Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Inquiry in ECE with The Creative Curriculum

Our group is the TS Golden Girls. Members include the 3 ECE teachers. We formed our own group because we are grappling with how to stay true to our philosophical underpinnings of providing a developmentally appropriate and enriched classroom based around inquiry while working with a prescribed DPS curriculum. On the upside, The Creative Curriculum is inquiry based; yet we cannot help but feel that once something morphs into a set curriculum it becomes less authentic. And while we strive to collaborate with colleagues from other grade levels, things just look so different in ECE and so we formed our own group. Our beautiful question is "How do you make a prescribed curriculum albeit it even an inquiry based one, feel authentic to your students?

On Friday, I would have brought my artifact from The Explanation Game we played recently. I used this thinking routine several times last year and liked it's flexibility. I thought trying it again would enhance our unit of study by reinforcing some of the big ideas we wanted our students to understand. Similar to last year, I used the routine this time to recap our clothing study...even using the same a picture of 2 figure skaters ice dancing where the male is holding the female in the air; the other a picture of 2 hockey players checking each other. While I showed students the figure skaters, my para showed other students the photograph of the hockey players. The following day, we switched groups allowing all children to view both photos. We were exploring the essential question, why do people wear special clothes? Since we were studying clothes, I wanted them to notice what the skaters were wearing and come up with possible explanations as to why. While these photographs and ideas seem obvious for us, for 4 year olds who lack background knowledge, I thought this worth trying. We followed the protocol of quietly examining what we saw, then naming it, then coming up with our explanations. I facilitated the discussion by asking open-ended questions about what they noticed people wearing and what they might infer about the environment in order to support their understanding of why the people were wearing the clothes they were wearing. Given the placement of this activity towards the end of the unit, most children were able to explain hockey players wore jerseys because they were identified with a team and they wore pads for safety. My goal however was for them to contemplate why the figure skaters despite the tricks and danger of their sport, wear so little. A few children were able to make this connection, but it took a lot of modeling and questioning from me. This probably makes sense given this was my first attempt with this routine with these students.

To me, this demonstrates I am becoming more comfortable with several routines and experimenting where to place them within a unit of study. Most importantly, I want my students to walk away understanding their thinking is what drives their learning...even if they can't really understand that now.

Obviously the thinking routines align with our focus on inquiry. For me, it is now taking all of these prescribed curriculum as well as the thinking routines and strategies and blending them together to enhance inquiry all while feeling authentic to student interest and developmental level. That's the puzzling part to me. It would seem easy to work within the framework of the naturally curious 4 year old mind...and yet sometimes the curriculum and routines feel forced in a room full of 20. The curriculum also feels superficial at times.

My goal now therefore with my group is to explore a variety of resources to help us take our prescribed inquiry studies deeper or even modify them so they are authentic to our current students and what they want to inquire about. I personally would love to find an ECE teacher who effectively uses this curriculum beyond a surface level.


  1. Leslie, I completely agree with you. Are we just "saying" that we are doing inquiry, because as you mentioned when there is a prescribed inquiry curriculum or if you use a guided inquiry style so that curriculum standards are covered, are we truly immersing children in inquiry?

    I think you are doing the right thing, weaving it into what you have and I commend you for being brave and giving it a try, just like we do any and all teaching strategies. We have to continue to be flexible teachers and use the tools we have to best meet the needs of the ever changing dynamics that we have in the classroom.

  2. Leslie,

    I am responding fashionably late to January posts, but I could not agree more! In fact, my February post was around this same idea of authenticity. I too find it challenging to create inquiries that my students are naturally curious about while implementing the Common Core standards. After Michelle's visit in early February, I felt inspired and relieved by the idea of mini-inquires. They tend to come up more naturally during a larger unit that is standards-based or required. Often, my students have wonderings that pop up during our units, and in the past I have allowed them to discuss it momentarily and then we would move on. But during this last unit, they were curious about refugee camps from the novel we are reading, and we paused to investigate them for a week. It was short and sweet, but it actually felt real and there were so many ah-has for them after that one week. The mini-inquiry felt like a breath of fresh air after navigating standards.