Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Action Plan 2 A Shared Inquiry Approach

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Students' research on eels, using information technology media, is well displayed on the wall of this year 6 classroom

It is a valuable idea for a school to define a basic inquiry approach to implement across the school, or curriculum areas, to ensure students develop an appreciation of 'how to learn how to learn' - to be aware of their own thinking processes.

Metacognition is a word used to describe the act of 'thinking about ones thinking'.

Students who can articulate what, why, how,and when,they are going to do anything, and know how to assess their own efforts (and to consider 'next time'), are 'powerful' learners.

While students can articulate, when asked, the process becomes automatic with use and is taken over by the unconscious mind, according to educator John Dewey.

Thinking,according to Dewey, begins with a state of doubt, with uncertainty; with a search for sense making or meaning. Such a thinkers usually have possible answers in mind but these have to be put to the test. Then decisions have to be made, depending on the strength of evidence uncovered. At times new directions simply 'emerge'. This is a lot 'messier' that many educationalists would suggest. Thinking , like many forms of creativity is not always linear! Changing our minds is part of the learning process.

There are a number of inquiry processes schools can make use of. They are all varieties of the same process. There needs to be a problem to solve, consideration of ways to research the problem ( and a possible division of tasks), presentation of findings and, to conclude, reflection on what has been learnt.

For some it is called 'action research' - the act of learning about anything through involvement in the task.

Essentially it is a 'learning cycle' of doing - talking about it - recording findings - and reflecting on what has been learnt.

The key to in depth research is to base the study on 'key' questions ( some call them a 'fertile' questions) or 'hook' questions. It it best to keep such overarching questions limited. As well as the study progresses new question may well emerge.

For research to be successful students need to be introduced to appropriate information gathering techniques so as to avoid the common practice of many students who simply copy down material from books or the Internet. All teachers need to teach their students this process.

When it comes to presenting their findings new skills need to be in place. Students may be able to complete research well but have no idea about how to present their finding so as others might want to read them. Aesthetic and design 'scaffolds' are one way to achieve this. Some schools have developed appropriate 'scaffolds' to suit the abilities of students at each level of the school. By year 5 or 6 students ought to be able to develop their own independently.

Some school utilize a 'co-constructivist' approach ( also called 'negotiated learning') where the student's are involved in all aspects of the inquiry process. This includes teachers not only valuing students questions but also their 'prior ideas'.

Teachers should ask four questions and then negotiate the answers with their students about any topic;

1 What do we know already? What are our 'prior ideas - or misconceptions. It is worthwhile recording these to later show how much the students have learnt.

2 What do we want to find out about? Or what are our questions, and what are our problems curiosities and challenges? ( It would be possible to base the years work around such student questions - some schools already do this).

3 How will we go about finding out? Where will we look? What experiments and inquiries will we make? What will we need? What information and resources are available? Who will do what and what should be the order of things?

4 How will we know, and show,what we have learnt
? Whom will we show and for whom are we doing the work,and where to next?

Student centred research is essentially common sense - the way students learn from birth and will continue to learn forever if it is not 'deadened' by schooling. Some call it 'enlightened trial and error' while others see it as the 'scientific method' - a problem to solve, clarification, hypothesis, testing, and conclusion.

All students are scientists at heart ( or vice versa), learning at the edge of their competence. Problem solving is the way we all satisfy our curiosity about things we don't know about.

Somewhere along the line we seem to have bypassed this natural way of learning in our schools. Learning with students makes teaching a more natural and enjoyable process.

We should stop trying to 'teach' things to our students and instead learn with them - offering them our knowledge as a resource for them to construct their own meanings.

When a study is chosen wise teachers, of course, will gather all the material they can to assist their students. They will also consider what 'big ideas' they will want their students to gain from the study and what the possible outcomes will be. Teacher have a vital role to keep their students on task , well equipped and well organised.

When the students are busy learning in depth content ( the 'stuff') they are also becoming aware of 'how to learn'.

This is creative teaching at its best.

Three excellent references:

Project Based Learning

learning by Design

Problem Based Learning


Jody Hayes said...

WOW! This is a fantastic display. I would be so proud if it was my room!!! Eels are such an interesting study for fourth term.

Bruce Hammonds said...

A really wonderful teacher.

There are such a lot of things to attract students' interests that I can't see the need for a pre- planned curriculum. Studies , like life, should just 'emerge' from the students' curiosities .

Jerome Bruner said the skill of a creative teacher was, 'the canny art of intellectual temptation' - I have always liked that.

He aslo said the young child and a scientist are both, 'working at the edge of their competence' -as should creative teachers.

So many things get in the way of both student and teacher creativity!