Ready or Not – When is a class ready for Inquiry learning?

Being Ready for Inquiry?

Well laid plans for amazing inquiry based learning opportunities need learners ready to inquire.

We are now in week 2 of school this year in BC. After the first week, my class was changed from Grade 7 to Grade 6.

My goal this year is to have a high inquiry based learning focus. Working in for a week with two separate classes already has given me a perspective on readiness for learning. Both classes were excited to be back in school and learning; however, only one already had a culture that demonstrates features that I believe are required to thrive living in inquiry. One was more ready for flexible, active, group work, project based learning.

I started the year knowing that my first month would be used to build a fully functional inquiry classroom. In retrospect, I wasn’t expecting to need to build so many sub skills or characteristics for a learning culture with a capacity for inquiry. A stressor for me has been to want to teach with a highly inquiry based methodology and having to move to a style less comfortable for me (but absolutely needed by my students at this point in the year) that is more teacher directed or orchestrated.

Adapting the first unit to build a culture of learning prepared for inquiry learning has not been a huge shift since the first project is based on Inquiring – What makes Canada the best place to live? To shift its purpose to build the culture of open, active, inquiry based learning is natural; however, the methods are leaning towards more seatwork, and teacher led discussions.

Reflection on what it means to be ready for learning….

A few years ago Surrey worked with the idea of Making Thinking Visible. I think it is a fantastic project and I can relate or connect through the ideas of storytelling. When we find ways for students to express themselves that does not include activities with high barriers such as written output, we empower them to show us what they are thinking, not what they are capable of writing.

The idea of Making Thinking Visible has grown and now the District has a project for Making Learning Visible. This involves communicating with students and parents the learning that is happening in meaningful ways. This resonates with me because I am strongly opposed to letter grades as they have little inherent meaning. Unfortunately, some of my Grade 6’s this year and PDP students I taught in the summer have been trained to want letter grades and place high value on letters. My goal is to have amazing learning happening in my classroom as well as others being able to see that learning without it being summarized by a letter.

To make learning visible and make thinking visible, the steps in learning need to go beyond listening, reading, and writing what you read or heard. I have struggled changing classes as the Grade 7 class was further down the path of being ready to learn outside of tradition.

Foundational quotes from my own learning journey include:

“Good teachers are made not born” (Kevin Amboe 1991)

The goal of teaching is to teach our students to be learners. The content is what they practice with. (Brigham University)

If you are not doing some things that are crazy, then you are doing the wrong things. (Larry Page, CEO Google)

If there is a better solution, Find it. Thomas Edison

Every teacher knows that it takes a few days or weeks to get back into routine and build a new community of learners. Reflecting has made me very aware of what I expect before the deep and amazing learning opportunities are not only possible but the norm.

Respect – We have spent much time discussing, working in small and large groups understanding what respect means and what it looks like.

Safety – Although it fits inside of respect, I feel this one is also important as a stand alone. There has been bullying in past between students in the class. Students say things to each other without understanding the meaning. Students kick exercise balls out from other students sitting on them. If the absolute importance of safety (physical and emotional) is not acknowledged and followed, then it is not a safe place to have students working with tools, or doing activities that whn done carelessly are dangerous.

Listening Skills – The students are capable of listening for short periods of time; however, there is a high reliance on teacher wait time, and teacher managing off task behaviours. We are progressing to be able to ‘pause’ classroom activity for 30 second updates and announcements such as 1 minute before rotating stations.

Self Awareness and Self-Management – I don’t sense intent or malice in some of poor choices or actions; however, I don’t think they are aware of their actions or the consequences of their actions. One student got out of their desk while the class was working on a seatwork assignment, walked to another students desk, opened their pencil box, took out a pencil crayon and dropped it on their work, then headed back to their desk. When caught in the act, they had a bewildered look of ‘what is the matter?’

Ability to stay on task – I know this is a challenge of children; however, I also know that they are very capable of staying intently focused on sports and video games. I so want to get to some of the activities that will naturally hold their interest longer, but they are also ones that require they be able to self manage in a safe and respectful way.
Being aware of self and impact of their actions is not fully developed. I look forward to when they can safely manage their learning and not interrupt or distract those still engaged in learning.

I do believe core to being ready to learn is having a foundation of respect in the classroom. The other aspects are connected. We have worked together as a class and know what respect looks like, that our goal is for respect to be the norm.

I know that we can start the path towards students following their passions and expanding learning opportunities but currently the class functions best in desks with everyone doing the same task at the same time with a teacher orchestrated activity.

I guess instead of sharing the class inquiry of “What makes Canada the best place to live?” I will be inquiring “How to move a class to make deep inquiry a regular reality?”

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