Developing Independence and Inquiry

It’s a new school year, and our family is in a new school. After being comfortable in our previous school for 6 years, we decided it was time to shake it up. From Japan to Bangladesh, here we are.

We expected the country to be different, and it is…completely. There’s a separate blog coming out all about the experience. Our new school, though, is a PYP-DP school, though, so same curriculum as my previous two schools.

I love the PYP. I’ve been teaching in the program for 8 years and like the philosophy. Throughout the years, I’ve seen students flourish in the educational setting. They are intrinsically motivated, curious, engaged, excited, thinkers and caring people. They are open to new challenges and people and want to help others and the world.

It’s not all the students that are like that, but it’s a majority of students I’ve worked with…at least the last 6 years.

This year’s kids are very typical 5th graders in many regards. They like to play video games and soccer/football. They like pop music, being with their friends, and they still like their family.

However, although it’s only been a few days, I notice a difference. These students feel as if they’ve always been directed. They are already asking me to solve small problems. Today, when given the task to think about what their classroom should look like, feel like and sound like, they quickly fell into silliness.

That quick lapse into complete silliness was yet another indicator that these kids haven’t been in charge of their own learning. It was too scary and a lot to ask. They’ve already told me about behavioral systems that were in place last year. Tidy tables got points that accumulated toward candy. Red, yellow and green cards marked students’ names depending on their behavior for that day. I cringe thinking about it, but I tell myself it’s a different place and culture.

Today students asked me to help them put their water bottle in their bags and to rescue a paper airplane from the top of the cabinets. A secondary student came to me at recess to tell me a 3rd grader had been picking on him. Students came in to the classroom and sat at their desks without much energy.

I had a lot of eye rolling today (in my head) and am settling in to the fact that these students will need encouragement to take charge of their own learning and their own selves. Although I think all schools should encourage students to take charge of their own learning, there is definite justification in a PYP school.

Here are some things I want to do to provoke independent thinking–some questions for the students:

  1. When they start to ask me what I want, I turn it around to always ask: What do you want?
  2. How can you solve it?
  3. When asked if it’s good enough..ask: What do you think?
  4. When there’s been a checklist of things to include, ask them about those things and have them point to examples of when they’ve done those things?
  5. Ask them about their classroom and what they want in the classroom?
  6. What are your strengths?
  7. What are your challenges?
  8. Ask them about how they want to organize their day?
  9. Reflect on each part of their learning and learn from that.
  10. And…questions, questions, questions…They’re asking. The teacher is not answering.

It’s going to be a long road with many of these students, but I feel excited to begin the journey. I think having some more independent thinkers around is a pretty important goal.

~First published on Solid Ground

About kdceci

I am a grade 5 teacher in a PYP school in Chicago, Illinois, USA. From the US originally, I worked in Asia the last 13 years. I am passionate about inquiry-driven education, collaboration, and ensuring kids get to continue to be kids that play, create and think as long as they can. Outside of school, l love to write, read, hike, run, meditate and travel.
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9 Responses to Developing Independence and Inquiry

  1. Maxine says:

    Do you get this posting?
    Thought it likely reflects where the teachers we are working with may be in their heads next week!

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. kathmurdoch says:

    HI Kirsten
    I will miss working with you at YIS next year! Such an interesting post. I think it reiterates for me that no program (even one as great as the PYP) can, in itself, can ever create independent inquiry learners. It is ultimately what the teacher says, does and thinks that creates a culture of independence. The interactions that occur across the day are what build true agency in the learner. What a great challenge for you! Enjoy 🙂 Kath


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  5. Hi there! I also am teaching in Bangladesh, 5th grade!

    Your post made me smile because last year I had a student that would have fit in perfectly with this group you talked about, she came from a school that I wondered if the expectation set was “the more closed questions you ask, the better student you are”? (Let’s just be clear too that my group this year is no different, but I’d like to share the outcome of this one student from last year!)
    I had to really challenge this students’ concept on ‘questioning’ and we talked about digging deeper, asking classmates for help in confirming her understanding, being able synthesize information and eventually becoming that independent learner we all strive for in our students.

    This student was a ‘hot topic’ of conversation at home with my ever-so-patient husband who listened the struggles I had every day in re-aligning this students’ understanding of questioning. I am so happy and proud to say she worked incredibly hard last year to truly understand what “questioning to inquire” sounds like and was able to push herself beyond expectations we have for Grade 5. She was the one who I was boasting about at the end of the year… “remember how you used to struggle with her?” my husband reminded me in June.

    Sadly she left after only one year at our school, but I received an e-mail recently from her thanking me for teaching her not to be afraid of teachers (!), and how to ask questions that helped her stretch her understanding. Pretty nice, right?! We know it wasn’t really me, but her growth mindset that helped her change her learning around.

    It took a year, but man was it worth it! Good luck with your group 🙂


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