This post is by Maggie Hos-McGrane, an IT teacher in an international school in Switzerland.
Questions unite people, answers divide them (Elie Wiesel)
On the PYP planners (IB Primary Years Programme) is a place for teacher and student questions. At our planning meetings these questions are discussed before the unit begins, as it is very important to have excellent questions and provocations to encourage the students to think deeply at the tuning-in stage of the inquiry. Even more important, I think, is teaching students how best to ask questions, so that they can questions their own beliefs and opinions and those of others and so that they can find answers through their own inquiries and share those answers with others.
At my last school several staff meetings were devoted to the work of Kimberley Lasher Mitchel, a former PYP teacher from the International School of Athens. We viewed videos of a couple of inquiry lessons that Kimberley conducted at different schools and discussed her methods for increasing inquiry in the classroom. This is what she recommends to promote inquiry:
1. Provoke discussion and challenge thinking – challenging preconceived ideas encourages more critical thinking. It’s OK to wonder and not to know everything. Ensure what is being studied has relevance to the students – if not it’s very difficult to have true inquiry.
2. Stay neutral and judgement free – don’t say “good, great response” which implies these are the “right answers”. Listening to what students are saying leads to students feeling safe and taking risks and also leads to them responding better to each other.
3. Invite elaboration – let them think through their theories. Ask questions such as what makes you think that? How do you know that?
4. Honor student theories – even the wrong ones. Other students can debunk or support the theories that emerge from discussions. Some of the original theories can therefore be challenged and students can change their minds if their thinking has been challenged with new evidence or information that comes from their inquiries.
5. Teach students to listen to each other – the teacher has to let go of some control and facilitate the learning. True inquiry is not having students work on teacher questions or an activity devised by the teacher, but involves students listening and responding to their peers.
6. As students think out loud their opinions becomes clearer and teachers can assess student knowledge and understanding.
7. Ask students where they have got their information from – the source, date, copyright, bias, and to evaluate the sources. Ask students: How do you know what you know? Do you trust that source – could anything new have happened?
8. Wait time –give time for students to think and to get the courage to express their thoughts. The message you give by waiting for students is that their ideas are worth waiting for.
9. Paraphrase or reiterate to guide discussions back to the central idea and to articulate students’ implied connections.
10. Use the IB Learner Profile to elicit responses – model and speak to the attributes of the learner profile, teaching their meaning and showing their value.
Photo Credit: Unabridged inquiry by Quinn Dombrowski