I have read a lot of blogs posts lately about inquiry. Especially how it relates to teachers. But with reflection, I think the only authentic way that inquiry is sustainable is when collaboration happens between the following 7 facets of learning.
1. The student as researcher
As any parent knows, “Why?” is one of the first things children ask. It’s true, children of all ages are natural researchers; they actively desire to communicate with the surrounding world. They are engaged in their own pedagogy, that of observation and wonder. Inquiry for children is part of their natural evolution. Getting kids to inquire is the easy bit. Getting us to see them as researchers requires mindful practice.
2. The teacher as activator
The teacher is a researcher, data gatherer, and strategic contributor to the learning experience. The aim is to learn about each specific child. To understand their misconceptions, prior knowledge, personal connections and desires for action. We activate thinking by poising bigger questions, additions to thinking, to dig deep into the how and why of the child's understanding. For me this has always been easiest through the IB Learner Profile or set of attributes that we would like students to embody. Using the learner profile I am able to engender an environment in which children know that not knowing is a great start to learning. In this forum we are able to wonder about the big questions of life: Why are we here? Who am I? How am I connected to others? And of course, Who cares?
You can read an earlier post I wrote about designing inquiry through the learner profile here.
This is a terrific book that provides teachers and students with a lovely stimulus for thinking and talking about curiosity and questioning. This book will no doubt have children eagerly sharing the things THEY wonder about which, in turn, will sow the seeds for all kinds of inquiry learning.
3. The caregiver as facilitator
Along with teachers, the extended community has a pro-active role to play in the students’ lives. Everyone including parents, caregivers and friends should have an invested interest in the students. After school we fill our kids time with piano, karate, soccer, art and think that we are doing them favors by filling their time with 'enriching' activities. Not always so, if we are honest it takes concerted effort to facilitate the inquiry and investigations children have started at school. We have all glorified being busy- working to make money, but what if we worked less and spent more time playing WITH children? Rediscovering our own curiosity, our own maker selves. To begin to think again like designers, problem solvers, and engineers. What if piano lessons became about making instruments and an investigation into sound? What if we asked children what they wanted to investigate and let them lead the learning?
To push on the keys of a piano over and over and over to learn how to play music is one thing, to investigate the larger concepts of musical form and function is another. To wonder about where it is found around us, in running water, though hollow wood, in how it is produced by the creation of instruments- this brings a richer understanding that transcends music to all aspects of life.
4. The documentation as visible thinking
Documentation of learning makes thinking visible. It provides opportunities for children to revisit, extend, and change their constructed knowledge. Documentation is a process that involves observation, reflection, collaboration, interpretation, analysis, and through practice becomes second nature to the teaching and learning cycle. Continually adding to and taking away from the multiple forms of documentation: photographs, iPhone videos, iPad apps, note taking and the actual product of a child’s work create a iterative space of wonder. Posting the documentation within the classroom and school encourages the learning community to develop and celebrate an ethos of inquiry.
5. The curriculum
With the expectations of the government, parents and administrators to reach the Common Core State Standards, benchmarks or phase documentation sometimes teachers feel it is a daunting task to take on inquiry based learning experiences. I could write a lots about this but I think that Kath Murdoch says it best. Click on the image to read her amazing blog.
6. The environment
Take a look around your classroom, or your child's room. What is set up as a provocation for curiosity and exploration? Examine the look and feel of the space. Think like a designer. Environment is considered the "third teacher." A learning space should be inviting, challenging, creative. Documentation of children's work, plants, and collections that children have made from former outings should displayed both at the children's and adult eye level. Common space available to all children in the school provide an opportunity for children from different classrooms to come together. A welcoming environment encourages a child to engage in wonder and discovery. And it is not just for the little learners. Primary, secondary, high schools as well as large corporate offices are taking on new and innovative learning spaces (that actually, closely resemble early learning environments).
Be inspired here.
7. The clock
Early learning classes have a space of time each day for ‘free choice’ or whatever the school may choose to call it- but really this time is essential for the development of natural curiosity, investigations, conversations and the building of relationships. Too often we shuttle kids in school from one subject to another, even in schools very aligned with the Primary Years Program (a concept and inquiry driven curriculum framework), teachers still complain about being slaves to the schedule. So, if we can't ditch the schedule, what can we do?
Learning about specific kids, assessing misconceptions, planning in order to drive the inquiry, all of this comes from the time I step back in my classroom and give kids time to 'play'. This is not time that kids aimlessly wander about or get to play mindless games on the iPad, this is dedicated time for children to express, learn, explore, extend and revisit a given project. Provide time each day set aside for investigation. Turn the iPads into research and documentation tools. Why not have a maker space outside for primary kids to explore at recess? How about a shared exploration center in the lobby of the school? Utilize those dead spaces in your school to become active, engaged and inquiry-based provocations. Learn more about design thinking and the maker classroom in education here.
Humans are in the business of wondering. It is what helped us to become the complex social primates we are today. We wondered ourselves into tool making, crop growing and industry. We wondered ourselves into vaccinations, outer-space and the Ethernet. I wonder where we will go next if we simply allow some time for wonder?