HI there. So another post is on the blog. But not here. You will need to go to my new website and you will find it there: http://www.kathmurdoch.com.au/blog/2015/11/20/inquiry-and-all-that-jazz
And while you are there I would love it if you clicked on the subscription button so you receive alerts for future posts. It won’t be long until I close this one….
Hello patient followers of this blog. A new post has just been uploaded to my updated website:
I would be so grateful if you (a) read and even share it and (b) re-subsribe via email. I think we have fixed the technical glitches! I hope the post is useful and thank you again for your interest. Keep wondering!
Thank you all for your feedback about the difficulties (a) finding the new blog and (b) subscribing to it! You can locate the new website easily…(just google kathmurdoch.com!) and click the link to the blog. Unfortunately, the subscription system is not as simple as I thought! The site will have a subscribe button SOON. I’ll let you know. So in the meantime, this site stays active. Thanks for your patience and your lovely feedback re the post about literature and inquiry 🙂
Hello there loyal followers of ‘Justwondering’! This post is to let you know that I have transferred my blog to my website: http://www.kathmurdoch.com.au/ I am trying to consolidate and better manage the growing myriad of social media that links me with the online professional learning community. Unfortunately, this transfer does NOT take my lovely readers with it. You will need to come along of your own accord…and I really hope you do. It’s easy. Go to my website Click on the ‘Blog’ link, scroll down to the end of the post and you will see the ‘subscribe’ button. Click and you are re-subscribed and will be notified when I post. All the previous posts are archived on the new site but I will keep this one going for as while until I feel we have all moved and are settled into our new accommodation 🙂
And this is a good opportunity to say THANK YOU for your interest, your feedback and your use of the blog. I know I don’t write often enough but I love the dialogue that occurs when I do! So keep following…I have a NEW post about literature and inquiry waiting for you on the new site. See you there!
PS: Did I mention I have published a new book? Details on the website…..I am so happy with the way it has turned out… by far the most beautiful LOOKING book I have ever published and I hope this is a case of being able to judge the worth of the book by its cover 🙂
‘In pursuit of knowledge, something new is learned in pursuit of wisdom, something old is unlearned. To grow, we need to learn, unlearn and re-learn.’ Med Jones
I began this week working with collaborative planning teams at St Bernadette’s primary school in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The school is only a few blocks away from my childhood home (in fact I vividly remember the school office calling home on occasion when our adorable Border Collie found his way to the school ground at lunch times!) At the end of the day, I decided to take a small detour and drive past the house in which I grew up. It’s been a while since I have seen it and curiosity got the better of me.
It’s always such a strange feeling to revisit something from the past and to look at it anew. While there are a few changes that have occurred to our old house and the other houses in the street – there is much that remains the same. And yet – I was seeing it all so differently. I was struck by the way the passage of time affected my view: indeed my understanding of what I was looking at in my neighborhood was fundamentally different. It was not just the neighborhood that had changed…I myself had changed and this ‘new me’ had a different perspective and indeed a different way of thinking and feeling about what was before me. The thinking routine ‘I used to think…but now I think…’ would have been apt as I drove away: “I used to think that the concrete statues at the front of my neighbor’s house were ostentatious and out of place but now I think that this helped the family connect to the culture they left behind before coming to Australia. ”
As I drove home across town, I found myself reflecting on the wonderfully rich conversations I had had with the teachers around the planning table throughout the day. There was such a strong connection with my brief experience of visiting my old house.
Readers of this blog will know that I like to scaffold my own, teachers’ and students’ inquiry with a simple framework. This framework includes several elements or phases that are generally employed in most journeys of inquiry – although they are neither fixed nor linear. (see https://justwonderingblog.com/2013/03/25/busting-some-myths-about-the-inquiry-cycle/) One element in that framework is something I call “tuning in” and it is often where a journey of inquiry begins. And – as I say time and time again… it is not about “tuning in to the topic” it’s about tuning in to students’ thinking.
The early phase of a journey of inquiry is a time of reconnaissance. We are looking at the cognitive ‘lay of the land’: What do we already think about this? How do we see this? What examples of this idea are already in our lives? What are we uncertain about? What are we in conflict about? It is time for careful listening and acute observation.
Too often, genuine ‘tuning in’ gets overlooked in the rush to ‘get on with the learning’. But this reconnaissance – amongst other things – acts as a kind of time capsule. It IS learning! As the inquirer delves deeper and further into the unknown, they regularly pause and return to that first thinking and see it differently. We often use the phrase ‘on second thoughts’ in our every day discourse – the inquiry teacher encourages students to do just that kind of thinking. ‘What are your second thoughts? How do you see this differently now? What’s changed? What are you noticing? Like the shades on a paint chart – our conceptual understanding deepens (and widens) over the arc of the inquiry.
Each team I worked with during my day at St Bernadette’s, brought artifacts of student learning with them. They are a few weeks into their current inquiries – so it was the perfect time for us to look back at their early learning and consider what the children are revealing. The teachers were able to share the evidence they gathered about the children’s first ideas – and how this had informed the plans that were then made for the next part of the learning journey. We sifted and sorted through drawings, questions, diagrams, video clips and photos asking ourselves a range of key questions that informed the next phase of our planning.
We are now so much more conscious of the need to really ‘tune in’ to children’s thinking and to have them make their thinking visible and audible as they inquire. We also need to ensure that the students themselves are noticing their thinking as it changes and deepens. This is a time for students to ‘tune in’ to their OWN thinking – to notice what they feel, see and think in relation to the concepts they will be exploring further. Importantly, taking time to really tune in to students’ thinking – and to make it visible – tells students we value what they have to say. Inquiry teachers take time to honour what the child brings to an inquiry. What was particularly gratifying to hear around the planning table on Monday, was the teachers actually USING the data revealed to them to plan for the needs and interests of their students. Too often ‘prior knowledge’ tasks are completed simply because they are on the planner. While activating prior learning IS useful in itself – we fail to make the most of these tasks if we don’t ask “what is this revealing to us?” and “where to now?”
Tuning in may involve a simple, powerful provocation to ‘hook’ engagement – but then the emphasis needs to be on exploring the known. Simplistic strategies such as “KWL” charts (which focus on ‘knowing’ rather than thinking – see https://justwonderingblog.com/2013/06/08/moving-on-from-the-kwl-chart-student-questions-and-inquiry/) are often much less useful than giving students a range of options for sharing their early thinking with us – drawings, models, symbols, images, conversations, mind maps all allow the student to express something about what they bring to this journey of inquiry. What they bring may be full of uncertainty, stereotypes and misconceptions – but sharing these in a climate of trust and safety allows for the possibility of change and for new experiences to help us ‘unlearn’ as needed.
When tuning in – the teacher is an active inquirer: inquiring into students’ current ways of seeing. The artifacts of student learning provide important reference points for assessment of growth. How powerful it is for the learner to revisit their old thinking and see it differently and how deeply satisfying it is to be conscious of one’s own growth! How liberating to be prepared to unlearn – and learn anew. So as you plan journeys of inquiry with and for your students, ask yourself:
- How might students share their current thinking about this?
- How will we tune in to that thinking?
- What are the students’ revealing to us?
- What implications does this have on what we should be doing next?
- How might we help students review and reflect on this as they move through the inquiry?
- How is OUR thinking changing?
- What are we ‘unlearning’ and learning?
Do you take time to really tune in to your students?
I’ve been wondering a lot about listening. I am currently in the very rare position of being home for a while – recovering from surgery. My head has been too foggy to do much reading or viewing…so I have turned to podcasts to pass the time. I am a huge fan of the podcast already but have been very grateful to have so many beautiful things to listen to while recuperating. Listening has given be hours of joy and learning. As a teacher and teacher educator I DO spend a lot of time talking so it is both luxurious and enlightening to spend hour after hour not saying a word…but instead listening to the wisdom, humour, music and passions of others.
Teachers, in general, are talkers. Older readers of this blog might recall the animated Charlie Brown cartoons where teacher voices were communicated only with a kind incessant trumpeting sound as the children endured the boredom of their classroom. When I interview students about teachers, the most common criticism is simply that they ‘talk too much’ – we do! But true teaching – especially in the inquiry classroom is surely more as much about listening as it is about talking.
My enforced listening time recently included an interview with the great author Ben Okri. The interviewer asked him about the role of listening for him as a writer. He responds:
“You have to listen – you have to listen to the world. You have to listen to sound of people’s voices – the secret sound of people’s voices. What they are saying and what they are not saying. A lot of the world is about what is not visible and what is not said. ‘Listening’ also stands in for ‘seeing’ and for attentiveness – It is a metaphor for profound attentiveness.”
If you are unfamiliar with Ben Okri and his beautiful writing, do yourself a favour. His writing is testament to the power of listening to the world . Here is the link to the interview although it may only be accessible to Australian audiences.
In another delightful moment of radio listening this week, I heard Erick Greene, a Montana based biologist, discuss his research into birdsong. His curiosity and careful listening has led to discovering the amazingly rich repertoire of sound each bird species has. His amazing work has its genesis in long walks in the woods as a child, where he would listen to the world…
Having an inquiring disposition as teachers means committing to being ‘profoundly attentive’ to our learners – and indeed to the world around and within us. This is such an enormous challenge in the average classroom dominated by distraction, urgency, multi-tasking, noise and busy-ness. But perhaps, by taking a moment to commit to listening as we begin each day – we can better hear the ‘secret sound’ of children’s voices – and our own internal voice. True listening is one of the best tools we have to inform our work. Here are some reminders of things we can do to ‘attend more profoundly’ as we teach:
Inquire into listening itself
Spend time helping students investigate the skills of true listening. At the risk of being ‘formulaic’ it is valuable to share with children some of the ‘micro-skills’ that help us be more attentive listeners. These skills include using body language (eg. leaning in), eye contact (if culturally appropriate) some encouragement (nods, etc), no interruptions, reflecting back what has been said, etc. Both students AND teachers benefit from explicitly naming listening as a valued process in the classroom.
Value moments of silence
Bring some deliberate, quiet moments into the day. Suspend all talk for short periods of time – not as a disciplinary measure but rather as an opportunity to ‘attend’ to the self. Classrooms can be incredibly noisy places. Moments of silence can offer us all the chance to re-group, breathe and reflect.
Small, focused groups
The bigger the group, the harder it is for us to really attend to something an individual is saying. How many times have you found yourself losing focus when listening to a child in the larger group because others are becoming restless or irritable?
Form a circle
Think carefully about the physical arrangements when you are in discussion. Seating a group in a circle often helps us to listen better to others and brings a more equitable feeling to the conversation (rather than the teacher in the chair and students on the floor)
Stay open to what you might hear
When a student shares something, be conscious of HOW you are listening. Stay open and mindful of your biases. As yourself ‘what are they revealing to me?’ ‘What is being left unsaid?’ Try to hold your responses/opinions back until they have really finished sharing. Sometimes our responses are unnecessary anyway!
When students are busily engaged in learning tasks, remind yourself to take a back seat for at least some of the time – and focus on what you are noticing as you observe and listen. Early years teachers do this well – but close observation and listening remain powerful ways of assessing learning at all levels of schooling.
Remember wait time.
We know the importance of wait time but we still don’t do it particularly well. When you ask a question – wait before prompting or re-asking. And wait after the response….inevitably the child will add more when there is space and time to do so. Get comfortable with silence – it’s thinking time.
Good listening needs time. Commit to spending sustained time in conversation/observation with just a few students each day. Is there a space in your classroom that is dedicated to small group or 1-1 conversation? Is there a focused, quiet zone?
Listen with your heart
In some ways, this can be the hardest thing of all for the busy teacher to master. ‘Heart listening’ has been described by the wonderful, late Glen Ochre as what we do when we “consciously get into our wisest self so we can give the person our full attention and allow our hearts, not just our ears, to be open to hearing. If we do this, all else will follow. We will look and sound caring and engaged – because we are.” (Ochre 2013:59)
Ask better questions
Great inquiry teachers know how to encourage students to share their thinking by being skilled listeners and by asking better (not simply more) questions. Questions – and how we ask them – can quickly shut down OR open up a conversation. The combination of the right questions and true heart-listening can yield our most powerful teaching and learning moments. I am currently working on another post about my favourite questions…stay tuned.
Genuine inquiry compels us to listen – to the world, to each other and to ourselves. True listening is so often a victim of the talk-centred, busy world of teaching. How can we better ‘still’ ourselves to listen with our hearts, to hear what is said and unsaid by our students and our colleagues?
As many of the readers of this blog will know, I am in the final stages of completing a new book. For several reasons, it has had the longest ‘gestation’ period of any book I have ever written – so seeing it now at the design stage is EXCITING. Still a few months off but we are nearly there! It was with this book in mind, that I recently spent the morning at one of my partner schools here in Melbourne. It was time for me to capture some images to support the text – and I wanted that to happen in a school really ‘walks the talk’ of contemporary learning.
I knew that Mother Teresa primary school – in the far outer suburbs of Melbourne would not disappoint. As a relatively new, purpose-built school, it is light-filled, spacious and flexible and we could photograph the children in a relatively unobtrusive way. The images we came away with are beautiful and support the text just as I had hoped.
But what I came away with was more than a collection of lovely photos.
It is rare that I spend time in a school without either teaching, planning, meeting or presenting. Being such a beautiful and rich learning space, my visits to Mother Teresa Primary usually include a quick wander around to see the visible learning – but it is often hard to find the time to do this well. So it was an unexpected treat to find myself simply ‘in’ the space – occasionally directing the photographer but, other than that, just being present and observing the morning unfold around me. I know I have been banging on about environments that support inquiry quite a bit on this blog lately – but bear with me…I want to head back into that territory one more time.
I have been thinking a great deal about how physical and visual space impacts on learning. It is hard NOT to think about this issue when at this school. What always strikes me is the sense of CALM and an atmosphere of what Caine and Caine describe as ‘relaxed alertness’. There is a clear air of purpose and intention but it seems to come from ‘within’ rather than being staged and managed by the teaching staff. As I work my way through the photos we took, I find myself wondering about the elements that combine to create this palpably rich learning atmosphere. When I think about this school, I see the teachers and children as ‘curators’ in the same way a gallery or a museum might be curated…
The space is simply beautiful. There is a great deal of care taken in the selection and placement of materials around the school. The care exhibited in this aspect of the school is akin to what we might consider in our own homes. Many of the materials used are natural, the colours are muted and soft and there is deft placement of objects, images, quotes, throughout which makes the entire experience of being there feel special. While it is not ‘precious’ or forced, the environment is respectful and sophisticated. The aesthetics work. The children are proud of their school and seem to care for it with the respect it deserves. Deftly placed provocations … an eagle’s feather or tiny figurines atop a cabinet draw the eye in or invite some kind of sensory interaction.
The school’s identity, values and beliefs are clear and visible. There is no doubt that this is an inquiry school that values thinking and holds strong, shared beliefs that guide practice. These values and principles are literally ‘spelt out’ on the walls or atop tables rather than being hidden in some policy document on an office shelf. I think has a subtle yet powerful impact on how the planning and teaching evolve – constant reminders to everyone of the shared beliefs underpinning this place of learning.
There is little demarcation between ‘teachers’ spaces and students’ spaces The kitchen area, lounge chairs, coffee tables of the ‘staff room’ are still there… but they are part of the large, central open learning space. The wonderfully large planning/meeting room is glass fronted and there is never a sense of teachers hiding away to conduct ‘secret teacher’s business! I am sure this transparency and shared space would not be everyone’s cup of tea but I love the shared culture of equity and openness it creates here.
Children’s thinking is made visible throughout the school – every area tells a learning storyThese are learning walls. They tell learning stories and act as a resource for students. And there is plenty of space – no overcrowding or over stimulation here! Throughout the school, there are artifacts that celebrate students’ thinking: journals open for others to read, framed quotes and drawings and photographs with explanations about the learning (not the ‘activity’)
Teachers are rarely standing at the front (there is really no ‘front’) … they are working with small groups or individuals. Clear systems and routines have been developed to allow the staff to maximize their teaching time. The space is a good mix of smaller, connected rooms and large open learning areas. These are well utilized. It means students can really spread out and work independently while small focus groups work in turn with the teachers across the day. This is a hugely important ingredient in why the space WORKS. There is a commitment to contemporary pedagogy …. It’s not about using old ways in a new space. The intimacy of teacher interactions with students seems to lead to a more focused ‘feel’ overall.
There are no bells or other unnecessary interruptions to the flow of learning. Entries and exits seem fluid and gentle. They just seem to know where to go and what to do! I am convinced that the absence of bells and line ups etc help the day flow and integrate.
Inside/outside connection Over the years, I have watched what was a very bare surrounding landscape gradually grow into inviting gardens. The students have been involved in the design of the outdoor spaces and were so proud to share them with us as we walked around the grounds. Research suggests that we benefit greatly from stronger connections between indoor and outdoor spaces. At one point in the day, I stood at a large window and saw a gorgeous view I had never noticed before. Not all schools are blessed with good positioning but we can all do something to connect buildings more closely with nature. And there is natural light – plenty of it.
Making and creating are ever-present. Whether it is the dedicated lego room, the robotics equipment, the calligraphy brushes and ink in the art studio or the availability of tablets and laptops for investigating and creating…this is an interactive environment with the needs and interests of young learners firmly at its heart. While visually beautiful, the learning remains active and hands on.
I know there are many, many teachers that share the same commitment to the aesthetic of their space – to carefully consider the link between the physical, emotional and intellectual environments for learning. Taking time to think about and rethink the way we ‘curate’ the physical environment is time well spent. Much has been written about it over the years . If you are interested, you might find this recent infographic and related research write up from Teacher Magazine helpful:
As are the following posts by Craig Cantlie and Derek Pinchbeck
Perhaps the most telling moment of the morning came from the photographer working with me. It had been over 10 years since he had been inside a school. What did he say?
“I wish I had been given the opportunity to learn in a place like this. This doesn’t feel like ‘school’ – it feels like a place you would actually WANT want to come to in the morning…”
How do the physical/visual, emotional and intellectual elements of your learning spaces interact?
I was reading an interesting post from @langwitches in which she refers to @brholland’s slideshow from a recent ASCD conference. In true domino style, Beth’s post got Sylvia thinking and blogging and Sylivia’s post got me thinking and blogging! The issue being explored by these two educators was around what we are ‘looking for’ when we walk into a learning space/classroom. Beth raised a number of key questions that we can ask to help reflect more closely on the effective use of technologies. The post and slideshow are great…as is Sylvia’s sketched response to it. You can find them here: http://langwitches.org/blog/2015/04/09/used-effectively-or-simply-used/
As readers of this blog know, I pretty much obsess over all things inquiry. So of course, this got me thinking about the questions that roll around in my head when I enter a classroom. Most of the time, I am looking through an inquiry lens … looking for connections between what I see (and hear) going on and inquiry learning/ teaching. I am lucky. I get to walk into many, many different classrooms in many different places and I am often intrigued by the things that signal ‘inquiry’ to me and, equally, by the things that, well…don’t. So I am wondering: what questions do I ask?
Below are some that come to mind. Brainstorming this list has been a useful exercise in considering what might count as ‘evidence’ of inquiry – albeit in a ‘snapshot’ visit to a classroom. Obviously, one needs to spend more than a lesson in a classroom to really get a feel for the kind of learning habitat it creates BUT, Here’s my list anyway…I would love you to add to it!
- Are (thoughtful, connected) questions being asked by students?
- Are students’ questions visible and valued in the learning space?
- Are students ‘doing the learning’ rather than having the learning ‘done to them’?
- Are students doing the cognitive ‘heavy lifting’ or is the teacher doing all the hard thinking work?!
- Are students collaborating – teaching and learning with each other?
- Is there movement? Are students free to move around the learning space? Is there flexibility and fluidity here?
- Is the teacher moving around, interacting, observing (as opposed to standing and delivering)
- Is technology being used as a means to an end – to gather, sort and share learning?
- Can I see how this learning moment is part of a ‘bigger picture’ as opposed to being a fragmented/one-off activity?
- Do the students know why they are doing what they are doing? Is the teacher transparent in her/his discourse?
- Is there a sense of curiosity/wonder/intrigue/anticipation?
- Is the communication between the people in the space (teachers and learners alike) respectful and warm?
- Are the teachers excited/curious/engaged/energized?
- Is there some laughter? (the good kind)
- Does the physical/visual environment tell me something about the learning in this space? Can I connect with a narrative of inquiry? Are students using the visual environment to support them as independent learners?
- Can the students talk with me about their learning? Can they articulate not just what they are doing and why but HOW they are learning and why?
- Does this space make ME curious/engaged/intrigued? Does it invite me to want to learn, to be here, to participate, to investigate?
And, while I am at it, I also got to thinking about the things that act as ‘warning bells’ …. Perhaps a sign that a classroom might not be the best habitat for inquiry learning. It can concern me when I see/hear…
- Each child doing the same thing, the same way at the same time.
- Total, sustained silence.
- A noise level that makes it difficult for me to have a one-one conversation with a student
- Teachers doing much more talking than students
- Learning products on display (art work, worksheets, etc) that ALL LOOK MORE OR LESS EXACTLY THE SAME (yep – it still happens)
- Tables in rows
- NO space for students to gather in a circle/group
- The teacher at the desk.
- A teacher’s desk.
- Mess. Just plain old, can’t–be-bothered mess. Not the glorious creative chaos that comes with many inquiry experiences but just mess. Sorry…but inquiry requires organization, management a respect for the learning environment. Beauty, even. And yes. I have a thing about that.
- The interactive whiteboard being used as a chalkboard with buttons.
- No evidence of any use of digital technologies.
- Bright, beautiful, laminated things on walls but NO artifacts that share students’ learning
- Lots of commercially produced posters (even if they say good things, if that’s all that’s on the walls it makes me suspicious)
- No evidence of what the students are inquiring into. The classroom should tell that story in some way.
- Kids checking in with the teacher about everything…’Can I? Is it OK if? What do I do now? I don’t get how to…’
- Teachers raising their voice. A lot.
What questions would you add to those we might ask ourselves/others when looking at classrooms through an inquiry lens? And what are your warning bells?
As many readers of this blog will know, I have a particular interest in how we can best provide opportunities for children to inquire into the things that matter to THEM as well as the things that we might bring to them. I strongly believe in the value of what we might call ‘shared inquiry’ but I acknowledge its restrictions in a context that allows a much more diversified and differentiated approach.
In several of my partner schools, staff have worked hard to develop approaches to ‘personalised inquiry’ alongside more teacher initiated, shared inquiries. The work has been fascinating, complex, problematic and revealing – but the children tell us over and over again that they adore the chance to spread their wings, to investigate what intrigues them, to have more of a voice and to step outside the predictable content that dominates most of their school days. There is something deeply satisfying about walking into a learning space where some children are busily modifying recipes and preparing to cook, some are continuing with myth-busting style experiments, some are outside in the garden, some researching the relative fuel efficiency of various cars, some setting up an interview with a local author and another devising a digital survey to gather data about health and well being. The classroom becomes a microcosm of the world simultaneously explored by painters, scientists, sociologists, historians, geographers, activists, writers, musicians, engineers, chefs, naturalists …. I could go on!
Our efforts have been fueled by our desire to ‘walk the talk’ about the development of skills and dispositions critical to the 21C learner. In an increasingly, digital world, it is more possible than ever before, for students to pursue pathways of interest or personal need. Time to engage with our passions has many reported benefits for learning- none the least being increased motivation and engagement across the curriculum.
While the students have, in these sessions, much more autonomy over the content of their learning – the teachers’ emphasis is very strongly on skill development. Here is where itime is actually more about depth rather than breadth. There is a breadth of ‘content’ for sure , but it is the focused work on learning skills that gives it depth. Students do not simply choose a ‘project’ to work on – they are challenged to identify and strengthen their ‘learning assets’ through the process. They may well be spending time cooking a new kind of cup cake – but alongside this, they have chosen to work on skills in organization and time management. As they investigate the fuel efficiency of cars , they may have chosen to demonstrate their capacity to critically assess the trustworthiness of on-line sources. Students carefully prepare for each investigation by submitting a proposal and identifying how it will help them strengthen their learning skill set. They are required to reflect on and self assess their efforts. Their participation in the Itime workshops is not a given, they know they need to continue to demonstrate the responsibility that comes with this kind of freedom – and most do so in spades. In some of the upper primary classes I work in, the teachers also ask students to ensure their chosen investigations also connect to a broader conceptual theme. It’s complex and demanding work. Teachers, too, talk about the way this work has made them re-think what their students are capable of and how they have learned to be better inquiry teachers by focusing more strongly on building learning capacity and less on the ‘content’.
Earlier this year, a rather scathing article appeared in one of our major newspapers. The headline was:
“My son’s school taught him to cook and I was left with the maths”.
The basic premise of the article is summed up in this line:
“Like the (education) minister, I dream of a day when schools teach English and maths well and parents are left with the humbler responsibility of ensuring their child’s culinary, cultural and creative development.”
My heart sank. I should add that I do not work with the school involved and have no knowledge of context or program being criticised. I have no idea whether the criticisms are valid (they may well be) or whether this school uses any kind of inquiry based approach to learning – I don’t know the back story and, although tempted, I am not going to make inferences. But I think there is a lot we, as teachers, can reflect on, in response.
This article (and the many sympathetic comments made in response) reminds me again of the challenge we have in communicating why we do what we do to parents. Even in the classrooms I have described earlier, an outsider could be forgiven for thinking the students were simply having ‘free time’ at first glance. (To be fair, in some schools – that may indeed be the case. I have seen several well intended versions of ‘itime’ or ‘genius hour’ that are simply glorified project work or time-wasting ‘activity! ’)
I remain committed to ensuring that the spirit of inquiry, curiosity and creativity are nurtured within the school environment. I believe this is our professional responsibility as teachers, alongside and within our critical role in developing literacy and numeracy skills. It is also our responsibility to ensure that we communicate the value of and rigor in the contemporary work we do to parents and to the students themselves.
Taking on the challenge of ‘personalised inquiry’ is not for the faint hearted – nor for the ill informed teacher. We need to be crystal clear about the broader learning intentions of such things as passion projects or itime. This means, amongst other things:
- taking time to develop clear criteria and guidelines with students
- agreeing on ways to ensure accountability
- explicitly identifying the skill sets accompanying the learning tasks students design
- building self assessment and reflection into the process
- using this as a context for assessment – particularly of transdisciplinary skills
And it is not enough to be well-informed and clear within the school . We need to find ways to invite and involve the wider community so they, too, understand that there is a lot more to it than making cupcakes.
In fact, the cupcakes are the least of it.
How can we ensure that attempts to provide more personal choice, voice, creative and investigative opportunities are truly adding value to student learning?
How do we build better partnerships with parents to strengthen communication and understanding around new learning for new times?