I’m a blogger. I clarify my thinking by writing about it. When I grew up, I always said that I wanted to be a teacher and a writer, and I’m now in my thirteenth year of teaching, and with the help of this blog, I get to write regularly too. As someone that loves to blog, I’m always listening for questions that inspire me to write. This afternoon, I heard one of these questions.
As I’ve mentioned before, this is my Teacher Performance Appraisal year (i.e., I’m being evaluated), and today, I sat down with my principal, Paul Clemens, to go through the process. One thing that I discussed with him was my Annual Learning Plan. This year, I’m focusing on inquiry for my Annual Learning Plan, as not only is it a topic that I’m excited to learn more about and that I think will benefit students, but it aligns with our school’s focus on student choice, voice, and differentiated instruction.
Towards the end of our discussion about inquiry, Paul posed an interesting question to me: “With this focus on inquiry, how do we develop some less exciting skills, such as editing writing?” Now please excuse me here, as I probably haven’t quoted him correctly, but this was definitely the gist of his question. Just as I was about to reply to Paul’s question, his phone rang, so I told him that I’d blog about my answer instead. Here are my thoughts from what I’ve seen so far in the classroom:
- Inquiry does not mean that I’m not teaching. Instead of giving long lectures on content that students can uncover for themselves (e.g., specific details about dates and details of historical events), I’m instructing students on different ways to show their thinking and respond to their reading. I use the T-Chart model a lot with the class (with special thanks to the authors of Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles In Action), and now students are not just copying down random facts, but thinking about what they’re reading. It’s great to see so much deep thinking from all of the students!
- Inquiry forces small group instruction. I have never spent as much time working with small groups of students as I have since I started using inquiry in the classroom. Now students are spending more time learning together, and I’m facilitating this learning by sitting down, talking, and helping the groups. It’s awesome! By working with these small groups, I can also talk to the students more about their individual needs, be it spelling, punctuation, developing ideas, or editing. I can pull students aside constantly to have mini-lessons as needed. I’ve never had much success teaching concepts to the full class: some need more instruction and some don’t need the instruction at all. Now everyone gets what he/she needs!
- Blogs also allow students to share their inquiry learning with a real audience, and this audience, helps students with developing their writing skills. I’ve used blogs with students from Grade 1-Grade 6, and the results are the same. Students love knowing that other people are reading their writing, and they realize that the clarity of their ideas helps increase the possibility of responses. This realization helps students take the time to edit their work, as seen with this blog post example.
Now all of this being said, there’s one other point to remember, and I think that it’s an important one: as a teacher, you’re likely to only feel this way about inquiry if you use the time that students are working together to work with the students. I don’t have a desk in the classroom, and I’m glad that I don’t, as I’d never sit at it. I’m constantly, conversing with groups of students, helping them understand content, questioning them to determine where to go next, and assisting them as they re-explore what they’ve already done. This is crucial! So it’s rare to find me talking at the front of the room for more than 5-10 minutes, but you’ll always find me working with kids!
It was conversing after school today with Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper, a fantastic Grade 8 teacher at the school, that helped me figure out what I think is my bottom line answer to Paul’s question: spend all of your time listening and working with kids (meeting them where they’re at), and you will see success (even in the less exciting areas)! What do you think? How do you combine inquiry and direct instruction? I’d love to know your thoughts on this!
To me, inquiry based learning doesn’t change the what we’re teaching, but rather the why. It means that the skills we’re teaching have greater relevance and meaning, more connection for students. When students are communicating their understanding or learning as part of inquiry they are more deeply connected to the topic they are writing about. And because they are, hopefully, writing for an authentic audeince they are often more motivated to persevere. They will still need instruction on how to edit their writing and will still get feedback on it, but they do so in the context of an authentic learning experience and so are more open to actually learning how to do it.
Thanks for the comment, Andrew! I couldn’t agree with you more. I definitely see this in the classroom during inquiry activities as I observe and talk with the students.
I wish there was a “Like” button on comments. I’d certainly “Like” this one! 🙂
Ah yes, inquiry is a means to tap into each learner. You get it! Engagement and relevance to the learner is the key. MBWA – Management by walking around. COPS – Conversations, observations, products. Speaks to Anne Davies & Sandra Herbst’s work on AFL – and triangulated assessment. Assessment for, as, and of learning. Process versus product. Student buy in, reflection and ownership of their own learning. Pretty cool, I think. Retired PeelDSB teacher librarian. Happy to see this kind of authentic learning in Peel. YAY!!!
Thank you so much for the comment, Nancy, and the specific ideas as well! You’re giving me even more to think about when it comes to small group support. I love this kind of authentic learning too, and I’m so excited to see the growth in my students (both in their academic success and their thinking).