Since the dawn of time, humans have been plagued by urges: primal urges, creative urges, instinctual urges, relational urges…When we have an urge we are propelled to act by either delving into the urge, or repressing it. Learning urges are a necessary part of inquiry. Urgency in learning tells us that we must take action to know more or do more to find out or come to a new understanding. Urges move us forward in the construction of meaning – they are like itches that have to be scratched. If we don’t tend to our urges we can become disengaged or even resentful. In today’s world, when a learner isn’t given the room to follow his/her urges, they often say, “I’m bored.”
When educators see themselves as learning architects who are designing learning spaces built on a strong curricular foundation for learners to inquire and construct meaning while developing skills, they must be open to exploring how to create urgency in learning by both igniting and propelling the urge to inquire.
How do learning architects create urgency within curriculum?
First, they define the inquiry purpose by clearly knowing what knowledge is essential for the learner to come away with after all is said and done. They do away with all the fluff – there’s no urgency in that. Then, they design provocations, opportunities and open-ended engagements that ignite the fire of urgency by inviting learners to connect, explore, wonder, puzzle, collaborate, problem solve, think and apply. They carefully plan opportunities for skills that fit the concept to be introduced, practised and/or mastered.
The learning architect also knows the importance of sharing/modelling their own learning urgency by literally selling the curriculum to the learner so they buy in with their learning currency. Curriculum is much like stock – learning architects are the designers and marketers of that stock and learners are the investors. The more the learner feels the urge invest in the curriculum stock, the higher the learning yield will be.
Finally, learning architects know that less IS more. Because they see curriculum AS architecture, they understand the importance of careful design in the learning process so that learners have plenty of space to explore and construct meaning. Learning architects do away with the seemingly but usually unconnected laundry list of activities and instead design open learning structures that invite the learner to take on the meaning construction process. The learning architect coaches and guides the learner by carefully providing the structural support that a learner needs to grow and thrive.
“I think…”, “I feel like …”, “Try this…”, “It sounds like…”, “I’m not sure how exactly to describe it, but it’s like…”, “Ahhh…”, “I’m not sure…”, “There has to be…”, “It is…but it isn’t…”, “It’s not…”, “How do you…?”, “I think you are right…”, “What do you think…?”, “We need to think about it in a different way…”, “Can we…?”, “Is that because…?”, “Ohhhh!”, “Ooooo…” ….
All of the above statements are the inquiry utterances of a group of adult learners engaging in inquiry learning at a recent inquiry based learning workshop that I had the opportunity to facilitate. One of the biggest misconceptions about inquiry based learning is that it is only about asking questions and finding answers. Go back and read the list of utterances again.Inquiry is so much more than asking questions and seeking answers.
Kathy Short put it best when she described inquiry as both a stance and a state of tension. When I share this definition of inquiry with adult learners, they often ask, “but what do stance and tension really mean?”
According to dictionary.com, the second definition they provide for stance is: a mental or emotional position adopted with respect to something. So, inquiry is a mental or emotional position we adopt with respect to learning. Inquiry tension lies in the mental or emotional position of the stance. When we think, feel or believe we have to figure something out, or find out the truth by either confirming something we already believe to be true or dis-confirming something we’ve assumed to be true, or figuring out something that is totally new, we are activating the inquiry stance. As educators, it is our role to be the inquiry architects as we take learners on a journey through an inquiry cycle (there are many! just pick one or make your own hybrid!). Many times I hear other educators lament, “but they just don’t ask questions. How do I get them to ask questions?” Therein lies our first mistake. When we limit the inquiry stance to just asking questions, we limit the potential for meaningful and contextualized inquiry stance learning. Take a step back and really listen to what the learners in your classroom are saying. If you don’t hear anything, then perhaps the flaw lies in the designer and not the learner. Inquiry begs us to examine and challenge our own beliefs and assumptions (our own mental and emotional position) about teaching and learning. Do we see ourselves as teacher or as learning architect?
A collective exhale was joyously experienced by our students and faculty as our Grade 6s came through their big day with flying colours! The celebration began with an opening hosted by all of our Grade 6 students where they introduced the exhibition and welcomed guests (in French and English), shared a reflective voice collage where each girl shared her sentence, “Exhibition Is…”, and four students walked guests through a brief outline of the exhibition process from start to finish. Following the opening, guests were invited to view the formal presentations and exhibits. Guests were aslo invited to post their thoughts, feedback and impressions on a live blog site, called Cover it Live! It’s a great way to get feedback. Four of our Grade 5 students served as roving reporters, ipads in hand, gathering comments from guests and posting their own comments throughout the morning.
My writing can’t do justice to what the students contributed through their presentations. Here are some photos and feedback as quoted from our Cover It Live! site to paint the rest of the picture. Thanks for following along on this journey with us – it’s been so great to reflect and share with you!
“Here are some of the amazing things I learned from the exhibition on Friday from the girls in 6R5 and 6r6: 1. The population of the earth is increasing constantly — it grew by more than 2,000 people during the Population presentation alone–yikes! 2. I need to take shorter showers to preserve water and energy (I promise to work on this.) 3. The healthcare system in the UK is much better than the ones in either Canada OR the U.S. (who knew?!) 4. A bystander can be extremely helpful to someone who is bullied, so speak up and help out. 5. It’s possible to light a light bulb with a solar panel from Canadian Tire–cool! 6. Don’t underestimate the power of the media OR social media in transmitting messages about body image. 7. The Grade 6 girls at Branksome Hall are amazing. Thanks for all of these learnings, girls, and for a fantastic morning. Enjoy the last few weeks of school!” (Grace’s Mom)
“The presentations were great: the verbal exposition, role playing, interactive audio-visual on Smartboard all very well executed and educational. The videos were professional quality. Students were well-informed beyond the prepared narrative, and had excellent and informed answers to questions, so it is clear that enquiry went deep.” (Perry’s Mom)
“What a fascinating and powerful morning. As I listened to each of the groups I attended (Sustainability, Food, Social Media), I was so impressed with the depth of research, the professionalism of the presentation skills, and the desire by the teams to impart to their audiences a sense of the importance for changes to our outlook and habits.”(Emily’s Mom)
“This was a very well organized presentation. It was clear that everyone in grade 6 was proud of their work and participation. What a great start to future group endeavours.” (Claire’s Dad)
“Very powerful video, social media group. They spent their time very wisely on how to show people about social media. They educated everyone so well I think many people will think twice about posting things after this presentation. They made an amazing video and really helped build people’s self esteem. Really good job you made me think so, so much about social media now.” (Callista and Sima, Grade 5 Roving Reporters)
“The body image group had an amazing booth that I learnt so much just from the pictures at the booth, and I was amazing how they photoshopped Lochlan’s face. The weapons group also had a great game that we all enjoyed participating in. Now we are watching the water group presentation which has been so interesting so far. Great job girls in 6R6 and 6R5!!!” (Bessie, Grade 5 Roving Reporter)
“The healthcare presentation was great! Good work girls. I liked the way you used a debate to compare the 3 different countries’ healthcare (pros and cons). The word wall was a very interesting idea – to uncover people’s real thoughts and emotions about healthcare. Good job!” (Hannah’s Mom)
Week 5 is very much a bridge week as students begin to process all of their research and new understandings about thier issues. It’s all about consolidating research and shifting gears into presentation mode. The week begins with students working in their collaborative inquiry teams to share their research by exploring the polarities of their debatable questions. They work together to generate pros and cons for each side of their debatable question. Through discussion and brainstorming, students then choose a side and compose a short essay outlining either the pro or con response to their debatable question. This provides an opportunity for learners to consolidate their understanding of their issue and synthesize their research and thinking as they prepare to move forward into presentation mode. The essay is a formative checkpoint, as students must have enough research to be able to explore the two sides of the response. It’s important that each group member shares her key research points with her group members as this helps to ensure that each girl’s thinking and understanding about the shared issue is brought forward to the final presentation. Students use a wiki to share the most significant aspects of their individual research with their group members
Students also begin to visualize and plan what their Exhibition Day presentations will look like. Students use two formats to brainstorm ideas and propose an overview of their intended presentation. Each presentation must include a written component, a visual component and an interactive component. Once groups have an initial plan, they meet with their teacher and our Technology Integrator to pitch their ideas. Our Technology Integrator ensures that the IT requirements are realistic and serve to enhance the overall presentation. We encourage students to think creatively about their presentations and which tools will best help them to get their intended messages about their issues across to their audience. Students are encouraged to “think outside the powerpoint” and “beyond the poster board.” Each group’s presentation will take 10-15 minutes of time, so what they choose to do and how they do it is very significant! This year we have a wide variety of presentations which include movies, animations, models, debates, drama, student composed songs, poetry, Prezzis, art and more! We are thrilled, inspired and blown away by the variety and creativity the students demonstrate. By the end of the week, all groups have a plan in place and students begin moving into the construction of their exhibits and presentations. The excitement is high as the week ends – 10 school days left until Exhibition!
Week 3 begins with much excitement and nervous energy. It’s officially “decision day” and students begin this week by indicating their top 3 choices for topics and related issues that they are interested in pursuing for their in depth inquiry. It’s important that students understand that their collaborative inquiry groups should be formed not based on their friend choices, but rather on an issue that they feel passionate about. Passionate enough about the issue that it will sustain their interest as they structure their inquiry over the next several weeks as they move into the exploring phase of our inquiry cycle. They also have the opportunity to indicate a topic and related issue that they really don’t feel passionate about. The teachers and I meet later in the day to lay out all the decision forms and begin to form the groups in each class. We look for patterns and connections. Each group will consist of 3-4 members and it is our goal to try to ensure that each child is placed in their first or second choice. We want to honour their choice and passion. We know that the weeks ahead will bring tremendous personal growth as students engage in such deep inquiry and attend to their differences in learning styles, thinking and application of their knowledge.
Students are excited to finally have a focus for their inquiries and to learn who they will collaborate with. Another milestone of this week is the matching of groups with mentors. At our faculty meeting we review the role of the mentor and teachers sign up with a topic that they have some prior knowledge with, or feel interested in supporting. Later in the week they will receive an e-mail invitation for their first meeting with their group from the students.
Now that student groups are formed and mentors are assigned, students begin to do some wide reading relating to their specific topic and related issues. They begin to brainstorm key concept questions related to their issues and begin to gather resources. Our teacher librarian supports this stage and is quite involved in ensuring that students understand how to use Destiny to create lists of resources and maintain an ongoing bibliography as a part of being academically honest.
Towards the end of the week students begin to brainstorm their ideas for their central ideas and lines of inquiry. Each group then has a one-on-one session with me to formalize these very important components. I am amazed by the thinking of this year’s groups – this is our ninth exhibition, and this year it is evident that students have made the connection between the central idea and concepts and the lines of inquiry as defining the specific issues that will help to illuminate their lines of inquiry. One students comments to me, “Mrs. de Hoog, isn’t the exhibition like a unit of inquiry except it’s us who are writing the central ideas and lines of inquiry and deciding how we will inquire instead of the teachers?” BINGO! As each group meets with me they share their ideas and thinking. I listen closely as they speak and share. I help them to word-smith and ensure that they see the importance of concept driven central ideas and clearly defined lines of inquiry. Students are ready to move into more serious research now that week 4 is upon us!
Some of our 2013 Central Ideas:
The pressure to keep up with the changing idea of beauty affects the way people perceive themselves.
Sharing and caring for the earth’s water will help ensure a safer future.
Understanding the harm bullying causes within communities can enable people to take a stand against it.
Population growth is a global issue that impacts quality of life.
The increasing availability of weapons has significant and lasting consequences.
There are consequences for communities where there is a lack of available and adequate health care.
This year our Grade 6 PYP Exhibition falls under the transdisciplinary theme, Sharing the planet (an inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution). In order to prepare students for their inquiries into issues connecting to the theme, we began with some wide/open-ended brainstorming relating to the following questions:
~What do we share? ~How do we share the planet?
~With who/what do we share? ~Why do/should we share?
Students engaged in round robin brainstorming using charts and stickies to begin framing their thinking into the Sharing the planet theme. As they travelled from chart to chart, they began to make connections across the different aspects of the theme. This led to a powerful and spontaneous discussion about “what if we don’t share?” Already, they were beginning to see that issues often arise from what ifs. What if we don’t share natural resources? This can lead to conflict or scarcity. What if we don’t share our emotions? This can lead to depression, misunderstanding, and even bullying. What if people don’t have access to clean water? This might lead to health problems, or girls might not get to go to school because they have to walk to get water instead. What if, what if, what if? = Issues, issues, issues. Getting 10-12 year old students to think beyond topics or concepts and into the deeper, more complex issues that relate to them can be a challenge at the start of the exhibition process. Providing time early in the process to explore not just the range of issues within a theme or themes, but how concepts and topics can become issues is essential to creating a purposeful context for the research process.
After sharing our Student Guide to the Exhibition, students also had the opportunity to ask questions relating to the exhibition process, and ask they did. More what ifs! What if I don’t get along with my group members? What if I miss a deadline? What if I don’t have any ideas? How will the mentors support us? How are we assessed? Do we get marked on exhibition day? How much time will we have for research? What if I am scared?
At the end of the week, students completed a reflection to indicate what they thinking and feeling about the exhibition. Taking the time to pause at this point was essential to see what impact our initial conversations had on their thinking, understanding AND feelings. Even though most of the students attended the previous year’s exhibition as Grade 5s, they still felt a lot of fear about the process and Exhibition day itself. Back to those what ifs again! In sharing aspects of their reflections with each other, students understood that they were not alone in their thinking and feelings. They were already constructing shared meaning and creating a safety in listening to and supporting each other. In one conversation a student asked, “What if we fail?” That lead to an analogy about safety nets – Me: “When someone falls and there are safety nets in place, what happens?” Student: “Well, the net catches you and you bounce back up to try again.” Me: “Exactly!” The moral of the story: lean INTO your fear – you will be surprised what you learn and discover! So much of the inquiry process is about facing our fears through experience; taking our inexperience and turning it into INexperience through constructing meaning collaboratively. Here we go – off an running! One week down, 6 to go!
“Children are learning about big ideas but they are also finding out about themselves and others in their community. ” (Jo Fahey, p. 27)
I’ve been spending some time reading through Jo Fahey’s recently released book, Ways to Learn Through Inquiry: Guiding Children to Deeper Understanding and reflecting on inquiry in the early years. It’s reminded me that we have so much to learn from the littlest inquirers in our schools. They come at inquiry from a place if pure openness. They don’t worry about saying what they think as they explore; they just say whatever comes to mind as they construct meaning, sort out differences and confirm or discredit their assumptions about the world, themselves and each other. It was timely that I happened to be observing in an SK classroom very recently. What I saw and heard brought the pages of Fahey’s book to life for me.
The teacher had planned a preparing provocation to have learners connect with their new unit of inquiry exploring the concept of shelters. The learning engagement involved learners working in small groups to explore, sort and categorize a collection of images (depicting various types of shelters, homes and habitats). The criteria for the task was that each group needed to work as a team to agree on how to sort the images into groups and then name their groupings. Students quickly set off, pouring over the images. I was very curious to see what each group would decide and how they would go about getting there. As I wandered the room kid watching, I happened upon the following exchange, as a group of students began to sort their images as “structures” and “not structures”:
A: This is not a structure. (Holds up a picture of a coral reef.)
B: How do you know?
A: Because no one put it there.
B: Well then who put it there?
A: I don’t know but it’s just there. No one built it.
B: What about the tree? (Holds up image of a tree.)
A: The bird did it.
B: Birds don’t make trees.
A: But they build in them.
Later on in the lesson, students shared their sorting categories with each other and discussed why they chose to label them as they did. When the group including the two students who had the above exchange shared, their sort still included two categories: structures and not structures. As the students went on to define their categories they indicated that images were “not structures because no one decided what they would look like.” Those pictures included in the structures category were there “because they’re not built out of the same things. Someone put them there and people live in them and some are for animals.”
The dialogue between these students and the level of thinking amongst them was so rich with inquiry. By the end of the lesson the students had a theory and a definition to begin developing their inquiry into the concept from. They were already engaged in the process of attending to differences right from the onset of the inquiry as they sorted, classified and reached consensus.
After reflecting on the lesson with the teacher afterwards, we both agreed that while the learners made some significant connections, they also had some misconceptions that could be further tended to through the inquiry process. While no direct question was asked of the teacher, several avenues for deeper inquiry were apparent and could be explored further:
– the idea that a shelter is only a built structure
– an inquiry into how coral reefs are made and how they do or do not provide shelter
-man made shelters vs. natural shelters
-shelters for people vs. shelters for animals
The possibilities could go on! And that’s the point. Providing constructs to facilitate inquiry leads to infinite possibilities for learning. The hardest part is getting out of the way and taking the time to learn from the learner – even the littlest learners!
We’ve recently returned from our winter holiday and things are back in full swing after a couple of very low-key and low-tech weeks off. Over the holiday I took up a hobby I tried years ago and abandoned – knitting. Just before the holiday my husband asked me to knit him a very particular style of scarf. I think in hindsight that his motivation was two fold- he wants a scarf, and he wanted me to have something to do that would force me to relax/sit still over the holiday. It’s been about three years since I’ve knit anything so I was very reluctant to take it up again. I do not consider myself a skilled knitter, even though I had completed some “challenging to me” projects at the height of my prior foray into knitting. What on earth does knitting have to do with learning or teaching?Well, quite a lot. Stick with me!
The scarf my husband asked me to knit required that I not only reacquaint myself with basic knitting technique (preparing), but that I also learn a stitch I’d never done before and learn how to join two different colours to make stripes . So, knitting needles and yarn in hand, I hopped onto YouTube and started watching how to videos until I found some that appealed to my learning style (exploring).
In “retroflection” I can now admit that the main reason why I gave up knitting 3 years ago was because I couldn’t handle making mistakes and having to undo my work or start again. What a colossal waste of time and how very frustrating! As I began this new project, I also began making those dreaded mistakes again. But this time, I am not giving up. Thanks in part to the influence of the work of Carol Dueck and Brene Brown on both my professional and personal mindsets over this past year, and because of the fact that I am motivated to complete this project for my husband. To date, I’ve restarted the scarf 8 times! I’ve put at least 5 hours just into making mistakes and learning from them as I start over, yet again (processing). I am finally at the point where I am making steady progress and can see the results of taking the time needed to learn from my mistakes and start over. This has taken a lot of commitment and perseverance, and positive self-talk as I assess my progress and plan next steps (transferring).
Knitting is a quiet activity, and so my mind has wandered and wondered with each stitch and row. I am 67 rows in, and although I have over 900 rows left, I know what the end looks like (backwards design!) and that keeps me motivated. I know I will make lots more mistakes. I might have to undo a row, or let a mistake slip, or even (gasp!) start over again. That’s okay, because I am giving myself the space to learn because I actually WANT to improve and finish what I started. It may take a while. That’s okay too. My husband husband knows he might not wear this scarf until next winter. (He’s okay with that – I warned him this will take time!)
So now I’m wondering:
How often do we stop to ensure that the experiences we plan for will allow learners (that includes ourselves!) the time they need to make mistakes and have the space for do-overs, if needed?
What supports/safe guards do we put in place in the planning process to ensure learners have the time to work through frustrations and come out the other side where they can look back and truly reflect on their growth and progress over time?
How often are we giving meaningful feedback that is relevant to teachable moments in the inquiry cycle?
In my role as a curriculum coordinator, the number one frustration I hear again and again is that there is just never enough time to get it all done.
How often do we pull back so that we can go deeper? (or are we running in the endless race against “never enough time”?
When I was a child, I never really understood what the teacher meant when he or she said “it’s about depth not breadth, and quality is more important than quality.” Now more than ever I do – it really is the less is more principle being put into practice. Dueck asserts that real growth and progress takes effort. Brown asserts that growth takes vulnerability – having the courage to show up and be seen. Effort + vulnerability = growth, one mistake or do-over at a time. Now that’s good math!
Summer is here in this part of the world and with it comes heat, and heat brings thirst. What better way than to quench your thirst with a nice, cold glass of lemonade. This is what my 9 year old twins decided about a week ago. They have toyed with the idea of opening a lemonade stand for the last few summers but it never quite came to fruition. Well, during my absence from home at the start of the week they opened a lemonade stand, and I am in awe of the learning that is happening as they independently follow through with and implement their plan. They are learning “IN experience”, which is really what the heart of inquiry based learning is all about. It’s kind of ironic that learning “IN experience” can also be read as “learning inexperience”. Both statements are true to inquiry – inquiry is all about taking on the unknown and making it into a known – both “inexperience” and “IN experience”.
The kids started with an idea, prepared a plan and took action: they researched the cost of lemons and the other ingredients they would need, they came up with their lemonade recipe (the best I’ve ever had!), they made a marketing plan, gathered supplies, and then they set to work. In implementing their plan, they’ve learned what it means to break even, make a profit and take a loss; the importance of counting your money just right; they’ve learned about supply and demand, and quality control; ways to drum up business when it is slow, and what it means to have a slow business day. Best of all, they’ve learned team work as they’ve relied on each other and the two neighborhood friends who’ve set up an iced tea business along with them. None of this learning happened at a desk or under the carefully structured school learning environment. It happened because they had an idea, worked through their own inexperience IN experience by choosing, acting and reflecting. All along the way they continue to make decisions about their lemonade business to improve and grow it. The best thing of all is that I have had absolutely nothing to do with this little learning venture except to buy myself a glass of lemonade and toast the success of their endeavour. So what do you do when life throws you lemons? …Make lemonade of course! Thanks kids!
Action FOR learning is something a learner does to enhance or improve their learning process, in the moment or in the future. Action FOR learning is not the result of a topic or global issue –it is the direct result of learners realizing that they can do something to help themselves grow as learners. It is action that takes place through on-going reflection on the learning process. Action FOR learning is always happening – if it isn’t, then the learner might as well be dead to the learning process. It is not rocket science and it doesn’t involve changing the world AROUND the learner. Instead, it involves changing the world WITHIN the learner. Action FOR learning looks, sounds and feels many different ways – it’s as unique as each learner. It its truest form, action FOR learning is about setting goals followed by taking action to grow. Action FOR learning is inquiry in action. Learners need to know that inquiring into themselves just as important as inquiring into other people and issues.
Here’s what some Grade 5 students defined action FOR learning as, after participating in an action exploration workshop. I couldn’t put it better myself…
Action FOR Learning…
Is personal learning
Is something you do to improve your learning
Helps you learn and think
Enhances your learning and the learning of others
A way to get better/improve
Helps us understand more
Happens DURING the learning process (choose, act, reflect)
Doing something after reflecting
Leads us to taking action FROM our learning
Examples include: looking for connections, sharing connections, taking descriptive feedback and turning it into a goal, reflecting and making personal changes
Adults in a learning community need to share their action FOR learning process with their students (or children!). Students need to see that action FOR learning is a part of being a responsible lifelong learner – when we know better, we do better! We are the creators of our own change.
What do you do to take action FOR your learning as an educator? What opportunities do you provide for the learners in your care to reflect and grow through action FOR learning?
“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” (Carl Jung)