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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“Watch Me” (An Extra Provocation Into “Can”) #TeacherMom

At long last, my youngest has started walking. Really, he seems to have started more in spite of his parents’ encouragement rather than because of it. But now that he’s at it, he simply radiates delight in this new ability.

There’s nothing quite like a newly-walking baby to get you pondering the concept of “CAN.” So in his honor, and for teachers and students everywhere whose sense of CAN might have become somewhat diminished, I’d like to share this provocation.

Resource #1: Casey Neistat Samsung Commercial: The Rest of Us

Resource #2: Ode to CAN 

Resource #3: This Could Fail by John Spencer

Provocation Questions: 

  • What are the different perspectives people hold when it comes to trying new things?
  • Why does discouragement happen?
  • What perspectives help people try again even when they fail?
  • What is our responsibility to tell ourselves and others “you can?”

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Are Choices Only For the Well-Behaved? #TeacherMom

Readers here know I love a good quote. But in the swirl of the large volume of mental input/output, it’s rare one will stick around. This one from Greg McKeown definitely has taken up more longterm residence in my mind today:


Pernille Ripp also referred to it when writing about students’ reading choices. She makes an excellent case that all our students need choice in what they read — not just those who are already confident at making reading choices.

Which takes me to a closely related line of thinking when it comes to kids’ behavior. When our students misbehave, we tend to remove their choices. You’re going to be disruptive at the table during group work? You’ll be sitting by yourself now. You don’t do your work while sitting in the flexible seating area? Sorry, guess that means you need to be back at the desk. You abuse the privilege to use the bathroom when needed? Guess you’re using a limited pass from now on, my friend.

And this all makes sense, right? After all, logical consequences help our students understand cause and effect and to develop accountability for their actions. I’m certainly not one to dispute the importance of this kind of follow-through.

What I do dispute is the way these consequences tend to follow kids who struggle with school, day in and day out. Of course we need to work to minimize disruption, and sometimes that does in fact take more longterm action, such as behavior contracts to help students learn to recognize and correct their behavior.

But if we start to preempt kids’ behavior with curtailed choices, you can absolutely bet that helplessness is sure to follow. Particularly if they feel like they’re the only one who never gets a fresh start each day.

Contrast that path of helplessness with this message of hope — one that every child deserves to hear:

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Inquiry Into How We Express Ourselves

“How We Express Ourselves” was always a tricky PYP unit theme for me. I struggled finding ways to help our students weave it in a transdisciplinary manner, and it almost always just came back to the obvious art.

But similar to how my view of the PYP key concepts has broadened over time, so too is my view of this theme. I have come to better understand that expressing ourselves is a basic human need that is woven into all we do. I’ve also found that authentic self-expression, which engenders passion and joy, is more readily found when we embrace imperfection, cultivate a growth mindset, and are given opportunities to own our learning.

With that in mind, here are a few resources that might help you invite your students into a How We Express Ourselves Inquiry. Don’t forget about the provocation questions at the end (and add a few of your own if you’re so inclined)!

Resource #1: Ballet Rotoscope by Masahiko Sato + EUPHRATES via The Kid Should See This

Resource #2: Callum Donovan Grujicich’s Sculptural Art by CBC Arts, via The Kid Should See This

Resource #3: Why Do I Study Physics? by Shixie

Resource #2: Lily Hevesh’s Dominoes by Telia Carrier, via The Kid Should See This

Resource #5: Picture Books, of course!

“The Big Orange Splot” by Daniel Pinkwater has been a lifetime favorite of mine. Read with your students about what happens when a bird drops a bucket of paint on Mr. Plumbean’s house that used to be just like every other house on his neat street.

I love the mysterious whimsy of Annabelle’s box of yarn that never runs out, and how she uses it to transforms her surroundings.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to express ourselves?
  • Why do we feel the need to express ourselves?
  • How is general expression different from self-expression?
  • How can one person’s self-expression help someone else see the world differently?
  • How does the way we choose to express ourselves impact our lives? How does it impact the lives of others around us?
  • What is the connection between self-expression and individuality?
  • What is the connection between self-expression and perspective?
  • What does the growth mindset have to do with self-expression?
  • How can self-expression sometimes be unexpected?
  • Why is perfectionism the enemy of self-expression?

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Keep ‘Em Busy or Facilitate the Best Busy-ness #TeacherMom

When we are stressed out by our kids’ busy-ness, how do we respond?

My youngest has recently reached an apex of busy-ness I never thought possible from such a small person. The term “relentless” is probably his most readily identified descriptor.

And for the sake of maintaining my sanity, I have definitely been in the camp of trying to keep my own children busy long enough to let me hear my own thoughts from time to time.

With our students, it can become a strong temptation to do something similar — particularly when we are trying to work with small groups.

Norah Colvin’s recent post had me thinking more about this notion. She writes:

“What about a busy toddler? Toddlers are some of the busiest people I know. And they are generally quite joyous in their busyness, demonstrating the true meaning of being in the present moment. For me, being busy is a joy when the activities are of my choice and for my purposes. I have no need to find things to keep me busy. There is more I wish to do than I will ever have time to complete. I resent tasks that keep me busy and away from what I’d rather be doing.”

No matter how much our kids grow, we can help them uncover the busy-ness that will spark that joy within. But not when it’s overly contrived and designed around our agenda — it seems that for whatever reason, even the most engaging endeavors become less so when kids sense there’s an end-game for distraction for grown-ups’ benefit.

For our classrooms full of vastly different, busy students, this means to providing authentic choice. It means teaching them to regulate their own time and interests. It means facilitating the very best kinds of busy.

And for my house that seems to be bursting at the seams with a busy 1 year-old, it means finding ways to just let go and enjoy this crazy ride together.

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When In Doubt, Go With The Child #TeacherMom

I wrote a post last week that seemed to really resonate with a lot of fellow parents in particular about standing up for our kids’ best interests. It seems to me that maybe we are timid to do so, because we worry about stepping on toes or being seen as the person rocking the boat unnecessarily.

It’s understandable to feel concerned. But it’s more important that we act out of our children’s needs than out of fear. Because while we do make some errors in pursuing the former, pursuing the latter is always skewed.

This is a lesson I learned when I attempted do do preschool with my iron-willed daughter. I had always had the notion that it would be no problem for me to teach her preschool since, after all, I am a teacher!

She had other ideas.

No matter how engaging, when I’d pull out the magnetic letters for some letter-play, she’d start deliberately naming the wrong ones (without looking).

No matter how beautifully, Montessori-ly laid out, when I’d share a science investigation with her, she would want nothing to do with it.

Like some kind of academic bloodhound, she had developed an acute sense of me in teacher-mode. And she wanted no part in that, thank-you-very-much.

Eventually, I came to realize what she had surely known all along — that me in teacher-mode = me in stressed, let’s-not-fall-behind-the-other-4-year-olds mode.

So I learned to let go. I followed her lead. I continued to provide invitations and environments that were as conducive to learning as possible, but ultimately, I let her decide when she was ready.

She taught me that when in doubt, we go with the child.

And you know what? Here we are 3 years later, in 2nd grade, and she. is. thriving. Both academically and as a person. She understands that carrots and sticks are not what make good writers, readers, mathematicians, scientists, and people. It’s what’s within, and whether we’re willing to take risks, try again, fail, and grow.

In fact, we actually had another conversation about yet another home reading program (this time, the reward was pizza restaurant certificates). I told her about it, and she simply asked, “Can we say no?”

I want to end today’s post with a message from Seth Godin. As he says, “If it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less, and if it’s art, they try to figure out how to do more.” To my daughter, all of her learning is still an art; I am willing to do what it takes to preserve her beautiful “do more” mindset. Isn’t that the ideal learner, anyway?

 

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Choosing Courage Over Fear

It’s now been over three years since I’ve been in the classroom. Three years. And while I miss being in the classroom, I can honestly say that thanks to the many incredible teachers in my PLN, not a day has passed that I haven’t learned more about how to return to the classroom a better teacher.

A powerful example came recently when I read this thought-provoking post from my friend Abe (@Arbay38). One of his comments perfectly articulated one of my fears of shifting toward more student voice, choice and ownership:


The rest of his post greatly assuaged this fear, but I’ve continued to reflect on this question over the past couple of weeks. But then, he shared something else on Twitter — something so profound, that I think I can finally put this fear completely to rest:


This child has reminded me once and for all that the bottom line is doing what’s best for kids. Withholding opportunities for autonomy now for fear of future constraints is like refusing to build the ship for fear of future rough waters.

Isn’t the possibility that they may not experience this kind of autonomy in future classrooms all the more reason to help them cultivate it now? To help them reflect now why it matters, and how they’ll respond to its absence in the future?

Our students deserve the very best we can offer right now. And as we regularly ask them to choose courage over fear through risk-taking and the growth mindset, we can be the first to model that back: choosing courage over fear.

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