to make sense of the new.   I needed to make connections between what I already knew from using facebook, texts and other social media and the strange new world I found myself in.  I was (am) constantly comparing and contrasting and avidly pattern-seeking.  This is one of the ways I navigate my way through the inevitable (and important) ’ fog’ of the unfamiliar.

This aspect has reminded me of two key features of an inquiry-based approach.  Finding out what students bring to an investigation not only helps the students make vital connections between old and new – it provides teachers with the insight they need to scaffold learning as a student attempts to make new meaning.    At the important points of struggle/confusion a prompt, question or observation that helps the student see a connection to what they already understand is incredibly powerful. We can’t do that if we fail to acknowledge and explore the known.   As teachers we also need to consider making these conceptual connections early and often.  This is how we hold engagement and ensure flow and purpose.  Students need to see how other things they are familiar with connect with the unfamiliar.

 

3.  Let me play awhile.

We all know this one…but how sobering to be reminded of it through personal experience!  Once I got to the point where I felt I had the ‘basics’ – I needed some freedom and a sustained (and yes, uninterrupted) opportunity to explore at my own pace and times of my own choosing.    That meant practising, experimenting, reviewing, repeating and even digressing (a quick, guilty check of a celebrity profile before returning to the rarified milieu of my fellow educators!) 

  This has affirmed the importance of personalised and informal ‘tinkering’ time for our students.  Time to play – with new ideas, new skills, to revisit texts, flit around from one site to another and even to wander off task without being too quickly re-directed. Time for free exploration as well as the focused and structured aspects of a task is vital for many learners to engage.   And I need to know when to back off – when to leave students to explore and observe from a distance.    I need to allow time – but enough ‘know how’ to be ready to use that time productively.  No point in being allowed to play in the deep end of the pool without some basic swimming lessons!

4. The questions arise when they arise.

 I wonder what it would have been like if Meredith  (my delightful twitter coach) had asked me to fill in a KWL chart before we sat down together to explore the technology!    I would have been OK with the “Know” part….(I knew a few things) but I doubt I would have had many questions.   And if Meredith had used the few questions I DID ask to determine what to teach me,  it would have been a very narrow learning experienced indeed.  As the adage goes, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.   But the more I explored – the more I knew what to ask.  This was an organic and fluid process.  And now, some weeks down the track, I am ready with even more questions. 

Noticing my questions and wonderings in this process has been so fascinating.   It’s reminded me that we can’t expect questions to be asked at any one ‘stage’ of inquiry.  Questions will arise at different points in the journey.  Some deep and others ‘shallow’ but often necessary.   Students need opportunities to raise questions throughout and some will go by the wayside as new experiences enter the picture.  Questions should run the life of an inquiry….and beyond.  I know mine will! 

 

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5 Responses to Being the inquirer I want to see: lessons from an inquiry into Twitter part 1.

  1. Jason Graham says:

    Hi Kath
    I like how you make the connections as a learner yourself in exploring something new and being a risk taker. My school is still struggling with getting teachers on twitter, leading by example seems to be the best way. There are plenty of non believers and that’s fine. For me, Twitter has been the best PD for me. It is just in time training. I can connect and share. Building a personal learning network on Twitter or by other means takes time, requires two way communication and is a bit like a garden. If you spend time taking care of it, it will grow. One aspect that is really important you mention is time to play. Food for thought when we ask our learners to try something new. I was a long time lurker. Watching others share and learn until I took the plunge. I gave myself plenty of time to play an it has rewarded me with an excellent PLN.

  2. Hi Kath,

    What a great idea to study yourself undertaking something new like this! I agree with all Jason says. My own learning has really increased dramatically since I started using twitter because of the fantastic writings that landed on my \”doorstep\” for me to pick and choose from. Of course because of your reputation, someone like yourself coming in has an audience already waiting to hear what you think. For a \”normal\” person like me there wasn\’t that audience and only a couple of people who followed me actually knew me and I think to start with that\’s hard but once one starts to get interactions that side of twitter is easier.
    And why not follow the odd celebrity…. a change is as good as a rest :) !

  3. Thanks for the feedback. The inquiry is just beginning – but all new learning helps give us insight into the fascinating process that is learning itself. Lindy – the ‘democratisation’ of expertise is one of the more fascinating aspects of social media in a professional context. Jason – the idea that we learn when we are ‘ready’ is so clear in the ways in which people do and don’t embrace technology. For me, the key was seeing an authentic purpose for what I was learning. Purpose is one of our greatest drivers – and something I hope both teachers and kids seek in their inquiries.

  4. Dear Kath,

    First of all welcome to the world of Twitter! Will find you and follow you. It is amazing to see how the real world can help us understand inquiry and the very nature of the curious, human mind. You have beautifully exemplified two key aspects that I try to infuse in the work I do with teachers as a Coordinator.

    1. Being alive to change is an inevitable and integral part of learning for the future. Unless, we adapt to the way the world is rapidly changing, as teachers we will lose touch with the way our students our thinking, and thereby fail to provoke them to find their own journey of learning. Our students today have a wide plethora of experiences at a young age, a tenth of which we would have had had at their age… hence, it is crucial to connect with them in the context of their world.

    2. Students must be inspired and our role as educators is to be as you correctly state ‘seed planters’. Often role modelling works wonderfully with adults, especially when it is about being introduced to a new programme, software or Web 2.0 tool! We have been greatly successful last year at our school (www.pathways.in) in using peer encouragement, modelling and motivation to introduce more and more teachers to try out new ways of doing the same things they have done earlier!

    Your post has left me feeling elated at our successes last year and happy to have you on Twitter! See you there… hope to hear from you soon!

  5. naini says:

    Hi Kathy, it is an honour having you here! Your inquiry cycle is present in all of our classroom walls here in India! :) As I was reading your post, I started thinking about myselff as a learner. I need to make connections with what I am learning. And motivation is a big factor. Why on earth should I learn something unless I can use it effectively in my life?! The Hook Kindle, Bridge strategy that you refer to in the beginning, is so crucial if we have to keep the students focused. I also started making connections with what you were saying about yourself as a learner. I usually need a 5 minute break as I am reading 100s of articles for my master’s course. My brain needs that break. I appreciate the fact that I need to chunk student learning into 5 minute blocks:)

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