Monday, 1 September 2014

Teaching through Inquiry: A reflection on a reflection Part 2

I recently came upon a post by my friend Aviva (@avivaloca). In her blog ( she was reflecting on teaching through inquiry. I started to respond in her comments but was thinking of so much more to write.  In fact it even made me split the blog post into two posts for sake of space and time for readers.  

This is the second part which in my opinion focuses more on the teaching parts of Inquiry.  The first focuses on the planing portions. Though to be fair they often blur together.

Here is Aviva's questions in regards to teaching: 

  • 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)
1) Classroom Design:

I am not the best at design but teaching through inquiry has really played into my hand. Because Inquiry is a lot about student learning so is classroom design.  My classroom is built around my students. My walls are their work, my tables are just that tables.  Students are free to work where ever they want. 

2) Schedules: 

This is so important.  I think that for Inquiry to really happen schedules have to be in place for it to happen.  This comes through admin and staff working together to really create something special for the students.  inquiry cannot happen in one period blocks of time.  Their needs to be a lot of creativity, planning and thinking on all to make it happen.

3, 4) Teachers:

I have clumped these altogether because I think they go hand in hand; however, the answer is a politically sensitive one.  In order to have better questioning and understanding of the curriculum teachers need to know their stuff.  Their has been numerous debates over the importance of inquiry and its failures.  Where it does fail is when as teachers we do not know enough to help our students learn.  We cannot let them just wonder the universe searching for answers.  Their needs to be a balance between skill and exploration.  I always use the idea of Wayne Gretzky (though I know that this may create debate in itself).  Gretzky became great because he had skill and he practise but he also had coaches along the way that shaped and modeled his abilities.  They told him when he was doing something wrong at the right times in his career.  These coaches had to know their stuff to help him improve.  I couldn't go into the rink and say fix your shot, your pulling to the right because I would have no idea what to do.  We also don't ask a brain surgeon to come and do a heart transplant. He may fully understand what to do but he doesn't have the right skill for the task.  Teachers are the same.  To improve our questions and our ability to learn we ourselves have to learn.  

I recently completed my Masters of Education in the effects of teachers Questions on students learning in Fractions.   I had to do a lot of reading, and a lot of learning.  It is because of this learning that I was able to hone my craft in asking questions.  I am in no way an expert (in my opinion) but through practise, more reading, watching others, learning, and reflecting I am always getting better. This is exactly what teachers need to do.

I understand that their is a time factor but it is time well spent.  Until we get our profession (all of us) willing to do this than Inquiry will not be fully implemented.

6 and 7) Teacher Support: 

I am skipping five for a moment.  Teachers need support, that is plain.  If the boards and the ministry want inquiry to happen than teacher training is a must.  How is this to be done.  I think that we really need to rethink our professional development days and staff meetings.  Give time for teachers to explore and learn inquiry through inquiry.  I always think it is funny when we teach that inquiry is the vest way yet we disseminate information in a lecture style.  It contradicts inquiry.  

Last year I was involved in a Teaching and Learning Project with the government.  I was given funding to run a school wide math focus on problem solving.  We are in no way fully school wide but we made huge strides.  How was this obtained: 

1) It made us as teachers talk
2) Instructional Rounds became best practice
3) Common Planning
4) Co-teaching, Co-planning, and Co-debriefing

With these four critical components our whole school understands what problem solving is, what resources to use, and some critical questions to be asking through the whole process.  On a whole our staff does two to three problems a unit for inquiry in math.  Our next steps are to continue this and to further implement it.

We can take a note of this small study for a bigger picture.  Implementation will always be slow the more people you have but through these four steps it can be done.  The more conversation the better it becomes. 

5) Student Voice versus Curriculum:

This is a nice way to end this conversation.  I believe that the best part of Inquiry is students get a voice.  Students feel a part of the classroom, even though you are for the most part deciding what is being taught, students are exploring at their pace, with their words and with their ideas.  With Inquiry they are the lesson. Its their questions, their answers and their opinions that drive the discussions and learning.  Sure you had the big idea in place, maybe the activity but it always comes down to their learning.  Be willing to give into this and amazing things will happen.

Once again, these are only my opinions and as Inquiry continues to evolve so will my thoughts.  I love hearing from people so if you have any ideas please share.  Love to hear them.

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