Monday, May 4, 2015

April Reflection

As I reflect on the entire inquiry process that I experienced this year, I am proud of myself for jumping in and trying it.  I am happy to say that it was not a complete failure, rather pretty successful in my opinion.  Could it be better?  Of course, but I gave it a try and I will continue to work at it!  Refining the unit I created this year and developing new ones.  I also feel that inquiry can and does look very different depending on: the age of the students, the content, the learning objective, and the time.  Lastly, I  feel that we use inquiry all the time in teaching, but we do not always call it "inquiry".  I often find myself encouraging students to "research" that.  For example, we are studying the human body, which as you can imagine,  sparks a lot of questions.  I have had several questions arise during discussions that I do not know the answer to.  I explain that I am not a doctor and therefore do not know everything about the human body and I encourage those students to dig into their questions through research.

1. What are the ways that inquiry has had a positive impact on your teaching and / or student learning?

  • I have a clear end in sight when I use backwards design, I know what I want students to understand and learn
  • Students are very engaged
  • I am able to give students individualized feedback
  • I am able to differentiate student learning through my feedback
  • students are motivated
  • students collaborate with one another
  • students have choice in their learning
  • students find purpose in their learning: through presenting their learning to an audience

2. What are the drawbacks? What are the ways that inquiry still feels uncomfortable? What are you still unsure about?
  • I'm still unsure of what inquiry looks in other content areas, such as Math
  • Students need to have strong skills in paraphrasing 
  • students need have strong skills in identifying the: important and relevant information
  • When students skills in the area of paraphrasing, identifying important information, organizing a final project are lacking, you may need to have further mini-lessons
  • I am still unsure of how we balance inquiry with standards

As the end nears.....

1. What are the ways that inquiry has had a positive impact on your teaching and / or student learning?
The biggest impact inquiry has had on my teaching this year has been in the way that I plan my units/lessons. When I used inquiry as my vehicle for student learning, my planning became much more authentic.  I was meeting the students where they were in their learning and allowing them to live and learn on their own time.  

The struggle to allow them this time was FIERCE!  I felt pressured by testing and "getting it all in".  Our inquiry group question "How do I know they know what I think they know?" (or something like that) constantly stayed with me.  What I do know is that kids were engaged.  They were thinking.  They didn't want to stop at an "answer".  This is what will inspire me to dive in deeper next year.

2. What are the drawbacks? What are the ways that inquiry still feels uncomfortable? What are you still unsure about?

Inquiry still feels  somewhat uncomfortable to me due to all the unknowns that I feel exist still.  I know kids are learning, but what data can I use to support this?  I would like the going public piece of inquiry to become more meaningful and authentic.  So far kids have produced products very guided by me as far as what information they need to convey.  

April Inquiry Reflection


I feel like I've studied, experimented with, and discussed inquiry in so many different ways throughout the year. My 'idea' of inquiry has been challenged as I've continued to add to my schema. My biggest ah-ha this year has been realizing that inquiry can look really different depending on the classroom, content area, and grade level. My definition of inquiry has truly evolved throughout our year long study.

1. What are the ways that inquiry has had a positive impact on your teaching and / or student learning?

 Below are just some of the ways my instruction and student learning has been impacted. 

-Student engagement is very high during inquiry studies. 
-Students feel empowered by the work and have risen to the challenge. 
-Students who typically breeze through most work have been 'pushed' in a new way.
-Students are learning an authentic process that they will use forever. 
-I have learned what students are truly curious about. 
-I think about our content differently. Yes, we have to meet our standards, but there are many ways to do that.
-Inquiry provides the 'so what?' for so much of our learning. For example, researching a question after reading a text is authentic and powerful. Before we were just reading the texts, but not pushing our thinking. 

2. What are the drawbacks? What are the ways that inquiry still feels uncomfortable? What are you still unsure about?

There is so much I'm still unsure about regarding inquiry, but I know I'm surrounded by a community of learners that will continue to support me along the journey. 

-How can I keep mini inquiries 'mini'? One of my frustrations is how long inquiry can take. What can I do to limit the amount of time to ensure we cover everything we need.  
-How can I set up skills using an inquiry model?
-What feedback can I provide to students to help them live curious lives? (Thinking about process and product) 
-What lessons need to be taught and when? I know I need to use data I gather from conferring and looking at student work, but I think it's super challenging. 
-What are some methods for holding students accountable for learning from their peers? If everyone inquires about different topics, how can we learn from one another? 
-Is there such thing as too much inquiry? Is it ok to use the inquiry model in multiple subjects at once?

Clearly I still have numerous questions, but the positive impact outweighs my unknown or doubts. Incorporating the inquiry model is something I will continue to learn more about.

April Post- Lynn Burnham

I can't believe we are at the end of another school year and another PDU!!  So much interesting learning this year for me!

1. What are the ways that inquiry has had a positive impact on your teaching and / or student learning?

Even though we have been working on inquiry for most of this school year, I still feel like my dive into it feels very messy!  I am still struggling to define what inquiry looks like for me, but I am so glad to have been pushed to take the risk to at least try.

I think that inquiry has had many positive impacts upon my teaching and student learning:

  • I look at content differently-  maybe more deeply?  In the past I feel like I might have been just a "deliverer" of content, rather than the facilitator of learning
  • Whenever I plan for a group, I now think about the skills and strategies that are underlying the work the kids will need to be able to do independently.  Am I facilitating their growth around those strategies, rather than just hitting on surface skills.
  • I feel like I am asking my students to stretch their thinking much more than I have done in the past
  • My students are more in control of their own learning: much more engaged, and much more thoughtful and willing to ask questions
  • I think my students are beginning to realize that sometimes there really is not a right answer, and that we are all responsible for our learning
  • I think my students have more fun in my room now!

2. What are the drawbacks? What are the ways that inquiry still feels uncomfortable? What are you still unsure about?

Inquiry still feels uncomfortable for me for a few reasons, but I am definitely more willing to sit with the discomfort and push my own thinking than I have been in the past. Some of the questions I am still struggling with are:
  • Can I really use an inquiry model within an intervention setting
  • If so, what is the "perfect" balance between time spent on inquiry, and the direct instruction my strugglers need
  • Do struggling students actually need direct instruction, or can they learn at the same rate in an inquiry model?  My professional knowledge leads me to believe that when there is such a skill deficit for a student, there is a need for highly scaffolded instruction... but should these kiddos always have content handed to them in small increments, or should we push them to realize there is success and growth through a carefully facilitated "struggle?"
  • Can I bridge both direct instruction, guided instruction and inquiry into a "guided inquiry" model?  Does that exist?  
  • Or, are mini-inquiries the route I am taking?
  • I am also really worried about using my group of kids as "guinea pigs" for my own learning.  I guess that if I can prove acceleration of their growth (not just a year's growth), then I will have my proof... just not sure how to assess for that.
Lots of questions still remain for me, but I have loved this topic so much.  I am looking forward to continuing my discovery next year!

April Post

What are the ways that inquiry has had a positive impact on your teaching and / or student learning?
I have to admit that I was very hesitant to approach student learning through inquiry.  When I first started teaching 17 years ago, my first principal expected the teacher to be in front of the room teaching the entire time.  It has taken me many years to shift my thinking about good teaching.  Therefore, allowing students to take their own learning into their own hands was extremely uncomfortable for me.  How will they learn all of the curriculum?  Will some kids learn anything?  What if they don't research effectively?  What if they don't understand what they are reading?  All of these questions ran through my mind as the students attacked the weather systems unit through their own guiding question.  What I found is that they did learn and amazingly, they learned a deeper level than they did when I sit in front and fed them the information.  Not only did they learn from their own research but they learned from each other and questioned each other.  It was a very positive experience for me and one that I am very excited to cultivate next year!

What are the drawbacks?  What are the ways that inquiry still feels uncomfortable?  What are you sill unsure about?
 I have found that inquiry in science feels very natural.  However, I do not have the same feeling about inquiry in math.  I have still not been comfortable enough to even attempt it in math.  I do give the students word problems and such for them to ponder and ask questions about and finally try to solve.  I think my biggest fear is the students getting a incorrect foundation from the beginning.  In science it is easy to research information and form questions about the information you are reading.  However, I don't think at this point it is easy to research math algorithms and learn how to use them as easily.  I also feel like the questions that they may ask after trying to research them may cause even more confusion.  This is just a roadblock that I have to overcome and I am hoping that next year as I pursue the science side with inquiry I will be able to push aside my block and try inquiry in math. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Opinion Writing Inquiry

"Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other." - Paulo Freire

"To often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion, without the discomfort of thought." - JFK

     My goal was to teach students how to write their opinions in a short essay with emphasis on elaboration.  W.3. 1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.  a. introduce the topic, state an opinion, create an organizational structure that lists reasons. b. provide reasons that support the opinion. c. use linking words to connect opinion and reasons. d. provide a concluding statement or section.  It was easy to ask them their opinions, to teach them ways to insert details and anecdotal stories to elaborate upon their ideas. 
     But I want so much more for them. I want their opinion pieces to be meaningful; beyond their opinions of pizza and the color red.  I will open up this writing to inquiry tomorrow.  I'll ask students to turn their opinion into a question using, find others that have the same question, argue both sides of the opinion, find research to support your claims, THEN write an opinion piece that is rich with care and vigorous pursuit.  Finally, reflect upon question driven opinion writing.

I use to think...
     It was enough to teach to the standards.

 Now I think....
It is a disservice to students if we limit their learning to JUST the standards, to the structure and skills required of all third graders... they deserve 100 times more... they deserve to be asked to CARE, to OWN, to INVESTIGATE, to ARGUE, to COALESCE, to move to ACTION, to be EMPOWERED to have educated opinions and open minds throughout their lives....

Mini-Shakespeare Inquiry

We know what we are, but know not what we may be. - William Shakespeare

Shakespeare Mini-Inquiry

The Shakespeare Festival snuck up on me this year.  I knew it was coming, that my students were auditioning and running around in fantastic costumes, but somehow I thought I had more time!  Nevertheless, Monday came, the Festival was on Friday, and I wanted to teach my third graders as much as I could about Shakespeare in four days.  Was there no time for inquiry?

My inclination, my go-to, was to teach my heart out with books, skits, videos, and passion in my voice.  But this year, with our study into inquiry, although I did provide background knowledge for two days, on the third and fourth days I opened the study up to inquiry.  My personal question was, "Would inquiry provide the understanding and hunger for knowledge that a longer unit was capable of providing?"  I was wonderfully surprised!  Although my students questions were basic, "Who is Shakespeare?  Why is he important? When was he alive?  Why do we still learn about him?" and a few a little deeper, "How is Shakespeare still influencing us today?" they couldn't get enough.  Three online resources and a stack of books turned into, "Can we study him more?  Is our unit over?" and continued pursuit of Shakespeare knowledge even today!

Students coalesced their learnings into an essay persuading me to take them to the Shakespeare Festival.  It was a blast!

1. What are the ways that inquiry has had a positive impact on your teaching and / or student learning?

This mini-Shakespeare Inquiry is a great example of my personal shifts around instruction, especially when I feel crunched for time.  Last year, my inquiry projects looked a lot like research projects that took six weeks to culminate.  Now, I use inquiry as a teaching tool instead of a unit.  I am sure that this impacts student learning because of the way my students OWN their learning.  They love the questions.  They love the collaboration.  They all follow their own interests and bring it to the whole class to share as experts.  How did I ever teach a different way?

Shakespeare's quote sums up open inquiry for me..."We know what we are, but not what we MAY be."  The end game of inquiry is unknown, yet inquiry is an authentic and meaningful way to learn.  It allows students to discover their own interests and learning potential.

There is a quote from the book, Collaboration and Comprehension: Inquiry Circles in Action, “In the world of standards and benchmarks, it seems like teachers must always know what kids will know a the end of a lesson.  But consider this: do real researchers, investigators, and authors know exactly where they are going when they begin an inquiry?”– Daniels

2. What are the drawbacks? What are the ways that inquiry still feels uncomfortable? What are you still unsure about?

I am uncomfortable with the way explicit lessons on collaboration and process of inquiry take time away from content lessons, though I KNOW those skills are as important in life as knowledge.  

I continue to be unsure about weaving the standards into inquiry, so I need to:
  • create a routine for the  inquiry process that feels as comfortable as a readers workshop.  
  • trust inquiry to create the environment of lifelong learning that I believe in! 
  • learn when to pull students back to me for a critical lesson at the right moment.  
  • learn how to create more thoughtful scaffolds and differentiated lessons so that all learners have access to the information.
  • be clear on the true outcomes, skills and essential knowledge
Although, my "need to" list continues to grow, and may grow throughout my career,  Shakespeare helps me rest in the process...

"Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow." - William Shakespeare

Year Summary - ECE (April Post)

1. What are the ways that inquiry has had a positive impact on your teaching and / or student learning?
ECE students are naturally curious. Inquiry therefore has had a positive impact on my teaching and student growth because it has provided a framework in which to teach valuable background knowledge to students in a way that engages and invest them. It also teaches my students from the beginning of their educational career their thinking is valued and that school is not just a place where you learn your ABCs and 123s. The most important lesson I can teach my students is to think and question the world around them. They must learn not only what a question is and how to formulate one, but also develop foundational strategies to support where to find the information necessary to answer or build upon their  questions.

2. What are the drawbacks? What are the ways that inquiry still feels uncomfortable? What are you still unsure about?

The drawbacks are more around process rather than Inquiry itself. As I stated earlier, ECE students are naturally curious which is a great place to start. However, they have limited background knowledge on so many topics that often their questions can be either off topic or seemingly random or they can be superficial because they have nothing to go on. Inquiry therefore for us is VERY guided which makes it feel uncomfortable and less authentic. What I have discovered though in this messy process is that for ECE, inquiry must be guided in order to support children building enough background knowledge to delve into a topic more deeply. My job is to build a foundation to these thinking skills and not feel so responsible and accountable for them to learn everything there is to know about a topic. In the end, I've discovered I've been too reflective and tried to hard to make it all feel natural. It just will not always feel that way in a classroom of 4 year olds. Our Creative Curriculum is a sound example of guided curricular inquiry and as I become more familiar with it, I can use it as a framework to build upon. After 2 years of using it, I am discovering ways to make it fell more authentic and purposeful and I've been able to divert from it on many occasions to explore new concepts within a study or try something they have suggested but in my own way.
For next year, my hope is that I am so familiar with the curriculum that I can focu my energies on using the ideas and strategies I attempted this year with more routine. I also hope I can be more efficient and flexible with my planning allowing us to explore the questions most engaging to my new students.

Looking Back

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...