As a PYP teacher, I feel like one of my ‘bucket list’ items for the past almost 10 years has been to go to a Kath Murdoch Inquiry workshop. Having read her blog posts, followed her on Twitter, and tried to use elements of her inquiry model in my classroom, I have always felt like if I only had the opportunity to learn from Kath herself, I might feel more confident in my skills. Last week, I had the chance to attend a 2-day workshop in Toronto that helped me really reflect on my beliefs about inquiry and has inspired me to reignite the inquiry flame in my classroom again.
The workshop was 2 days long and was jammed back with information for all educators no matter where you are in your journey as an inquiry teacher. I could not possibly blog on everything, so I am going to attempt to summarize the big ideas that were ‘aha’ moments for me.
- Curiosity: Our job as inquiry teachers is to both cultivate curiosity with in students but also within ourselves. Inquiry is rooted in being curious and in order to evoke curiosity within our students, it is essential that we also live curious and model this for our students. Curiosity is a habit that needs to be practiced and reinforced. At times, I feel that as adults, we don’t take the time to ‘pause and ponder‘ and miss many opportunities to spot issues or problems that would make authentic inquiries with our students. One of my action items, is to try and flex my curiosity muscles and share my personal wonderings during my class morning meetings more regularly.
- Classrooms and schools need to be both learning and learner centred: I have always believed that one of the most important pieces of being a teacher was to help students ‘learn how to learn‘. Of course, students need to learn specific concepts and skills; however, it is also important that they develop an understanding of how to learn so that they can be independent learners. In order to be both learning and learner centred, we need to strategically speak the language of learning and help students notice and develop themselves as a learner. One practical idea that was shared during the workshop was to develop ‘Learning Agreements’ similar to the classroom behaviour agreements that many classes typically develop at the beginning of a school year.
- Parallel-Inquiry: The particular idea was mind blowing for me as it put words and a concrete concept to something that I have always wondered how to to strategically and consistently. Parallel inquiry involves having the students inquire into a specific concept, the ‘what’, while at the same time also inquiring into a specific learning skill, or the ‘how’. For me, it provided me with an immediate light-bulb in terms of how to marry the IB Approaches to Learning (ATL) Skills within a unit of inquiry and my teaching practice. I am hoping over the summer to take a closer look at how the ATL skills can more strategically be woven throughout my units of inquiry.
- Tuning-In: It is not just about the topic of the inquiry, but also about the learners way of seeing. In many inquiry models, one of the ‘phases’ near the beginning of the inquiry involves tuning-in, and often the focus of learning activities in this phase involves engaging students in tasks to get them thinking. During this phase, it is also where teachers can actively engage in formative assessment to help provide direction for the inquiry based on the specific group of students. As much as teachers often like to be well planned and organized, if we are truly engaging in inquiry, it is important that they are planning responsively based on this first assessment phase.
- Relationships matter: Anyone who works in education can tell you that at the heart of good teaching and good schools, are strong relationships. Inquiry environments require students to be risk-takers and have the confidence to struggle and push through challenges when learning is not linear. It is essential that teachers take the time to really know the students you are working with, their skills, interests and design learning to build from this foundation.
- Forced association: A few times during the workshop, we engaged in exercises that involved using forced association to demonstrate our understanding. Forced association involves making a connection between two seemingly unrelated things, and then explaining the relationship. It was really interesting to observe how using this strategy really helped hone in on explaining conceptual understanding, rather than getting ‘stuck in the weeds’.
- Planning is important, but how we teach is more important: Planning for inquiry is important to help us think about where students may take the inquiry, but how we engage with students is where real inquiry happens. Are we using good questioning techniques? Are we letting students grapple with their ideas? Are we modeling curiosity? Do we follow the lead of students? As much as good planning allows these things to happen, we have to be prepared to focus on tuning in to our own teaching practices and notice these things in order to continue our inquiry journeys. As a teacher, I can see how coaching or co-teaching, could be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how we teach, and focus in on specific areas of our teaching.
I am sure that as I continue to digest, share and apply ideas from the workshop, I will continue to have more ‘aha’ moments.
If you have the chance to work attend workshops with Kath Murdoch I would highly encourage that you take advantage of the opportunity. I was fortunate to be able to go with a team from my school, and it was particularly meaningful in order to be able to debrief and discuss the concepts with a trusted colleague. I also hope that we will be able to support each other as well as we work through the application.