A community of inquirers…

I really enjoyed reading the posts by Jessica and Tanja about teachers as inquirers. Gone are the days (I hope) when teachers’ professional learning consisted of a few days a year at a conference or in-school workshop and that was it. Here’s my contribution to the (unplanned) series on teachers as inquirers…

We’re laughing as we shift the tables to include the screen in our circle. Someone has offered to give her chair to the expected guest, forgetting momentarily that he is actually in Tennessee, USA and will be joining us via Skype! This group loves to learn together and we’re meeting for breakfast an hour before school again today to continue our discussion of Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Morrison and Church. I highly recommend the book, the website and the principles of visible thinking for all inquiry teachers.

Our virtual guests Philip and Beth take some time to adjust their sound and then a bit longer to adjust to our accents, but are soon participating in the discussion. Philip is a 6th grade teacher who recently did a course at Harvard’s Project Zero and blogs here about his further exploration into Visible ThinkingBeth is a 2nd Grade teacher who incorporates these beliefs and strategies in her class too. They saw our reading group mentioned on my blog and asked if they could join, undeterred by the fact that we are in Australia!

We use the 4 C’s thinking routine as a guide for today’s discussion. It’s a great routine for synthesising and organising ideas.

Concepts: What are the big ideas?

Connections: How does it connect to what we already know?

Challenges: What do we find challenging?

Changes: How have our actions and attitudes changed as a result?

Today’s chapter focuses not just on the power of good questioning, but on how to listen carefully to what students say (and don’t say).  You can read my response to the chapter in an earlier post ‘Great questions have legs‘.

I’ve heard Ritchhart tell the story in person of how he observed great teaching and learning in classrooms then wondered why, although he carefully asked precisely the same questions as they had, the lessons did not go as well and he wasn’t able to create the same kind of thinking culture. It was only when he learned the value of attentive and responsive listening, that he was able to create that culture in his own classes. How many teachers have a desired answer in their heads and stop listening as soon as they hear it? 

The chapter also stresses the importance of documenting thinking. Most of the group agrees that this part is the most challenging. People talk about using sticky notes, which are easy to display, and journals, which are easier to keep. We consider whether one of the most effective ways of documenting and recording student thinking might be via a class blog. The question is what do you do with that documentation? We’ve started spending time in groups analysing students questions, discussing both what they reveal about each student and how they shape the direction of future teaching and learning. (but that’s for another post!)

The conversation, as always in this group, reflects passion for and commitment to learning… our own and that of our students. We conclude by reflecting on how our thinking has changed over time since we first began exploring Visible Thinking and Inquiry Learning. For the ‘exit card’ we use another thinking routine ‘I used to think… Now I think’. Even Philip is ready with his sticky note!

I used to think PD was something by experts that took place a few days a year. Now I think powerful professional learning comes from creating a community of learners and developing  a culture of thinking within your own school. And inviting the world in.

About whatedsaid

Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I'm a teacher, a learner, an inquirer...
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11 Responses to A community of inquirers…

  1. cpaterso says:

    Your thoughts about PD echo with mine, but what really strikes me about your post is the focus on listening. This is the central point for me, although if I am honest I have to admit that it is far harder than I’d like it to be. I struggle to really listen to my students and I want to change this.


  2. Fiona Boughey says:

    You are so right! I am inspired by this post and your example of PD being created by the school community. I want to change the way this happens in my school. Love reading your blog!


    • whatedsaid says:

      Thank you! I think one thing I have learned is to make the group voluntary. At one campus of our school, we trialled a series of learning groups and everyone was expected to choose and participate in one. I don’t think it worked as well as this group who choose to come back again and again to learn together, be it technology or thinking or reading. There is even an element of FOMO now! (fear of missing out)


  3. This is the first I’ve heard of the 4Cs as a thinking routine. I love it!

    In fact, I love so many points above. Listening is a skill and while tough, it can be taught and learned. And documenting! yes, people seem to hate that but the act of documenting is part of the learning process – as in instrumental for moving stuff from short term to long term memory. So, its use does not start after you’ve done it, i.e. documentation is important during (while doing it) as well. And this is why blog commenting is a good learning strategy – don’t just think about it, write it down.

    And then there’s the social aspect of learning – your last paragraph. Isn’t that just so true? Build a community that allows us individually to go through the 4Cs.

    Awesome post!


  4. Love to see congruent thought expressed and seeing it ‘grow legs’ and expand horizons. As a faithful PYP advocate, love that you brought global in your local.


    • whatedsaid says:

      Global is my middle name 🙂
      I can see how much I have grown as a teacher and learner since I started connecting globally to other educators (and people!) via social media. I can’t imagine being limited to learning just with the same group of people for a whole year, as we often expect of our students. (and then there are the benefits of global awareness, inter-cultural understanding…..etc)


  5. Philip says:

    Thank you for including Beth and me in your conversation. I love that we can be investigating/experimenting with the same ideas and helping each other while living on opposite sides o the planet and being on different days of the calendar. :0) It was my first time to use the 4 C’s, and I’m already considering whether I might incorporate it into my next unit. I’m still wrestling with the best way to use thinking documentation, but I’m liking the blog idea. Will have to consider this further. Thanks again, Edna!


  6. whatedsaid says:

    Have you seen the table which lays out which routine targets each kind of thinking? (Is it in the book, or did I see it somewhere else!!) It helps teachers select which routines to choose. Also… do you adapt and make up routines to suit your purposes? We have been known to do that too…


    • Philip says:

      Not sure if it’s in the book. Left my copy at school, but I do have a copy of the table. PZ really needs post it online because it is a helpful tool. I need to scan mine into my Evernote so I always have it with me.


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