My Light Bulb Moments

This year, I made a commitment to really learning about inquiry. I used to think that I used inquiry in the classroom, but then over the summer, I read more about this topic, and I realized that I was wrong. So I was committed to making a change! There were many reasons that I wanted to make this change:

  • Our new Social Studies Curriculum Document just came out, and inquiry was a big focus.
  • The books I read said that inquiry helps develop “thinking skills,” and this was an area of need at our school, as identified through our EQAO test results.
  • The books I read said that inquiry helps students achieve better scores on standardized tests (even if they’re not used to a testing environment) because they’ve learned how to think. (I started the year teaching a Grade 5/6 class, and I really wanted to see if this was true, as my Grade 6 students would be writing a standardized test this year. As a Grade 5 teacher now, I’ll have to wait until next year to find out.)

All year long, I’ve been looking at more ways to use inquiry in the classroom. I started doing so with Science and Social Studies, but now I’ve incorporated inquiry into all subject areas. I’ve even been fortunate to have two wonderful student teachers this year that have embraced inquiry, and looked at more ways to develop thinking skills in students.

And that’s what it really comes down to: the thinkingI have a confession to make: I’m not sure that I really taught students to truly “think” until this year. This is hard to say because up until today, I probably would have argued differently. So what caused my aha moment? 

I actually had a couple of them today. It started during Social Studies, as my students were finishing their media texts for their election campaigns. Throughout the process, my student teacher and I were sitting down, talking to the groups, asking them questions, previewing their work, and asking them more questions. It was amazing to see the number of students that could answer all of our questions, regardless of how hard we made them. Even better though, this may have been the first time ever that I didn’t get an “I don’t know answer.” Students took thinking time. They explained their reasons. They gave logical explanations. They all attempted to answer all questions, and they were all willing to problem solve, even when the task was a difficult one.

And then it was time for math. Students are working on this Year-End Field Trip Problem, and a couple of groups picked a location that would only accommodate about 1/3 of our students. They needed a trip for all 90 Grade 5’s, so what were they going to do? I spoke to one group, and they figured out a possible solution, but then I thought that I’d mention the problem to the rest of the class at the end of math. I thought that the groups might need support to figure out solutions. When I told the students the problem, I was amazed by the answers: they suggested at least four different options that would all work (and many of them I hadn’t even considered). And that’s when I understood that inquiry really has taught the students how to think. In the past, students would have struggled with developing their own solutions to these Social Studies and Math problems. They would have given up when answering some of the questions, and they would have just looked for a model to use as a guide for other solutions. We’re now getting to the point that all of the students have really learned how to think.

Don’t get me wrong: developing thinking skills and asking good questions are areas that I will continue to work on throughout the year. But I’m seeing success, and that’s a great thing! What I love even more is that these positive changes in my teaching practices and in the skills of my students didn’t come from people telling me (or them) what to do.

  • These changes came about by me watching others (i.e., my principal, Paul, and vice principal, Kristi) asking these hard questions to my class and getting students to think.
  • These changes came about from meaningful conversations with colleagues and administrators (and some hard questions for me this time). A special “thank you” to my principal, Paul, vice principal, Kristi, and good friend and colleague, Jo-Ann, that have been these “critical friends” along the way.
  • These changes came about from numerous Twitter chats/discussions on inquiry, with incredible K-8 educators.
  • These changes came about from professional blog posts on inquiry. The discussion in the comments have helped bring about change.

And now I need to continue to look at student strengths and needs, scaffold when necessary, and continue to ask these hard questions that get students to think and problem solve even more than before. I need to continue to dialogue with educators and administrators — both online and face-to-face — that push my own thinking, and help me do even more for my students. Today, I had those “light bulb moments,” where I really saw what student thinking looks like, and I want my students to continue to think in these incredible ways.

How do you develop thinking skills in your students? What connection have you seen between “thinking” and “student achievement?” I’d love to hear your thoughts!


4 thoughts on “My Light Bulb Moments

  1. Thanks for the mention, Aviva, but the credit is truly all yours. I would like to add that the other outcome that I have observed is that I see a confidence in your students that wasn’t there at the beginning of the year. You have a challenging class with many students with a very wide range of needs… and I think they have gained a new image of themselves as “capable thinkers with a voice”. They now get energized by the challenges that you give them instead of shying away or waiting for others to find the answers. I suspect that this confidence and their new resiliency in tackling difficult challenges will be their most important areas of growth. Well done!

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul! I really do believe that it is a team effort, and it’s great to see the growth over time. I just had a new student teacher start her placement in our classroom, and she was speaking to me about the “thinking skills” that she sees in the students. She wondered if they were always as confident in having a voice, sharing their ideas, and solving problems together (instead of just relying on the teacher for support). Her wonderings made me realize just how much the students have grown over the year, and that the hard work definitely continues to be worth it! I’m very proud of my amazing students, and very appreciative of everybody that’s helped me out along the way!


  2. Can I now officially welcome you to the dark side? Lol. Inquiry is truly remarkable. It packs so much learning into a task that it blows your mind when you reflect upon it. I also have found that my students have more adaptability, that they can change their ideas on the fly. This In turn makes them think deeper about the information being provided to them and how to use it. If one strategy isn’t working they just move on. It is scary to think back to when you didn’t do inquiry and how much learning could have been done.

    As for how I promote it, I think it comes down to your expectations and how you set up the classroom. For my kids they know no other way. This is how we learn and they thrive on it now. I think it is one of the reasons that previous students tell me my class was a lot of fun. They say they really didn’t do work they just learned.

    Keep it up and also give more credit to your amazingness.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jonathan! You’re definitely one of the people in my PLN that I have looked to for guidance and support throughout this inquiry journey. Visiting your classroom and watching you interact with students taught me a lot, and I really appreciate that!

      You make a great point here about adaptability. Students have learned how to move past one strategy and try another one when things don’t go according to plan. It’s all part of the thinking. And they love the challenge of solving a difficult problem — they thrive on it! They’re even eager to continue these discussions and this learning at home. I’m amazed by the emails and blog posts that I receive at night (not because they’re required, but because the students have chosen to do this work). This excites me!

      Students want to learn, and inquiry proves that! Thanks for being one of my inspirations! I’m happy to be part of the “dark side.” 🙂


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