Archives For Inquiry Based Learning

Where is inquiry in the Ontario curriculum?

Inquiry_and Ontario Curriculum

It is amazing how having a different idea in your head, or lens if you will, can totally change how you interpret and experience a text.  I had this experience today when I re-read the front matter of the Ontario Language Arts Curriculum.  Think about inquiry, and read the following quotes from the language document: 

“this curriculum promotes the integration of the study of language with the study of other subjects”

“language curriculum is also based on the understanding that students learn best when they can identify themselves in their own experience in the material they read and study at school”

“It is also important to give students opportunities to choose what they read and what they write about, in order to encourage the development of their own interests and pursuits.”

“Students develop their literacy skills when they seek out recreational reading materials and multimedia works that relate to their personal interests and to other subject areas, and when they engage in conversations with parents, peers, and teachers about what they are reading, writing, viewing, representing and thinking in their daily lives.”

“Students should be given the kinds of assignments that provide opportunities to produce writing that is interesting and original and that reflects their capacity for independent and critical thought.”

“Students need well-developed language skills to succeed in all subject areas. The development of skills and knowledge in language is often enhanced by learning in other subject areas.”

And, best of all:

“Inquiry is at the heart of learning in all subject areas.”

inquiry is at the heart

Inquiry is at the heart of learning in the Ontario curriculum, everywhere except Native Languages, where the inquiry is nowhere to be found, which I think is puzzling since it is found in the Language and FSL documents.

What is inquiry-based learning?

Perhaps you read my previous post on inquiry after the BIT14 Conference? What is inquiry? I decided that an Ontario teacher could and perhaps should turn to Ontario resources to answer this question. There are two Ministry of Education monographs on the topic of student inquiry Inquiry-Based Learning and Getting Started with Student Inquiry in which inquiry is defined as follows:

Inquiry-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the centre of the learning experience.”

For students, the process often involves open-ended investigations into a question or a problem, requiring them to engage in evidence-based reasoning and creative problem-solving, as well as “problem finding.””

For Educators, the process is about being responsible to the students’ learning needs, and most importantly, knowing when and how to introduce students to ideas that will move them forward in their inquiry.”

Inquiry Based Learning and Problem Based Learning

These are two approaches that get me very excited. I am striving to provide experiences for my students that I think are nested under these headings.  I think the essential piece here is that we are making the sometimes smooth and easy (read boring) intellectual terrain of the classroom more rugged, bumpy and interesting by problematizing the curriculum.  Whether we do this by listening, watching, interpreting, reflecting or responding to students or whether we take a more teacher centred approach of setting the problem and inviting students in, the outcome is a richer and deeper learning experience.

Why do I feel it is especially important to think about IBL/PBL in the primary grades now?

I suspect, that our youngest learners at school are going to have different expectations of primary teachers. Our FDK learners will enter grades 1, 2 and 3 having had experiences with play-based learning where their questions were heard and honoured. These students are accustomed to many opportunities for student directed inquiry.

Below is a table from The Full-Day Early Learning – Kindergarten Program (Draft Version 2010-2011)

The Inquiry Process in Early Learning–Kindergarten Classrooms

 

What is a good model for inquiry-based learning?

Do a quick google search of inquiry models and you will see that inquiry comes in all shapes and sizes and with varying number of steps. What they all have in common is that they are usually circular in nature. Even the FDK model above is recursive. When the teacher listens to the children this is feeding forward to a potentially new investigation or going deeper.  Harvey and Daniels (2009) outline these steps for inquiry: Immerse, Investigate, Coalesce, and Go Public.

Inquiry-Cycle_Harvey and Daniels

Source: http://schools.spsd.sk.ca/curriculum/techyteacher/category/inquiry/

Immerse – building curiosity and background knowledge
Investigate – students research the subject matter; they ask questions, look for and find answers
Coalesce – more succinct searching occurs, summarizing, and building new knowledge
Go Public – students share what they have learned with other students

It’s about students posing questions, finding answers and taking action.  Teachers and students are co-authors of the learning in the classroom where we balance student and teacher agendas. Students plan, teachers monitor, and we all reflect.  Students have opportunities to ask questions and share their own theories on the world and how things work. These ideas are tested, fact-checked and then new theories and ideas emerge.  Students become very active and engaged learners with freedom, power and agency over their own learning.

Did you know?

27 to 1 teacher to student questionsFor every question a child asks in class, a teacher as 27 questions? (Source: Cecil & Pfeifer 2011).  These teacher questions are related to classroom management and are often low level questioning. To be fair, this comes from very, very old research. But, it made me reflect on the teacher question to student question ratio in my class as well as the depth of the questions posed.

Teachers and Students Learning to Ask Better Questions

Recently, Tony Vincent made an excellent post titled Crafting Questions that Drive Projects with great ideas.

Harvey and Daniels (2009) identify three types of questions for content-area reading that I think would be helpful in the inquiry process:

The Definition Questions:

  • What is it?
  • What is happening?
  • What is going on?

The Consequence Questions:

  • Why does it matter?
  • What difference does it make?
  • Why should I care?

The Action Questions:

  • How can we get involved?
  • How can we help?
  • What can we do about it?

There is, of course, Bloom’s Taxonomy too. But, what I didn’t know is that Bloom produced three taxonomies: cognitive, affective and psychomotor.

Source: http://gramconsulting.com/2009/02/fun-with-learning-taxonomies/

Source: http://gramconsulting.com/2009/02/fun-with-learning-taxonomies/

 

I know about thinking of questions from the Cognitive taxonomy and this works well for science and “efferent” reading which is the reading we do to learn. But when we are reading to be transported we are reading aesthetically (Harvey and Daniels, 2009, p.91).   In this case, would an affective structure for asking questions be more appropriate?

I do know that more thinking on questioning is in my future.

Resources and Further Reading:

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cecil, N., & Pfeifer, J. (2011). The art of inquiry: Questioning strategies for K-6 classrooms (Second ed.).

 

I am starting to feel more confident with teaching through inquiry based learning and problem based learning. One challenge can be getting started and deciding what to focus on for inquiry.  Though models of inquiry hint at starting points, I have 6 ideas in this post that came about through reading these sources.

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Barell, J., & Barell, J. (2007). Problem-based learning: An inquiry approach (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Stacey, S. (2011). The unscripted classroom: Emergent curriculum in action. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Capacity Building Series (2011) Getting Started with Student Inquiry

1. Use a factoid to invite and provoke student questions

In Problem-based learning: An inquiry approach (2nd ed.) the authors suggest starting with provoking factoids and then asking students to observe, think and question.  Use the factoid to get kids asking related questions.

For example, what questions come to mind when you read this factoid?

Tornadoes are nearly invisible whirling winds until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms inside the funnel.

Questions come to mind about vocabulary, but also about the shape and colour of tornadoes. Including a picture also helps students access prior knowledge and start wondering.

2. Quality Responding

Instead of thinking about what good questions a teacher should ask, think about asking students questions in response to their ideas. Ask students to expand and elaborate.

Teachers could try pushing student thinking forward by asking:

  • What do you wonder about now?
  • Does this suggest any new approaches, ideas to you worth investigating?
  • What kinds of connections can you make?
  • Where do we go from here?

3. Slow down

Both Susan Stacey, author of The Unscripted Classroom: Emergent Curriculum in Action and this Ontario monograph titled “Getting Started with Student Inquiry” suggest teachers slow down.  Observation is essential. Slow down and watch what children are doing. Reflect and interpret what you see. Then try to provoke a next step.  Slowing down and taking time to reflect and interpret is the fulcrum on which we can balance student’s authentic questions and theories with teacher’s agenda and the curriculum. We do not need to pit student interest and freedom in a fist fight with the curriculum.  If we as teachers know our curriculum and take time to reflect and interpret what our students are interested in, there is a way to honour their interests and curiosities. This is a chance for teachers to get creative and innovative.

balancing T and S agendas with time

4. Be on the look out for student’s questions, theories and persistent interests

Student driven inquiry does not need to start with a question. It can start when a teacher notices a student has a theory about something. This can be challenging since students are often bringing a lot of ideas, questions, and interests forward. Which ones do we focus on as educators?  When we notice that a student or a group of students are consistently interested in a topic, we should head in that direction. It’s best to focus on ideas that have some persistence according to Stacey (2011). Or, if you aren’t sure the idea merits moving forward with inquiry, test it out by provoking students with materials and resources and see if they take the bait.  The teacher can not and should not respond to every question and whim in the classroom. Or else, he or she will be like the golden retriever in this video, chasing after every little flash of student interest.

5. Use previous activities to feed forward

Don’t let the learning come to a full stop. Let investigations and units propel new topics. I need to work on this in a major way. So far this year we have taken a PBL or IBL approach to learning about magnets, friction and extreme weather. When the final assignment was in and graded that was it!  I didn’t go back and reflect. I didn’t go back and ask the students to look at each other’s work and see if there were some new questions to move us forward. I was the driver.  I was leading teacher directed PBL and IBL.  Now I know.

6. Help students make sense of non fiction text

Reading about an interesting topic is a great way to open up new questions. Help students use a coding system to monitor their thinking as they read. With paper books sticky notes work great. If iPads are available, Good Reader is my preferred markup app. This strategy comes from Harvey and Daniels (2008) Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.

coding as we read