I have been discovering a lot about inquiry teaching over the last year. These discoveries have challenged my preconceived ideas not only in inquiry learning but in teaching in general. This is the first of a series of posts in which I will be inquiring into inquiry.
Previously I viewed learning as a journey, a progression through a series of steps to reach a final destination. I also found myself thinking about inquiry in this way. Until one day in my searching I discovered this video by David Lindberg which is an adaption of Alan Watts speech on life.
This video profoundly affected me. It rang true not only for life but also for learning and inquiry. My experience has taught me that learning is far from a journey. It is more of a dance. As Alan explains in the video there is no definite end. Similarly, inquiry learning need not have a distinct end. It is a pedagogy which lends itself to continual questioning, searching, evaluating and finding (Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process explains the stages of inquiry) Inquiry epitomizes the ongoing nature of learning. It carries on for as long as questions continue to arise. Therefore, inquiry is a dance, not a journey.
And so, let the music play, it is time to dance.
As a primary school teacher I have had many frolics with inquiry teaching and learning. When I began my career I was unsure of how to use inquiry in my teaching and I believed it was a way to plan units of work. In my first year inquiry was the “hottest thing” and experienced teachers gave me ready-made inquiry units to use with my class. They were like a rigid waltz (follow the steps, don’t improvise!).
I was baffled by them. They seemed to be units that integrated a variety of subject areas; history, art, science with a little bit of literacy thrown in for good measure. “Brilliant!” I thought, here is a list of activities I can use in my class. As I continued my career I found that a list of activities is one of the furthest things from true inquiry teaching.
In my second year of teaching I was given the book. Classroom connections : Strategies for Integrated Learning by Kath Murdoch and it was if someone had introduced me to jazz dancing (the fun, the excitement and the engagement).
This book captured the essence of inquiry, teaching me that planning for inquiry can include several steps such as, tuning in, finding out and going further. It also helped me to develop my understanding of having a big idea or central theme from which inquiry can develop. I had the opportunity a few years later to be in a trial class using a new method of inquiry called Challenge Based Learning. Engaging in this model of teaching and learning shook up my understanding of inquiry. Rather than having planned outcomes Challenge Based Learning allowed students interests and questions to shape the learning outcomes.
Later in my career I had the opportunity of hearing Kath Murdoch speak at the AATE/ALEA national conference. As she encouraged us to promote an environment of questioning in our classrooms I again felt as if my understanding of inquiry was being redeveloped yet again. Inquiry was no longer attached to a unit of work, it was a way to shape pedagogy and the classroom environment.
I have found that my discoveries in inquiry teaching throughout my career have left me with more questions rather than answers. The questions that I am pondering and will discuss in my next posts in this series are:
- Should inquiry learning be planned or should it allow for student self-direction?
- If inquiry really is all about questioning, how do you enable students to ask good questions that will reward them with interesting outcomes?