Chapter 6- How do we establish a culture of inquiry in the classroom?

I choose to start this study with chapter six because this is at the heart of my professional development plan. For several years I've been searching for the best way to execute the "ideal" intervention program that meets the goals of my district. I'm very fortunate to be in a district that encourages growth and change, strong collaborative teamwork, and inquiry. So this has been, and I'm sure will continue to be, an ongoing learning process.

You might be thinking McTighe & Wiggins  put this chapter at the end for a reason.  And I'm sure they did have their reasons. For me, understanding the 8 elements that support  a culture of inquiry is the first step in understanding why and how essential questions are so important. Wiggins & Grant mention and at the beginning of this chapter that the longer students are in school the lower their levels of curiosity regarding academics becomes.  This breaks my heart. I do however, love that they focus on what we can do to change this.

The first element of supporting a culture of inquiry is to reflect & analyze whether or not our teaching practices align with our goals.  We all want our kiddos to be self-regulated critical thinkers. But do we show them that in our traditional teaching methods?

I like how they break learning goals into 3 types and explain the teacher's role in each. If you've not read Wiggins & McTighe's Understanding by Design, you should. Reading this will help you better understand that  each learning goal has it place in our lessons and we must learn to balance them all. (such is life)

The next element is an important one. It includes understanding the role of the question, the teacher and the student. The role of the question is to establish that it is the question that  matters, not the answer. This is a tough one. If there is no right or wrong answer how do we  measure their learning? Right? I could tell you my thinking on this but I want you to have your own ideas. We can share in the comments below & in the forum.

The role of the teacher- what is our role? Are we "the almighty" givers of information or are we facilitators of student thinking? Is there a time for both?

The role of the student - It is very important that they understand how to have a conversation; that there is a time for them to speak and a time for them to listen. They need to understand  that  just because someone has a different response then theirs doesn't make their response right and the others wrong. They need to know how to continuously ask questions and probe for deeper understanding.

Another equally important element is establishing "norms" or explicit protocols for discussions. We're human. We require social interaction to stay emotionally and mentally healthy. Kids are no different. When we begin handing over our class to our students there needs to be clear guidelines and expectations that remain the same. How do you establish norms? Is it a discussion that you have with your students? Or are they in place before your students enter the classroom?

Let's not forget one of the most important elements of supporting an inquisitive culture - establishing a safe and supportive environment. We are afraid of failure. We don't want to look dumb or say the wrong thing so sometimes we don't say anything at all. I imagine this is what our students feel like when our discussions are led by questions that require a "correct" answer. Or when they do speak up and others don't agree and they get shamed.

 It is vital that a culture of respect be established right away. No answers are wrong -  some just need a little more discussion and/or explanation.  Our kids need to know that, respect that and practice that. It will make them more productive members of society when they do find them selves out in the "real world."

Walking into any learning space will immediately clue you into how things work. When I walk into a traditional classroom with desks all facing forward in straight rows I see compliance. I see teachers as lecturers and students as vessels having a hard time filling up. When I walk into a room that has desks in "pods" facing a team of classmates collaborating I see engagement. I see teachers moving around the space and facilitating thinking with individuals and small groups. These are things to keep in mind when creating a culture of inquiry in your classroom.

Follow Tara Looney's board Learning Spaces on Pinterest.

How we use our time inside & outside the classroom is vital in creating an inquiry culture. Being able to hand over your  "teaching" time and utilizing technology to give us opportunities to do some of our teaching outside of class, lends more in class time for inquiry and collaboration. This should be when you step in as the "facilitator" to guide deeper thinking about the topics at hand. 

We have several tools at our disposal that may be being used inappropriately. Textbooks and technology are tools not curriculum. How we use these tools will determine what we think education is. If we utilize these tools in such a manner that shows these are the skills that need to be mastered before they take this "test," then we are showing that we think education is about passing some test.  If we utilize these tools in a manner that shows these can be used to support creative, innovative, and collaborative work then we are showing that we think education is about being inquisitive, using creativity to problem solve and the ability to work collaboratively with a team.  What is your definition? Do you portray that to your students? their parents?

Last but certainly not least, element 8: How we use assessments. Wiggins and McTighe quote the old truism,"We measure what we value." So if we're measuring content recall and basic knowledge with our assessments then that's what they will see that we value. If we want them to know that we value inquiry, and in depth thinking we need to show that by using assessments  & rubrics that require inquisitive & thoughtful responses to inquisitive and thought provoking questions. How can we use this information in our classroom? How do we change thought processes of others to see the need for a change in how we assess?

Don't miss chapter 2's discussion Thursday, July 9th. Join in on the forum discussion, as well, by checking out the forum!

Don't forget the Twitter Chat Friday, July 10:

click here to get chapt. 2 study guide

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