Below are the three questions I asked right at the beginning of this odyssey into understanding inquiry learning:
1.How do I convince classroom teachers that this is a worthwhile process to go through with the students, in order to satisfy curriculum demands in what is felt by many to be a crowded timetable?
2. A boring logistical one – but one which has inquiry learning theory at its core in order to answer, I think: Is it better to have planned sessions with classes, timetabled every week? Or is it better to have blocks of time arranged with classes, to support them through their relevant learning process as needs require?
3. What is the best starting point, skills wise, in introducing inquiry learning to students (and classroom teachers)? Questioning techniques? Research skills? Is there a list of skills students require in order to inquire successfully so we know how best to support them?
Like any good inquiry, my odyssey will always continue, however I can reflect on where I am at right now with respect to these questions.
Crowded timetable/library work seen as ‘extra’
Teachers have given me very positive feedback about the planning process we went through at the end of last term. They appreciate that there is clear direction in which we are heading. They can see that it is possible for the students to have more responsibility for constructing their own learning, therefore integrating reading and writing within the research process. They can see that there are still opportunities for explicit instruction of knowledge and skills, needed anyway to satisfy corporate demands.
Flexible VS structured timetable
In my view, it makes sense for an inquiry to occur over a few weeks, with a number of inquiry sessions each week. This takes commitment from all involved. However, it allows for the students to really sink their teeth in and get passionate about a topic. Ideally, one inquiry would lead on to another. Teachers today are under immense pressure to ‘improve data’, be it reading, writing or numeracy data. To that end there seems to be more and more focus on what is called the ‘basics’. I believe that the two philosophies can co-exist. Students can participate in planned explicit teaching experiences every day that focus on the basics, and then participate in using those basics in co-creating their skill development through meaningful, real life learning experiences. Learners need to be challenged to move from a static/placid state of learning into a state of learning in which they are active and empowered. This particular quote from Confucius is relevant here:
“Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember;
involve me and I will understand.”
When students are involved in the construction of their own knowledge, in a context that provides scaffolding and guidance, real learning occurs.
At the moment for me, my teaching time is limited due to the number of days allocated for a teacher librarian at my school (currently a five day fortnight). I am hoping to increase that next year, and we can look at a flexible timetable with those teachers interested in collaborative planning.
Information research skills/information literacy
Over the course of this unit we have analysed a number of questioning frameworks, information search models and models of inquiry. I continue to find Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process and Guided Inquiry Design Process to fit with my philosophy. Together with the questioning framework in The Inquiry Cycle, I have the tools for answering this question. I need to have faith that I can guide the students through the Transformative window of information literacy, which has an inclusive relationship with the Generic (skills based) window and the Situated (real life problem solving) window; utilising the inquiry processes and questioning framework listed above.
My own inquiry process as I ventured on this odyssey…
I have chosen to reflect on my overall inquiry process using Callison’s model of Information Inquiry. Its cyclical nature appeals to me, as I did move back and forth between parts of the cycle. I have also used the affective domain of Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process to express my experiences.
Right from the beginning I had lots of questions. As time went on my questions became more focused. For me, this took a LONG time. During my initial explorations I felt confidence. Then when it came to arranging my ILA I experienced uncertainty, followed by optimism when it appeared all had been arranged. I also experienced uncertainty and doubt when initially acquiring my skills in information search strategies and even in creating this blog! Experience gained through practice and expert guidance from peers and mentors ensured that clarity developed and I felt a sense of direction. I was moving now between assimilation and inference. My thoughts and beliefs regarding information research and inquiry were changing, and I was experimenting with different methods of expressing my new knowledge. All along the way there has been reflection: whether it be analysing the Grade descriptors for each blog post or taking the information presented in readings, mini-lectures and tutorials and reflecting on how it relates to my prior knowledge or how I can enact my understandings. In the end, there is a sense of satisfaction.
There was a fair bit of this:
However in the end, there was this (please click to see a metamorphosis!):