Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Step in the Right Direction: #DiveintoInquiry

Originally posted in "Northern Art Teacher"

Last month, I hit a wall. I realized that I had been assuming quite a bit about my pedagogical methods as well as my classroom structure, and I knew I had work to do. What that work was, wasn’t obvious at the time but at least I had identified the problem.

Last week, my copy of Trevor MacKenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry arrived in the mail and the timing seemed almost serendipitous. I tore into the book like a drowning swimmer reaching for a life raft.

I appreciated the message in the foreword, provided by Alec Couros, whose work I’ve appreciated for quite some time. His assertion that Trevor’s book could address questions that had been occupying space in my mind was more than enough to keep me interested. The emphasis on authenticity in the school environment, “practical approaches [married] with …theoretical and philosophical understandings“, and a “solid pedagogical framework” promised hope for someone yearning to connect the dots and establish order within my unknown vision of an ideal classroom setting.

Trevor’s own stories of working with high school students mirrored many of my own experiences and concerns, and I felt that I could identify with the challenges he had faced while teaching. Maybe his model of inquiry might work for my students too…

This year, my TLLP project helps me devote time and energy into providing a classroom environment that is dedicated to student-centred learning. Teaching for Artistic Behaviour deeply respects each student, his or her interests and goals. When I read that all students deserve a chance to explore their passions, interests, and curiosities, I knew that Trevor’s inquiry model would be an excellent fit for my students.

The week before Trevor’s book arrived, I spent two days tearing my curriculum apart. I realized which expectations were non-negotiable; the kinds of facts and skills that need to be delivered in a somewhat traditional method. There were other expectations that could be combined with others, and then there were expectations that worked very well within an inquiry model — I just needed the framework for that model.

Not only does transparent planning create an environment of trust, but it shows a dedication to each student as well as genuine respect for them.

Trevor reviews his course curriculum with his students, and requires their input on the best way to meet the expectations. Their responses to questionnaires devoted to uncovering their learning preferences are then used along with their suggestions to design the course syllabus for the year.

In an ideal classroom, free inquiry would work for every student, but there are steps to take before students might feel comfortable with such vast independence.  I’m looking forward to learning more about each type of Student Inquiry in the next few chapters of Trevor’s book:  Structured, Controlled, Guided and Free Inquiry.  Until then, one of my senior students has an interest in learning using an inquiry model, and has begun to look through our curriculum expectations with me.

We are beginning to understand what an essential question is, thanks to the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and how these questions can be used to direct our learning.

I honestly can’t wait to see where this takes me and my students…!

Get your copy of Dive Into Inquiry today!

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