After diving in head first into my last inquiry unit and barely keeping my head above water, I thought it would be wise to take a step back and approach inquiry at a slower process. I have recently been inspired and reenergized by mini-inquires. They are concise, focused, and seem to arise authentically throughout a larger unit of study.
In class, we are reading the novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. The author beautifully juxtaposes two characters, Nya and Salva. Their two stories bring to light the plight of refugees during the Sudanese civil war and water inequities in developing countries. Since students have little to no background knowledge on the latter, many questions began arising during our reading. Many were answered as we read ahead, but some continued to linger. Specifically, the author describes in detail Salva’s journey through the desert as a Lost Boy, but she glazes over the hardships he faced in the refugee camps. The main character lived in the refugee camps for nearly 11 years before resettling in the United States, but the she only dedicated two chapters to this part of the character’s life. Naturally, my students felt frustrated and needed more information about life in refugee camps.
The following week, we engaged in a mini-inquiry about refugee camps through the eyes of Syria. Scope, a Scholastic magazine for middle schoolers, recently published a paired text about the Syrian civil war and the refugees that fled to Lebanon and Jordan. We spent a week reading, digesting, and adding to our understanding of the humanitarian crisis. Each day we watched a video or read an article from the magazine. Students worked in pairs to determine challenges the refugees faced and efforts that are being made to support them. At the end of each lesson, we regrouped to chart collected vocabulary related to our topic and to chart new wonderings. After analyzing 3 sources, there was still a long list of unanswered questions, so partners chose one question to further explore and found a fourth source to answer their question.
Since I found the first three sources, the final source was a good opportunity to do a mini-lesson on one research skill. From our previous inquiry unit, I noticed my students had a hard time narrowing their searches. So we spent some time talking about key words and tricks to narrow our searches. It was a singular mini-lesson, but it was effective with all students successfully finding a fourth source to answer their question. Students then went public by sharing their additional understanding with the class.
This lesson was an important moment for me in my understanding about inquiry, because I used to think that inquiry had to be a long, full unit. Initially, this felt overwhelming for me, and I was bogged down by all the mini-lessons that I didn’t foresee or that were unrelated to skills my students needed to understand. Now I’m understanding that less may be more…at least for now. During our mini-inquiry, we were able to explore a topic the students were naturally curious about while practicing our reading of informational texts and refining one research skill. I’m feeling confident that a series of mini-inquiries can build upon their research skills without feeling too overwhelming for them or for me.
When thinking about next steps, I would like to continue exploring and refining mini-inquiries. Our next one may be related to water issues. Although, the students are not as curious about this topic. Looking even further ahead, I’m wondering what I year of learning might look like if I started out with many mini-inquiries and then ended the year with a bigger inquiry unit after they fully understood the process and had plenty of time to develop the necessary skills to navigate their curiosities.