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!