Inquiry: What Trajectory Are YOU On?

This week, I had the privilege to volunteer at my old school as one of the trainers for professional development day. I was asked to focus one of the workshops on inquiry planning and concept-based instruction in science and social studies. But the more I prepared, the more I realized that when it comes to inquiry, it’s not so much WHAT we do, as much as HOW we APPROACH.

So instead of spending our hour discussing science/social studies-specific ideas, we started off with a personal inquiry inventory, adapted from a couple posts by Kath Murdoch.

click for Kath’s post from which this inventory mainly originated

Next, participants used their inventory responses to determine which area of inquiry they wanted to investigate more.

As participants researched, they were also on the hunt for a sentence-phrase-word that helped them determine the difference between the same science/social studies activity used in a traditional teacher-driven classroom vs. an inquiry, concept-driven classroom.

I loved hearing the conversations, and engaging with participants as their research prompted new wonderings.

As everyone shared their Sentence-Phrase-Words, it led to more fabulous, thought-provoking discussions, such as…

  • …the fact that it’s a sacred trust to protect and cultivate the natural curiosity of our young charges — to not allow “the game of school” to drain that from them.
  • …the fact that everyone is on a different trajectory when it comes to adopting an inquiry approach — it’s not so much about how much of your day is dedicated to an inquiry-based instruction, but rather how consistently.

But by far my favorite part of our workshop was finishing up with “I used to think…Now I know…” sticky notes.

In case you can’t quite read them all in the above photo, I’ll list out the content here, too:

  • I used to think that students need to be taught. Now I know that they need to be guided.
  • I used to think the teacher had to give all the instruction using books, videos, etc. to teach about other cultures and countries. Now I know we can connect with other places in the world and talk with REAL people about their culture and country through technology.
  • I used to think that giving students agency can be scary. Now I know that with the right tools, it isn’t.
  • I used to think that joining curriculum and student-driven inquiry was too difficult to join in the classroom. Now I know it’s possible here as it is anywhere & not as hard as we convince ourselves.
  • I used to think that inquiry was complicated. Now I know we are making it complicated.
  • I used to think that questions were used solely at the beginning of a unit to drive the inquiry. Now I know questions can be a result of the inquiry and lead to more exploration.
  • I used to think inquiry was more work on the teacher. Now I know I need to lend it over to the kids — let them be kids.
  • I used to think that you had to fit everything in your lessons. Now I know that student driven lessons are more effective and fun.
  • I used to think that I always had to have an answer. Now I know that I don’t. Students can discover their answers through their own research.

I should add that thanks to the discussion during this workshop, as well as my continued online learning with teachers around the world, I need to add my own:

  • I used to think that to be an inquiry teacher, we must have students directing the learning 100% of the time. Now I know that it’s more about working toward creating a culture of ownership and curiosity, which can be present even during explicit teacher instruction.

Here are the links to all the research I shared with participants. Thank you so much to the many educators who so freely share their thinking and learning. I learn so much every day because of you! Kath Murdoch, Edna Sackson, Taryn BondClegg, Richard Wells, Sonya Terborg, Aviva Dunsinger, Sam Sherratt, and more.

Questioning:

Classroom culture:

Inquiry cycle for forward-moving planning:

Student-driven planning:

Hunter/Gathering for science/social studies:

Agency:

Focusing on CONCEPTS amid curriculum requirements:

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Love & Logic Limits: Is It Always a Choice? #TeacherMom

The lack of a school-bell telling me where to be at all times is probably my Achilles heel of stay-at-home parenthood. So a couple mornings ago — having gotten sidetracked by my newest flea-bitten idea for making our small space function more efficiently — by the time I got showered and ready for the day, my preschooler had stealthily pilfered the refrigerator and my one year old had had a fabulous time with a contraband stick of gum.

What’s more, having had a late bedtime the night before, my three year-old was also clearly ready for an early nap — evidenced by the fact when I asked him if he was ready to choose his clothes to go buy groceries, he dissolved into melt-down mode because he wanted a snack first. To top it off, the entire episode devolved to him irrationally stomping on his baby brother’s hands.

Now, if I were to focus on a strictly Love and Logic approach here, I might have told my 3 year year-old something like this: “Son, what sad choices to refuse to wear your clothes and to hurt your brother! I’m going to do something about this. We’ll talk later.”

Limitation #1: When we mistakenly assume that this is just about a poor choice. Such a response may help to temporarily and even effectively diffuse the situation, but it ultimately tends to puts the blame squarely on his shoulders when, in fact, there were factors so far beyond his control at work here (late bedtime, off-schedule morning, etc) that he was now operating in fight/flight mode.

Enter the discussion on “stress behavior.”

I’m fascinated by the concept of misbehavior vs stress behavior in Stuart Shanker’s Self-Reg. He writes:

“The concept of misbehavior is fundamentally tied to those of volitionchoice, and awareness. It assumes that the child willingly chose to act the way he did. He could have acted differently, was even aware that he should have acted differently. But stress behavior is physiologically based. When this happens, the child is not deliberately choosing his actions or aware in a rational way of what he’s doing…because his nervous system, triggered by a sense of threat, shifts to fight or flight. There are some simple ways to gauge when we’re dealing with misbehavior. Ask the child why he did such and such, and if he answers with any explanation — no matter what his rationale — there’s a pretty good chance he knew what he was doing. Or ask him to tell you with a straight face that he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. Stress behavior also reveals itself quickly. If you see confusion, fear, anger, or deep distress in that face, if your child averts his eyes or finds it hard to even just look at you, those are often signs of hyperarousal and of stress behavior.”

Older students aren’t going to have the same self-regulatory issues as the little ones, but we should still be on the look-out for when they arise, and cultivate their ability to self-regulate in the meantime.

Limitation #2: When we mistakenly assume that this is just about defiance. This is closely linked with the first. For our discussion on this limitation, we’ll take a look at this “nobody loses” approach on the Love & Logic blog below:

First, a disclaimer. Maybe Jessie was causing serious trouble and disturbing Brittany by moving her chair to work with her. If that’s the case, then I think this is an absolutely fitting Love & Logic response. However, if Jessie was simply trying to solve her problem of needing help by seeking it from a peer (as per the Love & Logic rule that we can do anything to solve our problems as long as it does not cause a problem for you or anyone else), it begs the question of whether the Love & Logic response here was necessary to begin with.

If our goal is control, then we will reap defiance in abundance.

I appreciate another passage from Self-Reg here:

“As parents [and teachers] it’s natural to assume that when our child’s behavior or our reactions feel “out of control,” then control is what’s missing. But to focus on control is also to shut down opportunity: end of discussion, end of a potentially constructive interaction, end of a teachable moment of lasting value. Self-Reg instantly opens the moment to opportunity. That begins with the simple act of asking, “Why now?””

And if the teacher in this hypothetical focuses more on control than on Jessie’s need for help, then an opportunity is missed indeed.

Naturally, angry, rude, and disrespectful outbursts are never acceptable, and require correction. But I wonder if we might find ourselves doing less correcting if we instead adopt what’s found in Brene Brown’s “Engaged Feedback Checklist” (esp #1, 2, and 7 for our context here):

Failure to recognize these limitations — to treat all poor behavior as deliberate and disrespectful decisions — can ultimately damage relationships with those who most need our help.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Inquiry Into Student Blogging

After a summer of enthusiastic research, I jumped headlong into the world of student blogging in 2013. None of the dozens of blogs, videos, or how-to’s could quite prepare me for just how much goes into it.

Even all these years later, I’ve continued reflecting on how I could improve. While recently reading “It’s Not All About Blog: The Work Before The Blog” on Two Writing Teachers, it came to me: why not share the preparation with students through inquiry?? One of Deb’s tips is to expose kids to lots of great examples of blogging. Today’s inquiry is designed to help kids explore quality exemplars of student blogging!

Resource #1: Edublog Awards

This is where you can find Edublog’s yearly student blogger awardees. This is a great resource if you’re looking for blogs built and maintained by students.

Resource #2: AutisticAndProud

This blog is run by Fionn and his mom with the following goal: “a boy with aspergers gives some views through his eyes…” It’s a wonderful example of how blogging can help us refine our feelings and experiences with words, while also inviting others along that journey.

Resource #3: TheLivBits Blog

I highlighted Olivia as an example of powerful digital citizenship at the beginning of this year. Her blog is another great source for students to look for peer-written, inspiring content — particularly when it comes to books, words, and being true to oneself.

Resource #4: Edublogger Class Blogs (sorted by type/grade)

These class blogs aren’t necessarily run by students (some are run by teachers, etc), but it can be a helpful place to go if you are looking for blogs in a specific group (ie, 1st graders, art, mathematics, etc).

Resource #5: Professional blogs

Checking our professional blogs run by grown-ups can always be worthwhile, too. A few of my favorite consistent blogs as an educator include ones by Pernille Ripp, George Couros, and Seth Godin.

Provocation Questions:

  • What is the connection between writing blogging?
  • What do you notice about the purpose of blogging?
  • What do you notice about how they set up their blogs? (font, text size, About page, widgets in the sidebar, etc)
  • What are the responsibilities of being a blogger to yourself? To your audience?
  • How do comments work?
  • How is perspective connected to blogging?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Numbers

An educator in my PLN, Matthew Oldridge, recently shared a fabulous perspective on mathematics:

“Kids should see mathematics as a thinking tool to use to engage with the world.”

I have long since been an advocate of helping students see the power and wonder of their words; I’m afraid I cannot say the same for numbers. So this week’s provocation centers on helping our students inquire and wonder into numbers.

Resource #1: A Brief History of Banned Numbers, by TED-Ed

Resource #2: 1+1=5: And Other Unlikely Additions, by David LaRochelle

Resource #3: Beauty in Numbers: Pi, by Rebecka Taule

Provocation Questions:

  • How do numbers work?
  • How do numbers allow us to interact with the world around us?
  • What if we did not have numbers?
  • How are words and numbers related?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

New Here?

As I’ve spent time this week trying to take care of some blogging technical difficulties, my thoughts have turned to re-reflect on why I do what I do here. So I wanted to share the introduction that I’ll be sharing with new blog subscribers:

“Are you the teacher that’s always asking questions? Constantly searching out better ways to reach your students? Daily taking risks in your learning alongside your young learners? If you’re here, probably.

My hope is that through reading and sharing and reflecting as a global professional learning community, we can in turn bring our students closer to a more personalized and meaningful education. I hope you’ll drop us a comment from time to time so that we can learn together — sharing what has (and has not) worked for you and your students.

I want to finish this little introduction by sharing a powerful video that reminds me that we don’t even know how far our students will go, if only we’re willing to help them ask questions, search out better ways, and take risks.

Looking forward to learning together!
Mary Wade”

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

10 Ways for “Every Student to Be On Their Own Learning Path”

Edutopia recently shared Sal Khan’s story and vision in establishing Khan Academy. What stands out most to me was his goal for Khan Academy to help “Bring [us] closer to this model of true personalization where every student is on their own learning path and feels fully engaged.”

Khan Academy can indeed be such a tool for this personalization goal. But it certainly cannot and does not stand alone in such a lofty pursuit. Fortunately for us all, teachers are globally and daily sharing their aha moments and best practices. Here are additional ideas, largely thanks to my PLN’s incredible willingness to share their learning journeys, for helping students get on “their own learning path.”

1. Allow them to plan their day. As teachers Taryn Bond-Clegg and Aviva Dunsiger have illustrated, this can be done with older and younger students:

A good reminder and a little learning for me today … #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

Taryn’s full post “Supporting Students’ Agency Take 2” is definitely worth a read. Click on the above images for the link.

2. Do whatever it takes to find out how they really feel. I believe it’s mainly fear that holds us back from uncovering student voice — because what if they say they hate our subjects? What if it invites conflict? What if it takes too much time?

Indeed, when I read posts from Pernille Ripp like her recent “When Reading is Trash or Magic” that shares how she seeks for students’ honest feedback, I wonder how on earth I would respond to some of their bold answers. However, the truth that she and others who do the same have taught me is this:

Only when we uncover students’ true feelings can we help them develop shifts in mindset.

Only when they recognize that they can express what they truly feel — without fear of teacher disapproval or backlash — will they be willing to let their guard down enough to give things a shot.

And only when they see that we are willing to work with them wherever they are will they be able to embark on their own learning path.

3. Help them break down required learning outcomes to tackle them on their terms. Again, Taryn Bond-Clegg shares a fabulous example of this in her post above. Rather than just presenting students with a list of objectives, she helps them break things down into a gradual increase of independence. I have yet to find a better way to negotiate the existence of required learning outcomes with student ownership over their learning.

Taryn shares ways they helped students learn from experts to “ensure [they] are on the right track”
4. Explicitly teach AND model the growth mindset. And it’s not enough to settle on simple platitudes of, “you can do anything if you just try.” It takes being authentic and vulnerable with them. As Jo Boaler recently shared in season 3 episode 1 of #IMOOC (32:10):

“One of the problems kids have is they look at their math teacher and they think, ‘Oh, that’s what being a math person is; you know everything, you never make mistakes, you’re totally sure of everything.’ That’s a terrible image to give kids. So one of the reasons teachers don’t try some of those more open creative tasks is because they don’t know what will happen. They don’t know what kids are going to do.”

Katie Martin adds, “[We must] have conversations with kids about making mistakes — and not just a fake make-mistake — but when you’re actually taking a risk, where you have the possibility of something not working out, [that’s] really powerful.”

5. Explicitly teach AND model metacognition. Visible thinking routines are especially useful on this front because it brings that thinking to the surface. I loved having the opportunity to work with teachers at my old school last year during which we applied visible thinking routines to bring their thoughts on inquiry to the whiteboard for group dissection. Students must learn their processes to bring their thinking to the surface in order to more fully take the reins over their learning.

6. Provide choice in how they organize their thinking. Melanie Meehan recently shared an excellent example of how we sometimes get caught in the pitfall of believing all the students need to use the same graphic organizer to gather their thoughts. Here’s her example of several writing graphic organizers:

(speaking of ways writers plan, have you ever geeked out over seen J.K. Rowling’s timelines for her plotlines?)

7. Provide choice in how they express/assess their thinking. Seesaw, notebooks, vlogs, portfolios, word clouds, Storybird, Prezi, sketchnotes… the list goes on and on. The point is that we need to get out of the mindset that all the students need to have the same presentation in order for it to be valid.

8. Create a rich and diverse culture of reading. I loved watching Colby Sharp’s vlog touring his classroom library — quite aside from the sheer volume, I was impressed at his clear efforts to reach all his students’ reading needs. Obviously, this culture goes beyond just the presence of books — my short list for additional inspiration includes Nerdy Book Club, Pernille Ripp’s blog, and LibraryGirl.

9. Give them autonomy over self-regulatory basics. This includes bathroom use and snacks. I wrote some time ago about why and how we need to abolish “Can I Go to the Bathroom?” and it’s just as relevant as ever now. I also appreciated Aviva Dunsiger’s classroom tour when she showed where and why she has a designated spot for her kindergartners to “eat when they feel hungry.” After all, how can we expect them to be on their own learning path if they are distracted by waiting to take care of their personal basic needs?

10. Prioritize the pursuit of meaning Time and time again, through my own practice and through the many wonderful teachers in my PLN, meaning is the way we get out of “the game of school.” If it doesn’t personally matter to them, nothing we do will matter in the longterm. See my story of “Digging Deeper in a Poetry Unit” on Edutopia for a personal example.

I look forward to continuing to learn and discover ways we can truly help our students own and personalize their learning. Thank you to all the teachers out there who have and continue to share their learning journeys!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Crucial Lessons My Kids Have Taught Me On Play #TeacherMom

One of my favorite parts of family vacations is that we are ALL together ALL the time (incidentally, by the end of the week, that also becomes one of my least favorite parts, but we don’t need to focus on that…)

It is delightful to watch my kids play together and to learn more about the ways they are learning through play.

Here are a few lessons they have taught me about play that I can apply to the classroom when I return.

1. Sometimes, they really do need ALL those toys. In my tendency to get overwhelmed by clutter, I’m often tempted to go into edict-issuing mode. Only one bin of toys may be played with at a time! If a new toy is desired, the first bin must be cleaned up first! But over time, I’ve come to realize that when I make it solely about my preferences, I can stand in the way of valuable tinkering, connecting, and, well, learning. See photos below.

The dreaded pile of ALL the toys ready to be sorted. Again.
The kinds of interconnection that’s often the result of having all those toys out.

2. Sometimes, they DON’T. When we recently babysat another 3 year old, I thought about getting out the bin of play food/utensils, but I got distracted. By the time she left, I discovered that the preschoolers exercised resourcefulness by using the loose parts box that was out. I loved how this gave them the opportunity to think creatively and use their imaginations.

3. The richness of play lies in its foundation of connection and relationships. In The Importance of Being Little, Erika Christakis writes, “Indeed, playing games and laughing together are far more educational than drilling kids on their ABCs on the way to daycare.” The most meaningful moments with my kids are when my daughter and I try to “out-pun” one another, or when my son and I chant and act out “Peel, bananas, peel, peel bananas,” or when my baby and I play peek-a-boo. I believe this is all because these moments are all about each of those kids — finding ways to surprise and delight and engage them — rather than about me and my agenda.

4. Interaction through play is where we can “gain confidence” in our children’s learning. I recently came across an advertisement for a kindergarten preparatory program that included this parent endorsement: “I am so confident in my child now and know that he is 100% ready for kindergarten.” Far from providing buy-in, I found this to be a heartbreaking statement.

Of course, I, too, was once enveloped by the kindergarten readiness frenzy, so I understand the way it can blind us from the very learning taking place before our eyes. I also understand the worries of being a working parent and not being present for that learning as often as we’d like. However, I’ve found that if we treasure any opportunities we get to play with our children, we will grow in our confidence in their capacity to learn and grow.

5. Time for play is an investment we’ll regret. It isn’t always fun to be chastised that I’ve put the wrong car in a “garage,” or that I’m using the wrong kind of voice, or, heaven forbid, that I’ve assumed the wrong pretend name. But ultimately, these prove to be our best moments filled with learning, love, and invitations to remember what matters most.

What lessons has play taught you? How can we apply it to the classroom?

featured image: Mackenzie Brunson