Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Oh yeah, we do inquiry!

When I talk to educators, I often get this response,

"Oh yeah! We do inquiry! 

How else could we pass the Common Core tests?"

But what does "doing inquiry" mean to people who answer that way? It's in all the standards. So maybe that's why educators see it that way.
It's in every standard, but how are people doing it?  I've come to realize that inquiry learning can mean a lot of different things to different people. 
But I'm writing today to tell you that inquiry can be something much larger than that.  It can become the way in which you look at learning, as an endeavor in curiosity and discovery.

There is much more power when inquiry is applied as a complete approach to learning. I've argued time and again that not all learning is suited to an inquiry approach, some direct instruction is necessary. But, I would also argue that most CAN.  

Inquiry has the power to transform how teachers teach and how students learn and, in turn, how they view the world.  

When we look beyond the technique and into inquiry as a model for teaching and learning in the information age you realize that deeper learning is worth the effort.

When using inquiry as a model for deeper learning these are some values you hold to be true:

Inquiry is a mindset.  

Teachers need content area expertise, but students today are much better served when they learn that they can find information for the questions they seek, rather than look to the teacher for right or wrong.  Teachers that facilitate learning, reject the transmission model, and recognize that students must construct their own meaning. Constructing our own understandings, makes learning "sticky."  That's the learning that stays with us, for years to come. 

To be a facilitator of learning requires an inquiry mindset.  Rather than telling, it requires encouraging students to go find out (independence and self-direction). Facilitators of learning, in this way are responsible for guiding students to know the most reputable places to look for information and how to evaluate the truthiness of the information. (This is MUCH easier with the help of a school librarian - your in house expert on information.)

Deep learning takes time and work.

Rather than a quick fix or technique alone, inquiry is a process.  It's a way of learning that sparks curiosity and interest over time.  If we are looking for deeper learning, critical thinking, and construction of meaning, our students need time to build understandings and ask questions.  They need time to apply basic ideas to more complex ones, over time.  This doesn't happen in a lesson. Learning builds from one experience into the next, adding on new information and adjusting previous misconceptions along the way.

Students need time to understand and then ask deep questions worthy of research and deeper inspection.  They need time to gather information and create something spectacular to share their findings.

Real questions are the best motivators.

Inquiry learning (through Guided Inquiry Design) starts with concepts and builds knowledge through questioning. Real student questions rarely have content boundaries and sit in neat academic areas. They often reach beyond the academic borders or disciplines and blend ideas and aspects that are more like real life.  Like this real student question from an inquiry unit in a psychology and literature class in high school. 

“What is stress? What physical and emotional impacts are there due to stress and what are ways to cope with it?”
It's authentic, because students ask questions that are their own.  Questions of deeper inquiry like this come from students' personal experiences and are blended in with the content of the inquiry in something called an educational Third Space (BhaBha, Maniotes).  This student is highly motivated to find out the answers to these questions because they are not only helping them understand the content of the course, but are deeply connected to understanding their life.

And as for the Common Core, through using an inquiry approach students not only learn the ELA standards mentioned above, but they apply these skills through their authentic investigation of this topic they've determined as they compose, collaborate, and create to think and share ideas.

Intentional Instructional Design gets better results.

This kind of inquiry doesn't just happen, but requires using a framework to design a unit of study over time that builds knowledge.  Through inquiry based instructional design teachers work together to prioritize learning objectives and larger concepts worthy of study, choose powerful learning experiences, and select timing of these experiences that will enhance the learning.  The Guided Inquiry Design framework was created to help teachers to accomplish a high level of inquiry. Because inquiry learning can feel loose and unwieldy, structures that guide learners can result in higher level student questioning and outcomes.  Trust in a research based process really helps.

We teach students not content.

One thing people are discovering more and more is that we teach students, not content.  When you see yourself as a facilitator of inquiry, then the focus is on students, their interests and the learning process they are going through. As a teacher, you are there to guide this learning, and usher them through.  

The research has shown us that emotions are closely tied to the learning process. Through deeper inquiry learning students will have a sense of discomfort or uncertainty.  Facilitators of inquiry have relationships with the students and know how to coach students and guide them through the challenges to help them persist to accomplish something bigger than they could on their own.

So, are you doing inquiry? If so, to what level are you striving?

I urge everyone to reach higher in their practice, and don't settle for checking the inquiry box off their list.  It's worth investing in deeper inquiry, because, this list here, is only the beginning of what deeper inquiry can do for you and your learners.

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

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