Last night, I read and commented on a blog post by one of my favourite bloggers, Kristi Keery-Bishop (she also used to be my vice principal). The discussion that evolved on this post quickly made its way to Twitter, and it wasn’t long before I was even dreaming about our talk.
While Kristi’s blog post was about homework, the conversation definitely became a lot more than that.
With the release of our new Social Studies Curriculum Document last year, I decided to make it my professional goal to use inquiry in the classroom. This goal was often a struggle for me.
- I made a lot of mistakes.
- I tried again many times.
- I needed a lot of support.
- I relied heavily on “critical friends” — Kristi, my principal Paul, my good friend and colleague JoAnn, and my amazing Twitter PLN were four of the best — to help me assess what I tried and figure out where to go next.
And I think that it took me until last night’s conversation to truly figure out that inquiry is not about a single tweak in content delivery methods — it’s about a whole new way of teaching, thinking, and learning. I’m not saying this to scare people. I understand that many of us need to start small and grow from there, but here are the numerous questions I’m contemplating when it comes to inquiry:
- How does this impact on long-range planning (i.e., we need to teach all of the overall expectations, but could student wonders impact on how and when this information is taught)?
- How does this impact on the use of tests and culminating tasks? How “formal” do assessment tasks need to be for students to show us what they know?
- How does this impact on the marking? Will a focus on inquiry also eventually lead to a provincial change in evaluation methods (i.e., moving from grades and percents to specific anecdotal comments, such as the ones used on the Full-Day Kindergarten Report Cards)?
- How does this impact on homework? How do we inspire students to want to learn outside of school, and how do we show parents the value in learning that does not rely on a textbook or black line masters?
- How does this impact on classroom design? What role will students play in this design?
- How does this impact on scheduling and specialist teachers? If students are on rotary, I wonder how the teachers can work together to create longer blocks of learning time even when they don’t naturally exist.
- How do we improve our questioning skills? How do we get comfortable with “wondering,” and not always having the answer in mind?
- How do we get better at understanding curriculum expectations and seeing the links between expectations?
- How do we balance “student interests” and “curriculum expectations?” What does this balance look like?
- How are teachers supported in this shift towards inquiry?
- How do we gain a shared understanding of what inquiry means (helping to ensure the success of the approach)?
I definitely have far more questions here than I do answers. That being said, I can’t help but think back to a conversation that I had with my Grade 5’s last year. During one of our Social Studies Inquiry Circles, I admitted to the class that I didn’t know the answers to their questions. A couple of my students were surprised that a “teacher didn’t know all of the answers.” That’s when one boy chimed in with these wise words: “That’s okay, Miss Dunsiger. Teachers don’t need to know all of the answers. They just need to be willing to learn.” I’m willing to learn. Who else is with me? How do we start addressing these tough questions? I will definitely be jumping in and embracing even more inquiry in the classroom, but also doing some thinking as I do.