That Time I Failed At Inquiry: 5 Missing Elements

Years ago, toward the end of the school year, I felt like our class was in a rut. I wasn’t sure what we were missing–Autonomy? Inspiration? Creativity? All of the above?

Whatever it was, I decided to do something drastic. I had recently come across a story online of a teacher who encouraged her students to create videos, and it seemed like a great idea to me.

So the next day, I checked out the laptop carts and dived head-long. I told them they had to work in small groups. I told them they could create any commercial they wanted. I might have had slightly more structure than I can recall, but if there was, it wasn’t much. And I stepped back, awaiting the student-centered magic to come to life.

It was bedlam.

Shocked and dismayed at the chaos and the discord and the aimlessness, I cancelled the whole thing the next day.

Today, a small part of me still wants to leave this experience forever buried in the corner of my memory labeled, “I-can’t-believe-you-actually-tried-that.”

But the rest of me knows that our failures are rich with learning opportunities. It reminds me of a teacher’s remarks during a PD session on inquiry this fall in which she expressed a wish to hear more about inquiry attempts that have crashed and burned. So, having come a long way since then (I hope!), I think I’m ready to finally retrieve that memory from its dark recesses and shed light and learning on it instead.

Here are 5 major elements that I now realize I was missing:

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Mary Wade

I taught 5th grade at a PYP International Baccalaureate school in Utah for 4 years, and am currently on extended parental leave until my kids start school. In between the roller-coaster adventures of motherhood, I enjoy educational blogging so I can stay in the loop and keep learning! Snapshot favorites: Student voice & choice. Twix bars. Global classrooms. Calvin & Hobbes. Outlandish sewing projects. Teachers learning from teachers. Modeling daring to students.

4 thoughts on “That Time I Failed At Inquiry: 5 Missing Elements”

  1. Fantastic post Mary! When we share our classroom with such an honest and reflective voice amazing things happen. Surely your audience gleans from your tinkering and trying on what’s best for your learners. But you, with your own meta cognitive lens and careful prose return to your practice with something new, something more refined, and something your learners will benefit from. Kudos. I’ll check in here for more of your reflections in the future!

  2. This is great Mary! Inquiry is hard; it takes so much preparation on the part of the teacher. Every minute of the lesson needs to be thought out. Each of the elements in the post is critical. If one or more are missing, the teacher ends up working harder than the students and little is gained. I have learned over the years that preparing a class for a high level of inquiry starts the first day of school by giving the students simple tasks and focusing on the process they are going through rather than the outcomes There is a lot of stopping and directing the students to think about their own thinking, reflecting on their attitudes, and assessing their own work ethic. This happens literally every 5 minutes in the beginning. In the end, the payoff is remarkable and the students experience learning in a way that cannot be duplicated by listening to me talk.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Barry! I absolutely agree that it starts the first day of school–often, students have a lot of “unlearning” to do as they have become convinced that school is just about guessing what’s in the teacher’s head and giving the “right” answer. It’s tough to convince them they really can take their learning into their own hands, so the gradual release is important to help them approach that responsibility deliberately and seriously.

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