Last week was a week of firsts for me… I travelled to India for the first time; I presented a workshop on my own for the first time; I used Keynote for the first time; and I tried out 3 new teaching and learning strategies for the first time. I was fortunate enough to be invited to lead an Inquiry workshop at Pathways World School Aravali in Gurgaon, a city just near Dehli. The school is set in a rural village, surrounded by many trees which helped cool the air and showed another side to amazing India, away from the dusty and congested city. The workshop could not have gone better. The teachers I worked with were so eager to absorb ideas and share their experiences and the 2 days whizzed by quickly.
Since this was my first workshop leading on my own I toyed with the idea of updating a previous PowerPoint I had shared at an Inquiry workshop a couple of months ago. However I always try to push myself to learn new skills so started from scratch and decided to give Keynote a try. I also decided to push myself further and try out 3 new strategies I had come across while planning. Below is a brief description of each strategy and what we did in the workshop.
Diamonds are a teacher’s best friend
Participants were initially asked to record what the word ‘inquiry’ meant to them. They recorded a personal definition and then shared with a partner. After a group discussion they then turned to the IB document Making the PYP Happen. They were asked to read in pairs certain pages related to inquiry in the PYP and select 9 key words that best summed up the IB’s stance on inquiry. Each word had to be written on one post-it note and organised in a diamond shape. The criteria I gave were that the words had to be ordered from the most important at the top, then the next 2 most important words, then 3, then 2, and then the last one. The end result is a diamond shape as shown in the picture.
When finished, they were asked to join with another pair, forming a group of 4. They compared each of their 9 word diamonds and as a group of 4 created a new diamond, discussing which words should stay, were there any overlaps, or were there any new words to be added. Once done, they displayed their diamonds on the wall so the whole workshop group could see. A lively discussion followed as participants commented on the words groups had chosen to go on the top of the diamond. Most groups shared that it was very difficult selecting one word to be valued more than others. Groups took turns to justify their reasons for the placement of their words and it generated more questions and discussion.
I didn’t have to set any criteria for this task. I could have simply left it at write the 9 key words and display them as a diamond. But to elicit the discussion I did set parameters and the end result led to a deeper understanding of inquiry. I thought this was a valuable strategy to use, particularly at the start of the workshop. The participants shared that they could see how they could use this in the classroom and suggested modifications also.
Sketch to Stretch
I found this strategy on Kathy Short’s website and although have used it many times in the classroom, I have never had a proper label for it. I read to the participants the picture book, Luke’s Way of Looking and asked them to sketch a text-to-self connection. This, surprisingly to me, created a lot of anxiety for participants. Straight away I was asked if they could write instead as most participants declared they were not good drawers. It took a few participants, even with gentle encouragement, a long time to start and when I went over to see if they needed clarification, they all shared that they didn’t feel comfortable drawing, as they were not good drawers. I was so surprised by how unsettled participants felt doing this task. At the end we reflected on how students must feel when made to complete tasks in which they feel like failures. We discussed the importance of persevering and using strategies that engage a range of multiple intelligences. Participants were given the option to display their drawings but only half the group decided to display. I am so glad I decided to use this strategy and I am thankful for the discomfort it caused. As teachers we too often rely on the tried and proven strategies (which are often language heavy) and rarely experience first hand the student’s perspective.
The night before my trip I was trying to think of a new end of Day 1 workshop reflection that was a bit more exciting than the norm. As I stretched back in my chair to think I noticed the tubs of my son’s playdough and immediately had my answer. At the end of Day 1, after 4 sessions on inquiry, I handed out one tub of playdough to each table group. I asked them to create a model that reflected either the day’s experience or new learning. For the first 3 minutes I was sure this strategy had backfired on me. The groups laughed initially and were unsure of how to begin. However once the lids of the tubs were removed and the playdough dispersed into each participant’s hands, the fun started! As they brainstormed ideas everyone was kneading the playdough between their fingers, rolling it, stretching it, and just plain enjoying the tactile feeling. It was like watching a room full of children – there were shireks of laughter, grand designs and just good old-fashioned fun. When the set time limit was up we had a chance to walk around the room and appreciate the other creations and try and guess the meaning behind each model. At the end each table group shared their logic to much applause.
Overall, the 2 days were a great success. The participants left with a deeper understanding of inquiry models and practice; lots of questions were answered; and a bagful of new strategies and personal action plans were developed which will hopefully lead to improved student learning. I left with the confidence of knowing I can present to a room full of 24 adults on my own; with new ICT skills; and with a genuine affection for the participants and school I worked with. I was also thrilled by the spontaneous Bollywood dance at the end to say thank you!