An inquiry journey…

(Skip the background paragraph if you like, it gets more interesting.)

My school is an authorised IB world school, following the Primary Years Program (PYP), and we’re currently in the process of our ‘self study’ in preparation for an evaluation visit next year. This includes groups of teachers exploring the PYP standards and practices, evaluating our practice and providing supporting evidence for each standard.

Below are some of the practices from the section on Teaching and Learning, that relate to inquiry. How well does your teaching and learning reflect these principles?

Teaching and learning engages students as inquirers and thinkers.

Teaching and learning builds on what students know and can do.

Teaching and learning supports students to become actively responsible for their own learning.

Teaching and learning differentiates instruction to meet students’ learning needs and styles.

Teaching and learning engages students in reflecting on how, what and why they are learning.

It’s exciting to reflect on our inquiry journey and see how far we have come as a school in both our understanding and practice. Because I work more with teachers than kids these days, and professional learning is important to me, I replace the word ‘students’ with ‘teachers’ in the statements above and see if they apply in that context too.

I’ve been in a meeting today that demonstrates our inquiry journey for students and teachers alike. We used to spend a whole day (really) planning new units of inquiry in advance. Where was the room for inquiry?! These days we make sure we know what direction we want the learning to take in terms of conceptual understandings, check curriculum requirements for basic knowledge, consider what skills might be required, plan a couple of strong provocations to arouse curiosity and get kids thinking about the big ideas right away… and then we wait and see. 

So…

I meet with the Year 4 team today to take a collaborative look at the students’ questions and wonderings, a week into their latest unit. We spend some time unpacking the thinking, considering what kind of direction some kids might need now, who might need further provocation and who’s ready to run with their own inquiries. The team suggests ways to help engage kids who haven’t yet connected with the big ideas and how to encourage those who have. It’s clear that teachers are just as engaged as students in the inquiry… the concepts, the content and the learning itself.

The teachers talk passionately about the learning that takes place when they let go of control to the learners. One teacher reveals how far his own inquiry journey has come…

He and his co-teacher talk after every session and plan further learning engagements responsively. “We make up our minds every day!” he says and adds that it’s been an eye opener for him this year. “I used to need a linear plan. That’s the way I was brought up.” He adds cheerfully that he used to think letting the students lead the learning was ‘a load of bull…’ till he finally let go and saw the powerful learning that ensued. 

I love the layers of questioning, exploring, experimenting, sharing and reflecting I see happening, not just in their classrooms, but in this teaching team. This is inquiry.

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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4 Responses to An inquiry journey…

  1. johnbarell says:

    Yes, letting go seems to be a key to fostering inquiry. Actually, I would suggest, that what we can do is share decision-making control with our students, offering them more and richer opportunities to wonder, question and investigate on their own. Who makes what decisions, when and how is a most important curricular planning and implementation question.
    And, yes, these opportunities can and for the most part do lie within the given scope of our approved curricula. Completely “open inquiry” is fine and might be represented in turning Show and Tell into a student led inquiry experience as well as by challenging students to keep and share their own inquiry journals. More guided inquiry results when we provide a provocation or problematic scenario within our unit of inquiry that fosters students posing their own substantive questions.
    It is amazing what we find when we investigate the nature of students’ questions, how to classify them in accordance with whatever criteria we have: Bloom, Three Story Intellect, International Baccalaureate concepts (Form, Function, Change, Causation, Perspective. . . ) E. P. Torrance’s Fluency and the more significant Flexibility (Point of View) and inventing our own: Time Travel.
    See Chapter 7 of How Do We Know They’re Getting Better? Assessment of 21st Century Minds, K-8.
    John Barell

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  2. kathmurdoch says:

    Another great post Edna. If we position ourselves as inquirers as we plan and teach, then inquiry truly becomes a shared culture embracing both teachers and students. One of my favourite moments in the planning process is when we ask : ‘so, what are our students revealing to us – and where do we go from here?’ This is true, responsive, organic planning that honours student voice. And it’s sooooo much more satisfying than simply coming up with ‘good activities’. Will share this with others – thank you.

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  3. tasha cowdy says:

    I love this post, Edna. Responding to children’s learning, to their interests and questions, as the learning journey unfolds, is key to supporting children as they construct their understandings. So often we feel the need to plan everything out before hand -but how, then, can we respond to the learning that is happening right here, right now? Like Kath, I love seeing what the students reveal to us about their understandings and I love leaving a planning meeting thinking, “Wow! I wonder how this inquiry will unfold…”

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  4. mayamwins says:

    It’s so rare to find students being allowed to have a say on their own curriculum. It’s so easy to forget that more than being a teacher, you become a facilitator. In that respect I sometimes make sure to leave enough time for the students for feedback and inputs into how a lesson plan should change. Here the class is usually torn between the practical and the technology approach. Meaning, some of the children want to learn online and through Educational Games and the other half want to go out and experiment. I still feel like I could do so much more and these principles are exactly what I need. Thank you for this!

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