Monday, April 02, 2007

Kath Murdoch - Inquiry - Part Two

Firstly let me urge you to take a look at Kath's book "Classroom Connections" which will do much more justice to the Inquiry model than I will do here.

Kath begins today's workshop with a powerful quote:

"If people are given the skills and tools to use, and presented with a range of potentially powerful educative experiences, then given freedom, they will almost invariably choose one and get on with it. Once learners get in touch with their own sense of personal power ... get out of their way and watch in awe" (Edwards, 2004)

This quote made me think of something Sheryl mentioned in her keynote at TUANZ: You need to own it to give it away. You need to see the value in the inquiry process to use it effectively in your classroom. Your students also need to see the value in the process and be familiar with it to use it independently according to their age and stage.

The first focus of the day was on planning. It is a misconception that there is no planning involved in Inquiry, quite the opposite. What I took the most from this section of the day was the importance of including the students in the planning stage in some way and the need to have clarity about what we want our students to understand, to do, and to be.

Planning starts with a big question, eg, "what is a hero?" which is followed by the key understandings that you want your students to have. These need to be demonstrable and are written as statements.

Kath gave a vivid illustration of the inquiry process, she stated that taking students through the understandings in an inquiry is like taking them through a colour shade chart from the pale understandings through to the deeper understandings.

It is really important to spend the time to make sure that your understandings are robust. Do they do what you need them to do? How will you know if your students have achieved these understandings? What skills will your students need? What might your students do with this learning?

Kath shared an idea that really grabbed me when discussing skills. Some teachers that she had worked with had broken down their essential skills into 'kid speak'
  • Me as a thinker,
  • Me as a communicator,
  • Me as an ICT user,
  • Me as a team member,
  • Me as a learner.

This fits really well with the New Zealand Key Competencies. (An excellent paper on unpacking the key competencies is entitled "The nature of the Key competencies" and can be found through the link above.) I will take this idea away and make it fit my school and my context. Something from the inquiry should relate to these skill sets. My thinking is that I would put these headings up around the room and put activities we might use under each one as we learn new tools, for example I might teach mind mapping as a tool and put an example under 'me as a thinker'. Students could create a poster to represent the new tool they have learnt, such as think, pair, share. How much more powerful will that poster be than one bought from a shop! Kids can self assess how they are going with learning these skills through the year. You could keep these on the wall throughout the year building on the skills as you go.

Kath states: "What makes it powerful is sharing it with the kids."

Kids could also create a grid with the headings: Thinking tools, what is it? what is it used for? when is it used? during the year as they learn them. This could also be made as a class book (thanks Esmay).

The next part of the workshop looked at the actual process of Kath's inquiry model. The steps involved are: (for a more comprehensive look at the stages you can see Kath's books 'Classroom Connections' and 'Focus on Inquiry' or visit this website.)
  • Tuning in
  • Finding out
  • Sorting out
  • Going further
  • Concluding, reflecting and acting
Tuning in is about assessing where students are at and enaging them. It is about tuning into the students as well. The wonderings (where students formulate questions) are part of the tuning in but will continue throughout the inquiry.

It is a good idea to ask students their theories during this phase and record them, coming back to them many times during the inquiry and having them see if their theories still fit. This is a good way to see how their thinking is changing throughout the inquiry. Getting kids to demonstrate their understandings before the unit gives you baseline data and can be repeated throughout the unit to look for changes in understandings.

The finding out phase of the inquiry entails students having real experiences, gathering real data and finding out how to find out.

The sorting out phase is where you make sense of the data gathered in the previous phase. Remember this is not a strict linear model, students can find out and sort out all through the inquiry. Students can use the arts to represent understandings, use poetry and language, mind mapping and thinking tools. Think about what did the information tell us, what did it make us wonder. Use reflective thinking tools.

The next phase of the inquiry model, Going Further, is the phase where most junior teachers tell me that it is not possible to do this with their students. Kath exhorts that we must make the commitment to giving kids choice and ownership of their learning. This can be closely negotiated, contracted etc. It doesn't mean giving the kids free range. An example for juniors is to set up learning stations with a contract where they tick off when they have finished the activity and draw a smiley face to show how they felt about it. This starts them off on the journey to being self directed learners. We need to build the skills in students to be able to enter the going further stage.

Guide the students through their going further process by using the same steps in the inquiry. Support them all the way. It doesn't always have to be individual it can be a group of students. The key to making this phase work is organisation!

Lastly, (not really lastly but continually!) students should be drawing conclusions at every phase of the inquiry using reflection strategies, evaluating and re-evaluating their theories, and reviewing both content and the process.

Some reading for further understandings suggested by Kath:

  • Inquiry based learning using everyday objects, Alvarado and Therr
  • Talking their way into science, Karen Gallas, Teachers' College Press:NY, 1995.
  • Reading for meaning, Debbie Miller

Starting with such a strong quote, we can only finish with one just as thought provoking.

"When we adults think of children there is a simple truth that we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life; childhood is life. A child isn't getting ready to live; a child is living. No child will miss the zest and joy of living unless these are denied by adults who have convinced themselves that childhood is a period of preparation. How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognise children as partners with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing them as apprentices. How much we could teach each other; we have the experience and they have the freshness. How full both our lives could be." John A. Taylor, Notes on an unhurried Journey.

Thank you Kath for an inspiring two days. I am processing this information to use with adult learning and I am buzzing at the possibilities. I hope my notes have done your inquiry model justice. It is a privilege, after reading your books, to actually hear the process from the person who molded it into existence.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for giving me help with Inquiry Learning. Kath sets things out well for me to understand.

I am going to print out your posts and re-read them in the holidays. Just to show that I am not completely a digital native.

Jane Nicholls said...

You and I, allanah, are adopted I think. Not natives, but definitely not immigrants. I wonder what they would call the inbetweens?

Anonymous said...

Debby Said

Wow..really great job-you've done very great literature review and link with others materials..

I'm really enjoying your comments through this blog..

Thank you very much..