Why teach through inquiry? A real testimonial

Now I know that I have posted on this subject before but with the day I had I just had to write about it again.  Inquiry: WOW!  Man I love it.

I know that recently there has been a lot of discussion about inquiry in the classroom and if it is really making students learn.  There has also been a huge push to go “back to basics” all I have to say is wish you were in my class (even school) today.  Today’s math problem was quite simple: 
“Mrs. Standring, our proud principal, needs help.  Our school has been open for two years now and we got more kids this year, because of that the fire Marshal has asked her to make a new fire plan.  I was telling her that we were studying measurement and she thought you could help.  How far is our door to the nearest fire door?”
The kids went nuts. It took them a while to get over the fact that they were helping Mrs.Standring.  Well they just started with the questions: what tools can we use? How are we starting? Which door is closer?
Most of them saw that a meter stick would be the best measurement tool, we had been talking about measurements for some time and been measuring in non-standard too and knew that it was inconsistent. So they all grabbed meter sticks and off they went.
We got a bunch of numbers and came to the carpet to discuss. They were all in confusion, why do we have different numbers. We used a standard measurement? We then asked the students to demonstrate how they measured.  Some saw that when you lift the ruler up, you sometimes, overlap the space or leave a gap.  I then asked them how can we prevent that?  This brought up the discussion of leaving marks, or placing fingers.  They went back at it.
Students then came up with an answer but when I asked them to tell our principal they didn’t know what to say.  This of course then led us into a discussion about explanation texts, which we then made some success criteria and off they went to write.  When the bell rang half way through the students were very upset that they didn’t have enough time to finish there work.
Not only did this problem happen in my classroom but my teaching partner did it too.  Her kids thought string was the best and then bring it back to measure against a meter stick.
Now you may read this and say so what? So what! The best part of this is that all this discussion was student driven. All collaboration, student driven, all learning student driven.  Yes as a teacher I am incharge.  I have planned this problem, I have thought of the big ideas and questions but it is the passion, and learning of my students that drive this problem.  Also, when looking back (though I will say to make it worth while this should be done first) my students met over 37 expectations from the curriculum and all of the learning skills that are in the report card.  In addition, the talk was amazing and the learning even more. Not only this but when it comes to assessment I have it all, with no tests.  I know my students skills, next steps and a mark of work.
Inquiry for me is the only way to teach.  Yes, students do need facts and knowledge but that fact and knowledge is gained through the inquiry process.  Also, if a student doesn’t have that to start with as a teacher it is my job to scaffold the question so that they do learn; however, it should still be done in a way that the student is discovering the learning.
Now in the end, there is no wrong way to teach, all learning is valid and good. But through inquiry students do grasb and understand concepts faster and with a deeper understanding. It’s been amazing to see our students development as our school adopts this approach. There is less review needed from year to year and the students are talking more and communicating their thoughts.  For me there are a couple of key reasons to teach through inquiry:
1) Students learn and enjoy the lessons more then traditional teaching styles
2) It covers more curriculum and deeper knowledge
3) Students retain information
4) Learning is integrated in real life, why separate at school
5) It validates the students and makes them buy into their learning. If they are invested you have less behaviours
6) students easily tune a teachers voice out but not their peers
7) It’s fun for me too! Shh don’t tell my students
What are some potential problems: (though to me they are not problems)
1) Problems take time: learning is not easily divided into 30, 40 minute time blocks
2) Can be and should be noisy but productive
3) Takes more planning: yes it takes more planning. You cannot wing inquiry. Even though it may appear as if it is winged or that the teacher is doing nothing it is an art form and requires a lot more planning (will tough on that in a minute)
4) Parents: you will get parents complaining and questioning your practice.  This is new for many and with new comes questions and fears. Stand up and proudly defend your practice because when they hear and see their kids they will love you.
5) you may not have all of the answers
What do I need to do to teach through inquiry?
1) know your content and curriculum: when you know your students learning it is easier to formulate questions and scaffold students learning.
2) plan: I wrote a previous blog post about planning but essentially you need to plan.  Inquiry does not happen by the seat of your pants.  You need to anticipate students questions, problems, and ideas.  You need to know what the big ideas are and where you want the lesson to go.  You need to understand learning trajectories and see where your class is and should go next and you need to do the problem first.
3) inquiry should be contextual and related to the kids life.  The best inquiries are ones in which the students really wonder or can invest in.
4) have fun and don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
Overall, I feel inquiry has been one of the best things I could have done. It really benefits the students and it makes my assessment easier.  I would love to hear your thoughts on inquiry? Have you tried it? Struggles? Pointers? Thanks for reading.

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Author: MrSoClassroom

I am a grade school Teacher, promoting creativity and exploration in all of my students. My classroom is always in a state of Inquiry.

2 thoughts on “Why teach through inquiry? A real testimonial”

  1. NIce post. I agree that kids learn so much more during inquiry. Teachers learn more about their students during inquiry. You find out who will struggle when they don't know what to do- when the directions aren't at the top of the page. I would love to come watch your class. I do a lot of engaging projects but want to try more inquiry based projects. It's funny you had this problem. I was going to ask my students to find the shortest path to different locations around the school from our room- library, lunchroom, office and playground. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Thanks Carol for the comment. If we were only close enough to take a professional day. Maybe if your ever up in Ontario in August, you can always come and see the classroom. Inquiry is a lot of fun, just turn one of your projects into an open ended investigation and see where it goes. The measurement one you mentioned sounds like a great place to start. Let me know how it goes.

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