Saturday, 27 July 2013

Inquiring About Inquiry:
My Journey Into Inquiry Based Learning (Part 2)

This post focuses on connecting my thinking of inquiry with research.  To see my journey into inquiry, go here in Part 1 of Inquiring about Inquiry.

I joined a book club in the middle of the school year with some teachers in our school board. We read, A Place for Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. This book describes how to create a sense of wonder in the classroom by creating specific areas in your room to allow students to wonder and question. It explains how to focus into students’ natural curiosity by having them create questions. This eventually leads to the creation of a non-fiction piece of written work. This book gave concrete examples of primary inquiry and focused on the curiosity of the child. The Ontario Science and Technology curriculum quotes Jeffrey Bloom (on page 28) about the sense of wonder in our classrooms as children are naturally curious.

"Trying to understand how the world works is what children do naturally, and it is what you need to take advantage of when teaching science [and technology]. Just remember: Avoid being the knowledge authority. ... Instead, cultivate a sense of excitement for exploring and inquiring about our world and for generating and testing possible explanations."
Jeffrey W. Bloom, Creating a Classroom Community of Young Scientists, 2nd ed. (2006), p. 4

Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry by Jeffery D. Wilhelm makes some great literacy connections in the book. He explains inquiry very well and provides examples and details of inquiry geared more towards junior/intermediate students. A great quote connecting literacy to inquiry: “Most recent research in cognition shows that reading and writing are forms of inquiry, and are best learned in contexts of inquiry and through the questioning and discourse that is central to it”  (p. 10).

Lorraine Chiarotto’s Natural Curiosity focuses on a child’s understanding of the world through environmental Inquiry. This is a very practical book with great examples classroom inquiry. It discuses assessment of inquiry in detail and quotes the Ontario curriculum and Growing Success. As these are documents I need to use to help plan and asses my students, I know that this can be a great resource as I work through inquiry throughout the year. Chiarotto provides classroom a variety of examples of inquiry. Two of these examples specifically focus on grade one students:
  • “The Grade 1s Explore Seasonal Changes” (P.58)
  • “Grade 1/2: Susanna’s Story: What is a Living Thing?” (P.134-139)

In one of the Capacity Building Series monographs, Special Edition #24, “Getting Started with Student Inquiry” (October 2011) discusses inquiry and student engagement in an easy to follow and read monograph. A great quote to remember, “While engaged students may appreciate extrinsic rewards such as good grades, or praise, their motivation is not dependent on these things. They are engaged in learning because they find it interesting, enjoyable and self-fulling.”

Kuklthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2007) defines inquiry as:

“Inquiry is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic or issue of importance. It requires more than simply answering questions or getting a right answer. It espouses investigation, exploration, search, quest, research, pursuit and study. It is enhanced by involvement with a community of learners, each learning from the other in social interaction.”

As I read and reflect upon the last year of inquiry, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may have created inquiry to be more of a project, than a journey of learning for my students. I focused my energy on the questioning part and had the students create lots of questions, but sometimes it didn’t go further than that. We probably created more wonders than we actually answered. I had my students doing “hands on” activities and had them creating something. I tried to let my students guide the learning, but only when it was convenient for my teaching. We definitely had moments of great inquiry and great learning. We also had times where it may have been more “busy work” than anything else. It was all engaging and fun, but purposeful?  

“Inquiry-based teaching is collaborative, investigative, and deeply intellectual. The teacher has a responsibility to make the inquiry experience purposeful and high thoughtful. Teaches are the primary architects of the learning experience.”
- Wolk, “School as Inquiry”

Wolk has helped me tweak my thinking. I now know that I need to focus on the big ideas and the big questions and go from there. In the article, he quotes “without the big ideas, an inquiry becomes little more than a friendly version of reading a textbook or a “fun activity.” With big ideas, a teacher can challenge students to think far beyond the sanitized context of a textbook” (p. 119). I need to allow my students to learn from each other and work through ideas together. I need to allow my classroom to get “messy” and the learning to get complicated. I need to be okay to not always have the answer; however, I need to always remember that I need to have a plan in mind. I need to really KNOW the curriculum and know my students. I need to be planned and purposeful in my assessment. On Page 22 of Natural Curiosity, Chiarotto writes:

“In an inquiry-based classroom, the teacher assesses student progress on a continuous basis throughout the school year, collecting and using a wide range of information to provide an informed and comprehensive picture of the student’s learning.”

Through all of the research I’ve studied, I can very clearly see that inquiry needs to be a part of my classroom. Inquiry needs to be focused, assessed and worked on together as a team. I’m planning to incorporate Science and Social Studies into my Language program as well as through an exploration time at the end of the day. 

I would love to hear your thoughts about inquiry. How have you used in in your classroom? What are your thoughts on inquiry as we start into a new school year?

Friday, 26 July 2013

Inquiring About Inquiry:
 My Journey Into Inquiry Based Learning (Part 1)

“Children have a strong disposition to explore and discover. Inquiry- based learning builds on natural curiosity, enabling children to interact, question, connect, problem-solve, communicate, reflect, and more. This kind of authentic learning extends beyond the classroom to the students’ home and community. It essentially makes learning the ‘stuff of real life’ and children active participants in and shapers of their worlds."  - Michelle Kreller-Janke & Patti Hobler (Learning As We Go)
I’ve noticed that inquiry has become a very popular topic lately. Even the new Social Studies curriculum in Ontario has been designed and focused to implement inquiry. All around us, inquiry has become the new buzz word. Many people have been wondering about it, talking about it and trying to participate in it. I, myself have jumped on that ‘band wagon’ and started my own journey about this new thing called, inquiry.

BUT - inquiry is not a new concept.

Harvey and Daniels in Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action trace inquiry to start in the 1590’s in Paris and Rome as people were designing buildings and monuments. John Dewey, “believed that students would learn more about themselves, the world and about valuable subject matter by working collaboratively with others” (p. 59). In 1918, Dewey’s protege, James Kilpatrick wrote an essay entitled, “The Project-Method: Child-Centeredness in Progressive Education” that focused on students working in groups to complete projects in social situations. Inquiry is NOT new; however, it has become a new buzz word around education in the past few years.

Play-based learning in kindergarten sparked the beginning of the inquiry journey for me. Last summer, as I began to think of myself as a grade one teacher again, I realized that I was going into a school where my students would have had two years of all day, play-based learning. How would that look in my grade one class? Could the students easily transition into desks? Would I need to put more play in the classroom? Would they be able to do the work? How could I make an easy transition from play-based learning to “real grade one” work? Last summer I had many questions. I talked to consultant in our board in the summer and tried to get my brain wrapped around the idea of incorporating some play into the class and allowing my students to guide some of the learning. Early in the year, she came into my class as were were starting to look into spiders. We had just started reading some books and they students began to take interest in spider research. Since it was the beginning of grade one, I read aloud books with information about specific topics, and they took the information they heard from the books and tried to show their learning in a way that made sense to them. I had students create posters, skits, procedures. They were engaged, they were learning, they were beginning to join in on my inquiry journey. The problem was, I didn’t know where to go from there. It wasn’t planned and purposeful, I got stuck. I knew I needed to try again.

Later on in the school year, our school board opened a workshop for kindergarten, grade one and two teachers to work together on an inquiry project (EPCI). We were given time to discuss and create our own inquiry to try with our classes. We visited each other’s classrooms and discussed what inquiry looked like. We had begun our journey. We looked at the statement: If students are given the opportunity to represent their thinking in different ways, then they will be more engaged and ready to extend their learning. My focus was through Science. My students investigated different materials and came up with different questions. From our questions, we investigated wood and metal – the most popular materials. We wondered about these materials and found out more information. The students also created structures based on their interests. Interest level was high and most, if not all my students were engaged in learning. They enjoyed working through the project and getting to control what they focused on learning. This time, I had a plan in mind of what I wanted to create and learn and had everyone create a structure using the provided materials and record their thinking on Educreations. It was more planned and purposeful. It was hands on and engaging. But is that really inquiry?

Later on in the year I heard about a school, where they did an hour of exploration time at the end of the day and linked play with Science and Social Studies. By this time, I was a little further on in my inquiry journey, so this sparked my interest. Did they have a better understanding of inquiry? Could I learn from them? I emailed the teacher and she offered some great advice and a few examples from her class. This could be planned, purposeful and allow for inquiry at the same time. This really got me thinking - can I do something like this in my class? How can I incorporate play at the end of the day while still focusing on the expectations of the Science and Social Studies curriculum? Can I use some of the concepts from A Place for Wonder to build a classroom of inquiry? Could I combine Language and Science like the book did? 

This summer I took my Reading Specialist, I was told that I needed to become a “go to” person about a topic and to inquire about an area that I had questions about. I needed to take about three weeks to research, to find out and to look into something that interested me. Of course, INQUIRY came to mind. By now I was a little further along in my journey and ready to start reflecting what I did last year and start planning how it can look in my classroom for the new year. Also, I could finally read that Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels’ book Collaboration and Comprehension: Inquiry Circles in Action that had been sitting on my desk for the past few months. 

As I finished up on those three weeks of research and inquiry, I can say that it had been a busy three weeks of reading, talking and a lot of reflecting. I know that I still have a lot to learn; however, I am a little further along in my journey than when I first started. I feel that some of the readings have really helped shape my new understanding of inquiry. I am beginning to have a better idea of how inquiry can look in my class. I am beginning to come to some understanding of how I can incorporate learning in all areas, with a focus on Language and student interests by using guided questions and big ideas.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - connecting research to my learning to gain a deeper insight into inquiry.