Critical to the success of our experience with personal inquiry is the role of the teacher in conferring with learners. Far from being a routine that allows learners to simply “go off on their own” , teachers are working the room as coaches, guides, observers and co-researchers. Scheduled and spontaneous conferences are the mainstay of the teachers’ role during iTime.
So I have been playing around with this image – as a way to illustrate the nature of teacher guidance in inquiry – and our quest to nurture agency through it. I see it a little like a sound engineer’s mixing desk. For most of us, the tendency can be to raise our level of guidance too high and too soon and for too long. Practising the techniques of releasing responsibility, allowing some struggle, observing and listening, slowing down, waiting and explaining at the point of need means we learn to step in less frequently and with less ‘volume’ than we may have thought necessary.
The changing environment offers an incredible opportunity for inquiry. But why limit that inquiry into one stand alone unit when, in fact, the opportunity to learn about, notice, anticipate, observe and record change is available to us every single day? Inquiring into the environment is SO much better as an ongoing experience. And I am not just talking about a filling in a weather chart each day! On a regular basis, take your kids OUTSIDE to observe and record what they see, hear and smell. Take time to record, to photograph, to draw – and simply to BE in the outdoors. Have each child find their special spot - a place they will return to all year and document change. Find a window in your school through which to see the outside world. Watch the way the view out that window changes over the year. Draw it, write about it, capture it in a diary that will be used again next year to anticipate change
Connect with places around your school in which you and your children can spend time in more natural environments. Build a relationship with your local parks, waterways, beaches, gardens.
Go for walks. Walk slowly and learn to notice the small things. Nature is everywhere…even in the cracks of the footpath of the most urban street. Record what you see on your walks and take the same route each time to notice the subtle and more dramatic changes.
Create a timeline in the classroom that depicts what you are noticing each month about the environment around you. Include photos, sketches and observations on the timeline. What birds are in the school yard at different times of the year? Which plants are flowering? Where are the shadows falling in the school yard?
Encourage your kids to get to know nature in their neighbourhoods or back yards. Have them keep diaries or journals, take photographs and track the way that places change over a year.
Find out what kinds of plants there are in your school yard. Keep track of how they grow and change over time.
Start noticing the birds – what species are in the school grounds? Does it change over the year? Which birds are native? Introduced? What are their habits? Where do they prefer to hang out? Why?
Connect with kids in other parts of your country or even state. What is their experience of the environment at simultaneous times of the year?
Find out about the ways the indigenous people of your area identify seasonal change.
Talk to your kids about what YOU notice as the days pass over the year. Model what it means to be fascinated by and connected to your environment. Marvel aloud at the changing seasons.
When we stop judging students they stop judging and censoring themselves. They begin to actually learn. Even in a STEM class.
How do we model ethical use of materials to our students? How much does this matter to us anyway? How freely should materials be shared without consultation or permission? When is it OK to sell our work? What does 'original' mean? If the words are someone else's but we choose the font, colour and images - does that make it original? What responsibility do we have as producers AND consumers to acknowledge the work done by others? Who really owns what? What do we know/believe about the thorny issue of intellectual property? AND…. Why do we prefer a glossy, pretty poster over the children's own documentation on our walls? Do our learners USE the stuff we decorate the walls with? What should be on our walls anyway? Who is it for?
For those of us like myself who (all of a sudden it seems) mostly find themselves the oldest teacher in room, there is a strange sense of déjà vu about the flurry of excitement around agency. The challenge to rethink the way we ‘do’ teaching and learning and the desire to wrench schools from the transmission/factory-inspired model of the past has burned brightly within so many educators for a long time. It is not a new idea and therefore, not one to be dismissed as a fad or ‘the latest buzz word’. And this is far from another proverbial 'pendulum swing'. I am eternally grateful to those who have gone before. Those who have believed strongly that learning is not something that gets done TO us - it is something we do for ourselves. It is so exciting to see a globally respected organisation such as the IBO place learner agency at the centre of its enhanced program. There is something palpably different about the new rise of ‘learner agency ‘ in the contemporary landscape.
Hacker culture is about doing clever, creative things with technology; basically coming up with ways to apply our technical skills for the benefit of society.
I am also reminded of hearing Will Richardson talking about changing 10% at a time. Although he was talking about becoming a ‘connected educator’, the same premise applies here. If a teacher were to apply all 12 hacks, I think that they would be well on the way to changing the whole of their classroom.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive or comprehensive list. However, these seven broad topics present hundreds of relevant challenges that our students can and should have opportunities to address.
Using an inquiry based approach to teaching and learning is multi-faceted. At its heart, inquiry is a stance – it’s about how we talk to kids and how we think about learning. It is also about how we plan and the contexts we both recognise and create in which powerful inquiry can thrive. These contexts can be highly personal (one child’s investigation into their passion) and they can also be shared contexts that bring learners together under a common question. These shared inquiries form a powerful ‘backbone’ of the primary classroom.
- HOW CAN WE DESIGN FOR OUR WELLBEING?
- WHAT MAKES A HEALTHY HABITAT?
- HOW CAN WE TEACH OTHERS ABOUT THIS SPECIAL PLACE?
- WHY DO PEOPLE PLAY?
- CAN WE CREATE OUR OWN RESTAURANT?
- BIN CHICKENS: WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
- LET’S GET DOWN TO BUSINESS…WOULD YOU BUY THAT? WHY?
- WHY ARE MUSEUMS IMPORTANT – AND CAN WE CURATE OUR OWN?
- WHAT’S MY STORY – WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
- WHAT’S REALLY ON YOUR PLATE?
- WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ADAPT?
- WHY IS MUSIC IMPORTANT?
She pulls out some of the key aspects that went across all the different inquiries:
For the most part, the inquiries:
were authentic! Kids investigating something for a real purpose – with a genuine high-stakes outcome (often known from the outset)
were integrative. The journeys described allowed a range of learning areas to be meaningfully connected
involved experts from outside the school – this meant kids having to communicate with people in various fields
were shared – the learning gained from the inquiries went beyond the classroom and was shared with the wider community in some way
were emergent – these inquiries could not be planned in detail. The authentic nature of the journey meant that teachers and learners had to think on their feet and plan as the inquiry unfolded.
got kids out of the classroom visiting restaurants, going to the museum, the local nature reserve…many of these inquiries depended on experience beyond the classroom walls.
were often ‘design’ focussed.
This is not a list of questions and/or units to roll out, but rather a source of inspiration. Along with her post on ten practices of an inquiry teacher, they provide some guidance going into the new year.