I know I have been doing "Inquiry" with my students since I first began teaching back in 1981. Children are naturally curious about everything, thus the "everything" provides a base for all learning. I think the evolution of inquiry for me this past year has had a positive effect on both myself and my students.
The positives for me, personally, are multilayered. Coming in to a new building with new standards, new teammates, and new teaching styles has been both a blessing and, at times, a bit overwhelming. Through inquiry, I have been forced out of my comfort zone and challenged to rise to a new level. I know what kids need to know in order to be successful, and I know how to get them there. However, I had to take a long hard look at how to do this. I had to let go of some of my past beliefs as I dove headfirst into my first "formalized" inquiry unit. My gut told me to make it a balance of student driven focus and direct instruction. To be perfectly honest it has been a trial and error year for me. I see the power of student driven units. My kids are more engaged and excited. I have become a master at planning and making sure materials are available for them. I have learned to gently guide students to ask deeper level questions. They have evolved along with me. The positives have been:
- Higher student engagement and ownership of learning.
- Deeper level thinking.
- More opportunities for scaffolding learning and differentiation
- More time for "coaching" students rather than "feeding them information"
- Final products of students are authentic and thoughtful
- Taking a much closer look at standards and figuring out where I can focus my time and energy to meet them.
As for drawbacks...While I see the power of Inquiry, I struggle with how much to use it. With the ever growing demands of our standards we have so much material to cover. I have always believed it is necessary to go slow to move fast, yet the sense of urgency often times interferes with the process. For the first half of the year our focus was learning new material and increasing stamina. As the kids practiced their new learnings, we moved on and continued to build on those. The second half of the year I was able to sit back and watch the fruits of our labors as kids used those skills to become more in charge of their learning. I was able to incorporate several mini inquiries and a major inquiry into our learning. Baby steps to be sure...