Saturday, 30 November 2013

Teaching through Inquiry or Problem Based Learning

I have recently been in many discussions with colleagues on teaching through inquiry that I thought I would put my thoughts into this blog. For me inquiry is everything.  I know some feel a more balanced approach is needed but in my opinion it is the way to teach.  The reason why I think this is that the students are engaged, it is there learning and through proper and impactful questions the students get a rounded program.  

What does teaching through inquiry involve?

The first is that it takes planning. Educators cannot expect to have a good inquiry, one that has meaningful learning, to happen just like that.  I have been encouraged by Mary Stein's five practise for planning a math inquiry (http://www.nctm.org/catalog/product.aspx?id=13953): anticipate, monitor, select, organize and debrief.  What these practise suggest is that we need to first anticipate students work, problems, strategies, and models.  This is where having a good understanding of curriculum, learning progressions and a trajectory of learning will assist in anticipation of student response. By anticipating, you can ask better questions, talk can be pushed and students will often move I learning because you can plan for it.  When educators are monitoring, they are constantly reflecting, thinking and questioning where students are, what they're learning and where the learning is going.  By monitoring you are also looking for student work to create the most impactful debrief that can happen.

The second thing is that inquiry needs a good context.  Students need to be truely engaged in the learning that they actually forget they are learning and are just trying to solve a problem. It is only the debrief that the learning goals become evident and brought out through careful questions.

Third, students need time. They need to have the time to explore, stubble, be in disequilibrium.  This is the hardest part for educators because we want to jump in and help by providing ways out. However, for the learning to have impact students need to be in that disequilibrium and be brought back and forth with careful but purposeful questions.

Finally, inquiry needs a debrief. Students need to have the learning brought back. Yes students will learn on their own, we all do this, it will just take time. As a teacher, educator we need to question, talk and bring the math or learning forward for the students to focus on.

Why teach through inquiry?

First students are really impacted by it. It becomes not just book knowledge but real learning.  Students also feel incharge of their learning. They are learning not just because you told them but because they want to learn. You cover more expectations and learning then you think and often with less review because learning is real and deeper.

How do you assess?

This is a question I get asked all the time.  Report cards, test scores, etc. are always at the forefront of education.  I personally think this needs to change.  What do we value more, learning or scores? In my opinion it's learning. For this to happen focus needs to be on descriptive feedback and formative assessment.  That being said I know we live in the real world and need marks. Through inquiry it is all there just in a different way.  Phasing a trajectory will help. It allows you to say to parents, administrator and colleagues, here is what research says, here is what we think, this is where they are and where they need to go. It is even more powerful then an a, b, or c. It gives students, parents and you the power to help and move students.

How do I get started?

Jump right in. Take so,e of your existing lessons and flip them. Instead of you guiding the learning or teaching the skills, have the students do it through a context rich problem.  There are also many resource: math: Cathy fosnot, Marilyn burns, john VanDeWalle, are just a few. Science: hands on science language: reading power series, rethinking schools, math that matters

Again these are just a few of my thoughts but there is a lot of research to back it up.  Inquiry is a lot of fun, it will surprise you. As I end this blog I would love to here what your experiences are? Have you tried inquiry? Problems? Questions? Thoughts?