Saturday, 15 September 2012

Creating a Culture of Inquiry

I made a post-it question board for the
first day of school so that the kids could ask
questions anonymously.  This was my favourite.
When I explored inquiry learning last year, one of the big "Aha! Moments" that stands out to me is the concept of creating a "culture of inquiry." This is something we discussed a lot in the summer course I was enrolled in and is something I am trying to embed in my own classroom. Some of my colleagues last year modeled this well and made me realize that, while I was trying to embed inquiry, I didn't think about the fact that its success depends on having questions, deep thinking, and student-directed learning infused in daily activities.  Inquiry isn't a type of project; it is an approach and a tone which need to be set by the teacher early in the year.  This book contains a lot of great suggestions for inquiry-based activities at any grade level.

As I updated the class blog this morning, I realized that I automatically started by listing "activities" from the week. I went back to edit the entry and, below the activities, added a list of the big questions that we discussed this week:
  • What kind of classroom community do we want? How should we treat one another in class? What do we expect of one another? 
  • What makes a good writer? 
  • What can an artifact tell us about a person, place, or time period? 
  • What would future civilizations assume about us if they found an artifact from today? 
  • Where do we see math in the real world? 
  • What do humans need in order to survive? 
This week, I also introduced the guiding question that both grade 6/7 classes will be using for Social Studies, Language Arts, and across other areas: "What makes us who we are?"

I am trying to embed "big questions" into every subject area, lesson, and day in order to begin building a culture of curiosity, big ideas, and good questioning. At the same time, I hope to use these guiding questions to focus our discussions and learning. I would like to use the class blog to keep parents involved in our questions as I hope that conversations from class will carry on at home.

Already, my favourite questions to ask my students are:
  • Why are we learning / talking about / doing this? 
  • Why is this important? Is this important? 
  • How does this apply to life outside of school? Where will you use it? 
  • If something is only useful in school, should we be learning it? 
I feel like these questions are already setting the stage for the practical skills that inquiry learning supports.  As well, incorporating student choice into our introductory activities is setting the tone that I'm not there to be a dictator; I am in the class to support my students' learning.

I can't wait to continue learning with my awesome, little class!  What sorts of activities do you incorporate in order to build a culture of inquiry during the first week of classes?

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Confessions of a Shallow Teacher

I remember reading this post last summer and thinking, "Can't I decorate AND prepare for my students?"  Personally, I'd prefer to put a bit of extra time into decorating in the summer.  It's a great "brain break" from freaking out about all of the unknown factors I can't control thoughtfully and calmly preparing for the first week and developing long-term goals as I carefully review the curriculum.  I know there are many phenomenal teachers who are comfortable leaving blank walls for students to decorate, but I am not one of them.  In fact, I feel really shallow when I talk about my love of classroom decorations.  Space and aesthetics matter to me and I like to get things set up before the kids arrive.  There is TONS of space on the walls for my students to make the room their own; I really want the room to be their space as they add art and assignments to the walls, but I absolutely love starting the foundation before they arrive.  I had tons of fun getting ready because this is the first time I've ever had a classroom that I don't have to share!

It's not all superficial, of course!  I blogged about a few of the key phrases I have hung on the walls over here on an inquiry blog I'm contributing to with a group of teachers.  It was really important to me to develop key phrases that students will hear throughout the year.  I'm still debating a couple of things with my writing criteria but, overall, I feel like I have a clear picture of how I will assess and I want students to be comfortable with these.  I probably spent more time thinking about the phrases I will use than I did decorating, but the classroom makeover was still a lot of fun!

I don't like having an enormous "teacher throne" area in a classroom, but I decided to keep a side table next to my desk as it might become a handy place to conference with students or have them work away from their desk groups.

Before

After

The non-shallow part: