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What Inquiry Isnt

January 14, 2014

I begin this year of teaching by thinking about my own journey of what inquiry actually means to me and my teaching . Im still amazed by the power of authentic inquiry. Inquiry in my grade 1 class is sometimes loud, messy sometimes chaotic looking.  I started with thinking about what inquiry is not. Maybe you’ll see similarities, perhaps many differences.

Inquiry is not a bunch of activities. A list of activities mapped out on a unit planner or in an appendix is not inquiry. I believe it’s fine to have an idea in mind about what you might do in a unit but this needs to be learner driven.  We need to have key engagements that articulate explicitly the big understandings of the unit. This also needs to be subject to change as the unit moves forward and the learners gain an understanding for the conceptual understandings and follow their own inquiries.

Inquiry is not ‘planned’. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t plan for provocations linked to our concepts and related concepts etc. I mean that we need to make sure we don’t plan out the entire inquiry cycle for students from Tuning in to Making Conclusions. I believe that we need to let the learners drive this with teacher support.

The Inquiry Cycle is not something that all learners go through at the same time, pace. We all know that we don’t learn the same. Teachers need to let go and not come into the unit with pre conceived ideas about what the unit is ‘about’ (Im talking topics here)  so that by any deviation from the teacher’s idea is deemed ‘not what Im looking for’. Let the learners work towards the understanding. They may be out there but give them time to work their way back. Guide them.

Inquiry doesn’t follow a timetable. Accept that inquiry happens throughout the day. This last one seems so obvious but its worth repeating. Have you ever been in the middle of something with the kids and then you get a question about a teacher question or idea from earlier in the day or even a few days ago? The first reaction amy be ‘Um..we aren’t talking about that right now’ (because were doing other important stuff). How do you support this? Sometimes you really cant stop in the middle of what you’re doing but something simple as writing the question or idea down to come back to is good. I send my kids to the iPad to verbally record their idea so we don’t lose it.  This has worked very well and we can come back to it. Because its recorded the child is often very excited to show and share later on and expand on the idea. Inquiry isn’t neatly packaged or scheduled. Down the path_9123558701_m

Okay so maybe you’re saying ‘so what’  this is pretty obvious right? This year Im trying to keep things simple. I wont call it a resolution or even a goal its just something I want to be more aware of in 2014. Review some of the ‘easy’ basic things in my own teaching and learning.  Scrutinise the way I do things in order to do things better and be a better teacher. I also believe that reducing the amount of so called planning time and increasing the amount of time for deep reflection is the key.  My journey continues.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Reid Wilson permalink
    March 3, 2014 2:27 pm

    Dear Jason:

    Thanks for the reminder to get back into student initiated inquiries. I think over the last two years, there has been a priority placed on teaching students how to use technology in my class. Due to that, I feel that I’ve gotten away from leaving units more open-ended and less planned. I give students plenty of choice in the content they pursue within a related concept, but often pre-select the medium they will show their understanding through to introduce them to another digital communication option.

    I give them guided inquiry options within projects I’ve created, and expect them to move through the key concepts, related concepts and TD skills, while giving them choice in whatever they’d like to learn about within those parameters. Looking back, however, I wonder if they have been too structured and not given them enough opportunity to own their learning.

    It can be very easy to keep them all moving through the inquiry at relatively the same pace (within a day or two) with this format, and I need to be aware of that trap. I think now that we are moving into our fourth UoI, and the majority of apps they will learn with this year have been exposed to them, I will give them more choice not only in the product, but also in allowing them to create learning plans and process proposals for themselves.

    Thanks for the reminders and the inspiration.


  2. March 3, 2014 8:00 pm

    Thanks for your comment. I think a framework to work within in important. I guess it comes down to knowing your learners. I love it when the kids can choose what App they want to use or what way they want to present their understanding. Of course all students are different. Some like the freedom while others are frightened and need a bit of encouragement to be a risk taker. All part of differentiation. In the end they all seem to get there somehow.

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