One of the most interesting projects I have been involved in this year, is the introduction of personal inquiry routines into several of my partner schools. We’ve been keen to look at ways to open up more opportunities for regular inquiry into personal passions. Most of the teachers who have implemented some form of personal inquiry time already use a model that allows for ‘student led’ inquiry but this has tended to be within the scope of the ‘big idea’ the class is investigating. While maintaining this, we have also been keen to explore the benefits of investigations that cater more specifically for the particular interests, ways of thinking, ideas, passions and curiosities. We have not been alone in this venture! Increasing reference is made worldwide to such approaches –20% time, innovations days, passion projects, oasis time, genius hour – whatever we choose to call it, the intention is similar. The term ‘I-time’ (which I first heard used by some teachers in the Sandhurst Diocese of Victoria, Melbourne) appealed to me – the letter ‘I” turned out to have a lot of potential being the initial letter for many of our favourite words…inquiry, independence, investigations, inspiration, initiative…as well as the obvious digital reference.
Providing opportunities for personal inquiry has been an instructive experience for us all and has required teachers to have a strong inquiry mindset as we reflect on and strengthen the structures and strategies to ensure learning is rigorous and purposeful as well as truly owned by the students. Students’ feedback and reflections have been the most useful source of learning for teachers.
Recently, Michele Martin – Inquiry learning leader and year 3 teacher at Elsternwick Primary school, asked her students to reflect on how their views of ‘itime’ had changed since the beginning of the year. Their honest and thoughtful comments show a growing insight into the nature of quality inquiry itself. It reminded me of just how powerful learning can be when we allow time and space to ‘re-think’ and when we give them opportunities to express their thinking about the process learning itself.
Here’s what some of them had to say…
|I used to think………..||Now I think …………..|
|You had to make stuff for every “I” – time
|I know I have a big choice and even though I like making, it’s much more challenging if I ask questions and do research.|
|That you already had to know the information and that you couldn’t research it.
Also, I wasn’t very organised and forgot to bring things in to help me! Elinor W.
|You can research, so that lets you choose anything at all so you try new things!
I now ask for help getting resources (like I asked MM to bring in some of her cook books) and I remember to bring my own when I can.
|I thought that you could just choose a random thing to learn about. Lucy O.||You should choose something that you want to learn about!|
|I thought that you needed to do something really simple and you only needed one question. Bethany||You need to choose something that challenges your learning. You need more than one question to challenge yourself. You need to ask yourself ‘open’ questions, not yes/no questions.|
|I didn’t really get why you needed a question. Will||Questions help you learn!|
|I thought you could just get other people’s words from the computer or books and cut them up and paste them on. Liam and Lucy D.||That when I summarise what I have read, by writing my own words, it helps me understand and it helps my audience when they read my thinking and learning.|
|That to find information you must use a computer. Alice||You can use people (experts / primary sources) and books.|
|Only I had to understand what I had found out. Sequoia||It’s good if other people can understand your information.|
|I thought I was so smart because I did easy things that I sort of knew about. Oliver L.||I’m challenging my learning and it’s harder to find the information, but I’m not giving up. I’m persisting!|
|It’s just writing some simple information (a tiny bit!). Chloe||Finding more complicated and detailed information challenges me to learn more|
|11% of the time I focused. Most of the time I just wandered around. I wanted to do things but I got distracted.
|70% I am totally focused and it’s increasing! I think about what I need to do, like going to the library or bringing something from home to help me.|
We should regularly check in with students about how their views of themselves and their learning is growing and changing. And what better context for exploring the self as learner then open, personal inquiry! Do your students have a similar opportunity? Do they have the time and permission to change their thinking?