A New Year, A New Focus

Every year, teachers have to write their Annual Learning Plan. I take this plan very seriously. For me, this is a great way to really focus my teaching and learning in an area that I think I need to improve on or that I want to learn more about. I then use my blog as a way to reflect on what I do related to this Annual Learning Plan and to set my own next steps. What a great way for me to model this reflection process for my students, and to show them that even as a teacher, I’m doing what I’m asking them to do in the classroom as well.

While I have lots of choice about my Annual Learning Plan, I always try to align it with our school focus and student areas of need. This year, our School Self-Assessment will focus on ideas related to student voice, student choice, and differentiated instruction. I’m already very passionate about this topic, and I try to think carefully about these three areas with everything that I do in the classroom.

Yesterday was our PA Day, and we spent lots of time looking at data. One piece of EQAO data that stuck out for me is that students tend to struggle more on “thinking” questions. As a teacher, this means that I need to spend more time getting them to think carefully and critically in all subject areas. How can I do this best and still align my personal goals with our school focus?

This is when I thought about inquiry. This year, I’ve been really trying to use inquiry in the classroom in all subject areas. I’m using what I learned from reading Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action and Role Reversal to get students to develop their own inquiry questions, get immersed in the topic, revise their questions, continue their research, and share their learning in various ways that matter to them. This is a big change for me!

  • I’ve been “teaching” a lot less to the full class.
  • I’ve been working with small groups of students more, and conferencing with them more regularly.
  • I’ve been answering fewer questions and getting students to look at ways to answer their own.
  • I’ve been providing more choice of how students share their learning with me, and often, been very open-ended in the choices that I do provide.
  • I’ve been regularly thinking about provocations, and how I can use them to generate inquiry in different subject areas. Also, what provocations can I use?

Everything that I’ve read and heard about inquiry says that this approach helps increase thinking skills, and often has students performing better on standardized tests. After reorganization, I no longer teach Grade 6 and no longer have my students writing EQAO, but what I do as a Grade 5 teacher can make an impact on next year’s Grade 6 students. I also teach Grade 3/4 Health and Media Literacy, and I use the inquiry model for both. Will a focus on inquiry help these Grade 3 students as they write EQAO this year? I really want to know.

So this year, for my Annual Learning Plan, I’m going to use inquiry in all subject areas to increase academic achievement and deepen understanding of content. The report card data from last year tells me how my students performed, so now I have a starting point for comparison. Not only can I use marks from rubrics as data, but I can also use our daily video reflections, audio recordings, and written reflections to show how student thinking and learning has changed throughout the year. Many of these recordings are shared on our Daily Shoot Blog, and I’m excited to look back and see the difference over time.

I’m also excited to connect with other educators both online and in-person to share inquiry experiences, modify ideas, and reflect on how things went. I look forward to continuing to add to the Look Closely Blog where teachers and students from around the world are sharing their inquiry projects with each other. Not only does this blog provide a great audience for our class inquiry work, but just the “look closely” idea has my students delving deeper into the topics that interest them.

This focus on inquiry is really forcing me to make changes to my teaching practices, and I think that’s a good thing. These changes also comes with many questions. How do you use inquiry in the classroom? What advice can you give me as I embark on this new learning journey? How do your students respond to using inquiry? How do you scaffold the learning for those students that might need more support? I look forward to hearing your ideas!


2 thoughts on “A New Year, A New Focus

  1. Aviva,
    You ask great questions. We’ve been using inquiry for a little over a year now and can never think of teaching any other way now.
    Inquiry happens throughout the day and is totally integrated in everything we do except for math. However, we sometimes include math i.e. Surveys, measurement for construction….
    My advise is to let go and just do it. Don’t be afraid to le the students take control of their learning. You become facilitator, coach.
    ALL students are engaged and motivated but don’t forget to teach them how to work in groups, ask question, learn how to for research… These can be mini-lessons.
    It’s so easy to get to know your students because you have time to work in small groups while everyone is working independently. You have time to listen, observe and help move them along…
    As you can tell, I have a passion to this approach to teaching. It’s good for students and teachers!

    • Thanks for your comment, Louise! I find myself already doing mini-lessons on the same ideas that you suggested. In fact, on Friday during our PA Day, we talked about some of these same mini-lessons as well. I can tell why you’re passionate about this. I can see the difference in my students already in their thinking, learning, and willingness to take risks.

      I’m curious as to why you don’t use this approach with math. I know that for math, inquiry looks different for me. It’s more a combination of PBL, play-based, and exploration combined. Students are uncovering more of the content on their own though, thinking more about what they’re learning and how these ideas connect, and asking good questions that help with our many mini-lessons. If math isn’t inquiry-based for you, what does it look like in the classroom?

      Also, in terms of inquiry being good for all children, have you worked with students with autism before? What if open-ended activities are a struggle for students? What if they have difficulty composing questions or finding information on their own? What if they have difficulty understanding the information that they do read? Right now, I’m using a modified inquiry approach for some of my students, with some more guiding questions, some question starters to help them build their own questions, task analysis, and even more individual and small group support to help them understand the content. Any additional information or suggestions that you have would be great!

      I absolutely agree that this approach gives way more time working with small groups, and I do think that’s beneficial for all learners!


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