It’s About More Than One Change!

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.

2014-08-30_14-41-02 2014-08-30_14-41-17 2014-08-30_14-41-34 2014-08-30_14-41-49While 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.




19 thoughts on “It’s About More Than One Change!

  1. I’m quoting Sam here “it just needs to happen!” Or was it “just let it happen”? Don’t overthink it (I did that already a few years back) jump in and enjoy the ride the kids take you on!!!

    • Thanks Lori! I totally agree with you here and definitely plan on “jumping in.” I can’t help though but think of these questions: not as a way to prevent me from moving forward, but because, I know they’re things I need to consider or may need to address (be it with colleagues, with admin, and/or with parents). I see myself having my mind working — even if just “quietly in the background” — while I move forward.


  2. Jumping in with both feet is definitely the key. We constantly reflect and question everything that happens in our classroom but too much thought before the moment leads to phoney or insincere provocations and/or inquiries that we don’t value as much as the real authentic things that pop up in the world around us. Kids pick up on this! When the children in my class discovered something incidentally and the provocation was created through that discovery, the level of learning was so much deeper than when I attempted to make pretty displays to entice them into learning about what I thought they should! The problem I had was locating supporting resources amd materials on the fly to support my students’s curiosities. I don’t always have time to run to the public library or find materials but I’m getting better at taking the time with the kids to find materials that they can read online as soon as the curiosity is demonstrated. Printing out a few key pieces to add to the developing provocation seems to keep them interested enough until I can get other materials. I look forward to a day where the school librarian is not teaching prep and organizing book exchanges but instead is working in the library to support teachers and students in locating materials to engage their learning further. Thinking on my feet has been a must this past year or two and that’s something I can do and enjoy doing, but I had been out of practice due to the previous years of micromanaging the school day into 20 minute increments along with pre-planning my every move in order to meet certain requirements. It took me a while to get back into the swing of things but the creativity and good ideas that I started my teaching career off with all came back! Last year was honestly one of the best of my career because it was the most enjoyable. Unfortunately I have nothing to compare the children’s learning with beyond DRA & OWA (scores of which were fine) as it was my first year in Grade 1 but I’m relying on the Grade 2 colleagues at my school to let me know. The students at our school are very lucky as we worked hard as a Grade 1 team to meet the first cohort of FDK kids where they were at and now the Grade 2 team is jumping more into the world of inquiry along with student voice and choice. This year looks to be an exciting one!!! Enjoy your last few days!!!

    • Thanks Lori for sharing your experiences! I agree with you about the need to be sincere, and the benefits of the Internet for accessing information (even “on the fly”) is a great thing. I’m not so sure that we see provocations in the same way. I may have certain things in mind when I set-up a provocation, but really, I’m trying to get the students thinking, talking, discovering, and questioning. Where the students take this will depend on some of their own interests, and sometimes, a provocation won’t be as effective as I hoped, and that’s okay too.

      All of this being said, we’ll see what happens this year & how things do evolve. I’ve definitely been way more open-ended in my planning/thinking, and I’m curious to find out more about how this goes and where the students want to go. I think this will be a very fun year! I can’t wait to hear more about what the Grade 2 teachers at your school think, and how “inquiry” has changed things for this group of students.

      In my opinion, the hard questions shouldn’t stop us from making the leap, but they are worth discussing. Often these unknowns do stop people, and maybe they’d stop less if we looked at them more. And maybe, many of these answers, we’ll discover incidentally when learning with our students. I’m excited to find out! Have a great year!


      • You are right Inquiry is no one answer to a process of learning. What I think is the most important for me is that students are at the centre of the process especially their own questions. I learn more and more every year and I am hoping to be better at blogging about the process. Love your questions and so true it is important to discuss and address them than ignoring the obstacles that we face.. So many teachers are still learning about inquiry.May be this year we should address the questions that you have mentioned. I will copy them on a doc.

  3. So true inquiry process still needs to be addressed! The most important is that students’ questions are the drive of the process. I will copy the questions that you have posted and we should address them as the year progresses. I need to be a better blogger and reflector on the process.

    • Thanks for the comments, Rola! I would love to hear what others have to say about these topics/issues, and love the idea of you copying them into a GoogleDoc. You also make a very important point: students ARE at the centre of this process. Whether the inquiry stems from a curriculum area topic or one of general interest, the student thoughts/wonders/questions are what drive the inquiry. Maybe this is why the inquiry method can be a struggle at times, as it’s so contrary to how teachers may be used to teaching — with them driving the content. What’s the best way to show others the value in this change? This is something I continue to ponder. Thoughts anyone?


      • Hey Aviva,
        I think the best way we show others the power and value of putting children’s wonderings at the centre of our practice is just to enthusiastically and openly adopt a mindset of inquiry in our own classrooms. (I think Lori’s comments above – “jumping in with both feet” – is the answer here too). I don’t think that there is a way to ‘teach’ others to value children’s thinking (and boy, do I ever wish there was). It’s a process that they have to come to themselves; and only when enough teachers in one school have embraced inquiry, are questions about curriculum and scheduling going to be answerable. If a teacher is coming to inquiry after a traditional transmission model, they’re likely to do it in fits and starts throughout their career until they reach that tipping point where (like you) they realize that it’s a mindset, not a tool to be used at some times and not others. It’s a powerful realization that even when we’re directly teaching skills (and explicit instruction is an important part of the best inquiry classrooms), we can still be working with an inquiry mindset (meeting children where they are; honouring their questions; treating their ‘mis’understandings not as errors to be corrected, but windows into their thinking and evidence of where we need to go next).

        I think making inquiry a foundation of your classroom ethos is a leap of faith, and I don’t think we can help soften that very much – I don’t even know if we should. Maybe (and this is not a well thought out idea) it’s like the idea that often baby birds have to peck their own way out of their egg? If you break the egg for them, then you deny them the struggle that strengthens their lungs & makes them stronger. Maybe if we try to convince teachers to try out inquiry and try to make it look tidier and easier than it really is by smoothing the road for them; then we’d be pushing teachers who aren’t ready for that essential leap. We’d be denying them the chance to struggle through the initial change; which might be what gives them the strength and conviction to persevere when inquiry gets hard and messy, and ultimately doing them a disservice. I don’t know if that analogy holds up under scrutiny, but I do know that of the teachers I’ve met; the ability to embrace the ambiguity and ‘unknowable’ness of inquiry seems to be a big predictor in whether they truly adopt an inquiry mindset in all their dealings with children; vs whether they’ve got a 45 minute period called “Inquiry” scheduled between traditional blocks of literacy and math (where children are treated as though they need to be filled up with knowledge, and where we assume we know best where their attention should be directed).

        That was a much longer comment than I’d intended! Apparently the 140 character restriction on twitter means that everywhere else I don’t stop until I’ve written a short essay 🙂 I enjoyed reading your post, and the comments made by others as well!

        • Thanks for the comment, Heather! I’m glad that you shared all of these thoughts, and I think you make some very valuable points. Inquiry is messy, and there is so much value/learning that comes from embracing the struggle. Inquiry does not mean that we have to give up on all “teaching,” but it changes the way in which we do teach. The Ontario Social Studies Curriculum Document is trying to help infuse inquiry into all classrooms, but without this change in mindset, I’d question if a 40 minute period is really inquiry. How do we help people see value in inquiry? What’s the impact if it’s not embraced?

          I will definitely be jumping in with both feet. I hope more and more people will join me! (And for those first people that jumped in, thanks for inspiring me and helping me see what inquiry can really be all about.)


  4. I love your questions and have many similar ones too. I’ m jumping in as well! Most importantly, is that we continue to reflect, question and adapt as we go. Glad to be learning along with you.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lora! I’m glad to hear that you’re jumping in too, and I hope that we can both reflect/share as the year goes on. I don’t think these questions should stop us from “taking the plunge,” but just make us contemplate more as we go.


  5. Wow. I read your post…and needed time myself to reflect on your reflections. Inquiry definitely challenges us as teachers. It is hard to let go of our old way of teaching. Hard to tell a group of students who are looking at you all doe eyed that you don’t have the slightest idea. It is hard to not “know” how the questioning will progress. Inquiry does challenge a ” new way of teaching, thinking, and learning.” Love this quote.
    Thank you for being so brave to share all your questions. I know that I share a lot of the same ones. My absolutely favourite question you had was the last one as there have been a few times where I feel like we as educators are on different pages when it comes to inquiry.
    Does anyone else feel the same way?

    • Thanks for the comment, Maria! I’m glad that we share many of the same questions. I also think that we’re on many different pages when it comes to “understanding inquiry.” It’s like we’re working from multiple definitions. Is it a continuum of learning, or is there something we can do to create more of a shared understanding? Thoughts? I’m still thinking about this one.


  6. Hi Aviva,

    I know we have numerous talks about this but for me inquiry is a state of mind.

    As I delved I to inquiry some more it made me think just like you.

    The biggest revelation was my ability to really know the students. Having things done this way made me understand next steps, students thinking and understand what they really knew. Which brought me to assessment. I gave them a test but as I looked at the questions and the students I already knew what they were going to struggle with. It made me think why was I doing this? I mean I was wasting two periods to administer a test that I already knew what students would be able to do. Yes it would be great for parents to see but was there a better way for them to see what there child could do.

    As for marking I found myself marking as students worked. I would reflect, record, video tape and conference. Over the years I have started to develop my own landscapes or trajectories of learning which has really help my assessments. I find that I am also coconstructing more as we build and learn. It’s an ever growing process as students go back and forth with learning goals and rubrics. They are ever changing (which is why have gone more with learning trajectories). I have also found I do less if not any marking at home. Tons of reflecting but no marking.

    The classroom: my classroom I believe has become an amazing place of learning. One where my students feel a part of it. I believe this is because of inquiry. I recently had students come back and tell me that it was a lot more fun in my class. I asked why and they said less work. I questioned this because we did a ton of work. They said yeah but it was different. We wanted to learn this. I am still searching for an explanation but I think it comes down to that important voice part. The students felt a part of the learning and could control it versus me telling them what they are learning. We learned curriculum but it was through their questions, problems and at their rate. We never went too fast or too slow.

    Now as a teacher this is way more work. My thesis looked more I to this but basically, inquiry requires the teacher to know their stuff. You cannot assess, build trajectories, question effectively if you yourself do not understand what the students are working on. It’s okay to maybe not know it at the time but you do need to understand it, eventually. Having planned a lot allows the teacher to be flexible with the students. The learning goal is important but you also have to think about where your students are.

    My advice is plan but also be flexible you never know where inquiry will take you. I know this was a little long winded but you had a lot of things for me to think about. In fact I may just copy this and add more. Hope this helped.

    • Thank you so much for such a detailed comment, Jonathan! I absolutely agree with everything you said here. The student voice part is definitely key when it comes to inquiry. You make a great point about teachers “knowing their stuff” too. I think the key information that they need to know, and truly understand, are the curriculum expectations. If students are taking more control over their learning, then the teacher needs to know how their interests parallel the expectations, and how they can support the students as they progress in their learning.

      I think that the work involved is different. I spend way more time reading curriculum documents, looking at links, thinking about provocations, and finding resources to support student interests. I spend way less time creating tests, black line masters, and fancy assignments. I also spend more time looking at how students can help co-create success criteria, and how I can support students during self-evaluations and self-assessments. This is especially true (I think) in primary, as students may not be as strong in reading and writing yet, and we need to explore different options (like oral ones).

      Inquiry for me was largely about a change in mindset, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a hard change, but I also think that it was a great one. Last year, I saw my students more excited to come to school than ever before — and I’ve taught Kindergarten for years (where school is ALWAYS exciting), so it really said something to me when Grade 5’s WANTED to be in the classroom. I want that same excitement this year. Even though, I continue to have many questions, I know that I’ll be jumping into inquiry come tomorrow morning, and I can’t wait to see where my learning takes me!

      I do hope that you copy some of these questions and expand on some of your thinking too. While I don’t think that these questions should stop us from embracing inquiry, I think that they’re worthy of discussion, and I hope that more people talk about them as well. These “hard talks” are good ones!


  7. Love your wonderings, Aviva. I am thinking similar questions. I would love to hear more about your Social Studies Inquiry Circles. I would like to have my students, 6th and 7th graders, learn from each others’ wonderings. I am not a textbook person. I don’t want to fall into the trap of just following the book or someone else’s plans, especially because this is a new assignment this year; I haven’t taught middle school in a few years. Can you share more about the Inquiry Circles or lead me to a link where I can read about that? Thanks so much!

    • Thanks for your comment, Elisa! I’m not much for a textbook either, and the inquiry circles provide a great way for the students to learn from each other’s wonderings, share questions and ideas, and come to a “shared understanding.” The idea comes from the book, COMPREHENSION AND COLLABORATION: INQUIRY CIRCLES IN ACTION. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend that you do. There are tons of amazing ideas in there that work well for all grades. I blogged about the book here, and discuss inquiry circles a bit in the post: You can also hear an example of one in this post: Basically we sit in a circle, I may start with an open-ended question, and students share learning. We follow-up with questions and comments, and usually end with a new understanding and a starting point for where to go next. Often I will tell the students the main question that I’m going to ask them in the inquiry circle, so that they are thinking about this question while they’re reading, writing, and discussing ideas together.

      Hope this helps!

      • Hi Aviva,
        Believe it or not, I just had a chance to check out the links you so graciously provided above. I’m pretty sure that I have this book. It’s co-authored by Harvey Daniels, I think. I grabbed it off my shelf one day last year and opened up to a section that caught my interest. I thought to myself that this was a book I really needed to read. But, then other books crowded it out! Time to pull it off the shelf again!

        • Elisa, this is the book, and it’s definitely all as good as that one section that you read. I know that you won’t be disappointed: lots of great ideas, all linked to literacy, and applicable to all grade levels. I’d love to know what you think of it when you finish reading it.


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