Thursday, 24 May 2012

Inquiring Minds

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I have fallen in love with student-directed inquiry learning, this year!  I have attempted it in my classroom and, despite a steep learning curve, feel that it is 

I'm equally excited about teacher inquiry and have had many opportunities to see it in action through my role as a mentor with a SFU graduate diploma program.  As well, I had an opportunity to participate in teacher inquiry myself through my school district, this year.  Below is the summary of findings that I submitted at the end of my teacher inquiry project.  I hope to engage in more teacher inquiry in the future as it help me to examine my practice and enables me to model lifelong learning as I discuss my own inquiry with my students.  The conversations which result from teacher inquiry are invaluable.  This year, I have come to realize the value of self-directed professional development.  When I am passionate, engaged, and collaborating with others, I learn far more than I can in any other setting.  I hope that I can continue to create similar experiences for my students as I continue to pursue Inquiry as an instruction method.

Name: Megan Jakse
School: Pitt Meadows Secondary
Courses taught: Social Studies 9, Family Studies 11/12, Planning 10, Leadership 10-12, Foods 9/10
Inquiry Question: Will introducing student-directed Inquiry Learning in my classes enable students to take ownership of their learning?

What did I notice?
Now that I have begun to use Inquiry, I can’t imagine teaching any other way.  I have always felt motivated to run a student-centered classroom, but this style of learning made it a reality more than ever.  As students became involved in Inquiry projects, they were able to take ownership of their learning in new ways.

While I had done a lot of reading about Inquiry over the summer, I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn as I began to introduce Inquiry in my classroom.  Despite the steep learning curve for me and my students, I feel that it was worth the time and effort to introduce this new and meaningful style of learning.  I feel much better equipped to implement Inquiry learning in my classroom in the future.

I expected my Family Studies students to take to inquiry with the most ease, but learned that my older students had the most difficulty adjusting their view of “school work” to incorporate open-ended, self-selected questions.  At first, it seemed that many wanted highly structured guidelines and expectations regarding topics, content, presentation, and format.  Quite a few begged me to give them a question or topic as we worked through the process of developing questions.  It took time to shift their expectations but, by the end of the course, I regularly received positive feedback from students as they understood how Inquiry learning can make learning personally meaningful for them.

I hoped to jump right into inquiry with my Social Studies 9 class but, after realizing that many struggled with some of the necessary skills, I adjusted my expectations at first and worked more slowly toward an Inquiry project.  We worked on a number of inquiry-inspired assignments which encouraged students to form and articulate an opinion using reputable resources.  As the year progressed, students were able to participate in in-depth research and articulate their views.  I feel that skill-building before we took on larger projects helped to increase students’ confidence and, therefore, their levels of engagement in the project.  Compared to my other classes, I spent the most time developing skills with this group; as a result, they became the group whose Inquiry work was most in-depth as the year progressed.  As I spent a lot of time building skills with this group, I found myself wishing that I could work with the same group of students for multiple courses.  It would be fantastic to have them for English 9 and Social Studies 9 so that they could meet outcomes for both courses through cross-curricular learning opportunities.

Some of my Food Studies 9 students are also in my Social Studies 9 class, so I was able to use them as leaders when introducing inquiry learning ot my Foods classes.  There, we were able to do more hands-on activities as part of the research process.  A number of students were curious about the difference between organic and “regular” fruits, so we did a blind taste test to collect data.  We also held a taste test to examine the difference between bottled and tap water.  The hands-on research seemed to make the projects more relevant for many students.  I was excited about the enthusiasm expressed by my Foods 9/10 students during these projects, as they were generally resistant to theory work earlier in the year.  My colleague, Becky, has been using Inquiry in her Foods classes and was a great source of support through the process.

As I discussed Inquiry learning with other teachers who were implementing it, I learned that this is not something which can be done in isolation.  Just as my students supported one another through the process, I benefited from collaboration with other teachers.  Ideally, teachers using Inquiry in the same school would use the same phrases and strategies with students so that they can become increasingly independent over time.  In the spring, a group of PMSS teachers were provided release time to spend two days working on Inquiry strategies together; this was incredibly valuable as it widened my network of support and gave us time to work together on practical elements of our courses.  I quickly learned that many of my colleagues experienced the same challenges and rewards as they began to implement inquiry in their classrooms.  It was apparent that teaching in this way is something which requires time for both students and teachers to adapt and I began to realize that creating

Finally, I have come to realize that Inquiry is an approach which must become part of my classroom culture; some of my colleagues model this incredibly well and I hope to take cues from them next year.  Encouraging questions and curiosity are key as students work up to developing their topics.  As well, students must begin to see themselves as active participants who have a role in developing course content, not passive recipients of teacher-selected information.  It takes time to build this culture within a classroom but I think that it will be incredibly meaningful as I continue to develop as a teacher.

What will I continue to explore?
I plan to use Inquiry learning more in the future, designing courses around the skills and objectives of student-directed inquiry.  I have learned a lot about establishing a culture of inquiry in my classroom and hope to have a stronger start next year.  I plan to continue my own professional development through reading and meetings with colleagues so that my abilities can improve.  Specifically, I hope to improve my ability to engage students in inquiry and guide them through the process of developing questions, selecting resources, and analyzing information.  I am looking forward to a master’s course this summer which focuses on inquiry learning strategies and building a culture of inquiry within schools.  While we developed a couple of graphic organizers during our group sessions, I would like to expand on this and develop a variety of visual aids to help guide learners through the Inquiry process.  As well, I would like to involve students’ families in the Inquiry process, encouraging them to reflect with students and contribute in various ways.  Inquiry helps students to extend their learning beyond the walls of the classroom; I would like to take this farther in the future.

Gathering with colleagues was incredibly encouraging and helpful this year.  The group of teachers who gathered were able to share teaching strategies, struggles, and advice despite representing a variety of teaching areas.  While some of us are likely moving on to other schools next year, I hope to continue to meet with teachers who are incorporating inquiry learning into their classroom as my colleagues are an incredibly valuable resource.  We have a “dropbox” folder to share files from our workshops and resources that we have created; I hope that we can continue to use this in the future to share information.  In the future, I would love to see enough colleagues using Inquiry that we could develop a set of standards for each grade level and use consistent strategies, phrases, and rubrics so that students become accustomed to this.  While we are all in our first few years of using inquiry, there is potential for a culture of inquiry to develop over time.

As I engaged in teacher inquiry, I was able to experience Inquiry learning as a student, not just as a teacher.  This was incredibly valuable for me as I feel it is important to model learning strategies, and my own passion for learning, in the classroom.  I look forward to developing my skills as a facilitator of Inquiry learning and will continue engaging students with Inquiry in the future.

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