Inquiry Teaching and Learning

When you hear the word inquiry what comes to mind?

Do you envision kids studying abstract topics without teacher guidance? Do you imagine they are left “to figure it out” on their own? Do you picture a chaotic room where kids don’t know what to do? Or worse, do you think that the kids in an inquiry focused classroom are not getting the basic facts they need to address and solve higher order problems? In other words, are you a cart-before-the-horse kind of teacher? Do you think that before we can “let them loose” they need to have a bevy of facts under their belt?

Hmmm…Hopefully, I am preaching to the choir here, but if you’ve ever had a tinge of self-doubt about teaching from an inquiry stance, like I have because of external pressures and uninformed judgements, let’s make a pledge here and now to let go of those doubts in order to embrace inquiry in the classroom.

Letting go of doubt doesn’t mean that we will not critically examine our practice. On the contrary. We need to be hyper aware of what students are doing and how they are learning because teaching in this way means assessing will look different, as well: focused and intentional conversations with students that demonstrate respect for them as learners.

This takes a lot of courage. Sometimes we falter. Sometimes we revert to less than stellar versions of ourselves. Sometimes we rise above even our own expectations. But the point is that we are always striving to do better. To be better. Because once we know better, we must do better. It’s. That. Simple.

Every time I think that we have evolved to a higher level of thought as a profession, for example being able to juggle two seemingly opposite ideas at the same time, I am blind sided by the inability of some educators, that I respect, to juggle ambiguity. And, inquiry requires ambiguity. It demands faith. Faith in our students. Faith in the process. Faith in the future because we many not easily see the results of this kind of teaching and learning right away or ever.

So, I find it interesting that people still think that inquiry teaching and learning is about letting the class go unmoored. No captain at the helm. The kids without the necessary foundation required for higher order thinking.

An inquiry approach is the place where facts can be embedded in big ideas through the study of important topics.

Inquiry is a stance. It’s not a method or even a methodology.

Inquiry is a mindset carefully orchestrated by the teacher and students in a classroom. And although the teacher may have a global understanding of what students are expected to learn during the year, she or he is open to what students want to learn and figures out how to help them get there. Not because parents are demanding proof, or we have to tick off a district wide box that says we’ve done x, y and z, or because we don’t know how to support teachers to improve their practice. We’re open to what students want to learn, and act on this information, because it’s the right thing to do.


Cross posted Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday

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