About MORE Than The Teachable Moments!

Yes, I’m a planner. I have detailed daybook plans for the week and long-range plans for the year. I like to be organized, and planning helps me with this. But inquiry has made me re-think the way that I plan. Even though, I like my detailed plans, I know that the week rarely looks like what I’ve indicated in my daybook. I know that every night, I re-look at what the next day will bring, and then in the midst of teaching and learning, I reconsider things again.

Inquiry provides lots of opportunities for formative assessment, and observations throughout the process as well as student interests help determine next steps. Much inquiry happens “in the moment,” but my vice principal‘s blog post from the other night, made me think more about this. Here’s the truth:

  • I know that I miss things in the moment. I think that I’m asking all of the important questions, but I’m not. As a teacher, I try to give my students “wait time,” but I also need it. Sometimes I need to think about a topic overnight and explore more on my own, so that I can develop the very best questions.
  • I know that I need to re-read curriculum expectations. I always feel as though I know the overall ones well (I spend a lot of time looking at them), but in the heat of questioning, I sometimes forget. Sometimes student interests and curriculum expectations don’t align, and I need to consider ways to help connect them. I have the curriculum documents on my iPad, and I’ve consulted them even in the midst of a discussion, but good thinking about expectations takes time. 
  • I know that I don’t work in isolation. Often I need to discuss our inquiry topics with others. Kristi, my vice principal, regularly provides me with these “thinking provocations,” and even reminded me of this in her tweet last night.

2014-05-29_18-19-12Yesterday was the perfect example of my dilemma when it comes to inquiry. Yesterday, my students shared their Passion Projects that they’ve been working on at home for the past month. One group of students baked and then made numerous connections to Science and Math. This yummy Passion Project had the class very interested yesterday in the topics of baking and chemical reactions. Just after Bus Duty, I happened to mention to Kristi how the students enjoyed sharing their baked goods with her. That’s when she told me that she gave my students some homework. She asked, “Why must every recipe that includes baking soda also include salt?” Interesting question. I didn’t know, so I told her this, and she explained. That’s when I connected to the volcano experiment that another group did and said, “I wonder if salt would help minimize the baking soda and vinegar reaction in a volcano.” Kristi liked that question, and came back at me with, “I wonder what would happen if you used all of these ingredients [i.e., baking soda, salt, and vinegar] together.” I told her I knew what we were doing tomorrow.

That’s when I emailed myself a list of ingredients to bring into class, and I started to do some Google searching. Wow! Little did I know that there is actually a link between this experiment and our current focus on the environment. Baking soda, vinegar, and salt actually create an eco-friendly cleaner. I didn’t realize that a short conversation with my vice principal would lead to so much new learning for me. And that’s when I knew that it was okay to re-explore an inquiry that was actually over now. In the midst of all of the excitement (and noise) from yesterday, I never got to ask these important questions. We didn’t get to extend the learning, and we didn’t get to make the connection to our new Science learning.

Today, I’d see if an inquiry really could be left and then re-explored. And you know what … it can! The students started talking about the baking soda, vinegar, and salt as soon as they walked into the room and saw the provocation. I heard students make connections to what happened yesterday with the volcano, and then they got excited to think that we might be making another volcano. As you can see in our Storify Story from today, the learning extended way beyond volcanoes, and helped students realize the connections between acids, bases, and neutralizers. Then at lunch, Kristi asked me another question about other times salt could be used as a neutralizer, and the in-class conversation continued before the students headed off to French.

I may have created today’s “moment,” but the learning was just as rich — if not richer — than the teachable one from yesterday. Maybe what we all need is a colleague (online or in-person) — be it a fellow teacher, an EA, a DECE, or an administrator — that can push us to see things in new ways, reconsider our questions, and make a prior learning experience, a new and exciting one. Will this always work? Probably not. Do all inquiries need to be re-explored? I think no. But today proved to me that inquiry can be about more than just teachable moments, and I thank Kristi for this. What are your thoughts on this topic? What role does — and should — “planning” play in inquiry? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



8 thoughts on “About MORE Than The Teachable Moments!

  1. “What role does and should “planning” play in inquiry”

    —- Wow, that’s the million dollar question Aviva! It makes me think about transparency and trust with parents, too. I think the planning is a flexible framework that may change once the students get into the mix. I love your passion for responding to the ideas and feedback and provocations provided by colleagues. I plan on my own so that the “stage” is set before everyone arrives, but I know that sometimes the “costumes” don’t fit the “players”, the script is rewritten by someone with a better idea….and sometimes, the “props” get broken. I’m nowhere near where you are with inquiry, but I’m finding more and more that the plan will always change in some way. I talked to my admin yesterday about this briefly -with respect to the daily classroom schedule. Traditionally, it seemed that the plan (education) “happened to” the students. Now, hopefully, students “happen to” the plan (hope that I’m making sense!). As students’ needs and interests happen (in real time, after plans have been made) a daily schedule can also change…e.g. during period 1 science students may discover a math connection that begs to be explored….and then the timing of Math may need to change because the resources/space required for the new exploration might be available at a different time & place than originally planned. Switching around the day to correspond to changing plans can be perceived by others as disorganization. So important for us to find ways to include parents in these conversations and this new, fluid approach to student learning so that the intentions are clear. Also, building trust with parents through transparency and regular contact will allow them to trust us so that when the plan changes, they can understand that our professional judgement is being used for the benefit of students.

    • Thanks for the comment, Michelle! I love your drama/acting analogy. This is so true! Often times, the best laid plans have to change. I think that’s okay though: it’s all part of the learning process.

      Just like I love your flexible schedule idea. I find myself doing this more and more throughout the year. I still have a schedule on the board, but I will flip it depending on our inquiry, access to supplies, and need for shorter or longer periods of time.

      Being up front with parents and admin about this is important. Having their feedback too is also important, as if we’re all on the same page, students will benefit the most.


  2. I think “planning” works when the lesson is based on a “directed” inquiry. This is when you want your students to think in certain direction and obtain known results. But a ” teaching moment “sometimes just appear and it could be a question to which a teacher may not know the answer to. These questions could be left for further research and should be taken up later in the classroom.

    • Thanks for the comment, Sandhya! I totally understand what you’re saying here, but what if after the teaching moment is over, you realize a question that you never explored? What if there’s a big idea that you missed? Can we get these teachable moments back again? This is something that I’m still considering!


      • Aviva,
        I get the complete picture now. If you realize that a big idea or an interesting question has been missed, make a mental note of it and look for opportunities to explore it as an assignment or even in another unit or another subject.

        • Thanks Sandhya! I think that’s a great idea and a nice way to still focus on those “teachable moments,” but not miss anything really important either.


  3. Well I am working on this themes and motifs thing in my head.

    Themes could be big ideas-for example the overall curriculum expectations you know so well. They could also be interdisciplinary themes-conflict vs. change, for example.

    In another life, I was an English major (surprise!), and I remember learning about motifs, which reoccur and are like being brushed with a feather. That would be unlike themes, which tend to hit you over the head.

    So imagine this-you work through an inquiry theme, but parts of it keep recurring over the year like leitmotifs. In math class this could be connecting proportions across different strands, or remembering skills used in the fractions unit when it’s time to look at probability. It could be finding a new connection to chemistry and volcanoes.

    These are the true teachable moments, and we should go with them. Our themes are strong and true, and driven by inquiry, but our motifs could also be the little tangents we follow when they arise. A more micro and flexible look at curriculum. Think of it like little melody motifs in a symphony-nonessential, maybe, but pleasant.

    Hope that makes sense, just working through it…

    • This is some interesting thinking, Matthew! Here’s my dilemma though: what if I go with one of these motifs, but realize later, that I missed some important questioning or missed an important opportunity for learning? Would you re-explore these elements or wait until they may come up again?

      Thanks for the comment!

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