Planning in response to learning…

It’s a joy to visit the kindergarten room,  where the 4 year olds have been inquiring into the needs of all kinds of living things. Debbie talks me excitedly through the purposeful displays in the room and I’m amazed by the depth of the children’s wonderings from their nature walk.

‘Why do seagulls need beaks?’ ‘Why can birds walk on power lines?’ ‘How long will it take for the buds to open?’ ‘Why does the snail go into the shell when I touch it?’

She shows me the interactive tables and thoughtful corners she has set up in response to the children’s questions, and the fabulous picture books she will read them to develop their thinking further.

Kindergarten teachers like Deb excel at observing and recording student’s thinking and then creating relevant learning experiences in response. We have much to learn from them. 

We used to spend a whole day (really) planning new units of inquiry in advance. Where was the room for inquiry?! These days we make sure we know what direction we want the learning to take in terms of conceptual understandings, check curriculum requirements for basic knowledge, consider what skills might be required, plan a couple of strong provocations to arouse curiosity and get kids thinking about the big ideas right away… and then we wait and see.

We’re constantly trying to improve at listening to the learning – observing and recording students’ thinking, then planning responsively from there… like the kinder teachers do.

I meet with the Year 4 team to take a collaborative look at the students’ questions and wonderings, a week into their latest unit of inquiry. We spend some time unpacking the thinking, considering what kind of direction some kids might need now, who might need further provocation and who’s ready to run with their own inquiries. The team suggests ways to help engage kids who haven’t yet connected with the big ideas and how to encourage those who have.

The teachers talk passionately about the learning that takes place when they let go of control to the learners.

Liam says that he and his co-teacher Jina talk after every session to plan further learning engagements responsively. “We make up our minds every day!” he says and adds that it’s been an eye opener for him this year. “I used to need a linear plan. That’s the way I was brought up.” He adds cheerfully that he used to think letting the students lead the learning was ‘a load of bull…’ till he finally let go and saw the powerful learning that ensued.

Another day, Rubi and I meet in her free period to go through, one by one, the cards on which her students have written their thinking. They have been exploring how cultural beliefs and values influence identity and their questions include aspects of Aboriginal culture (which was their case study) and a wide range of other related wonderings about their own and other cultures too.

We can see which provocations have excited different students and how individual learners have connected to the big ideas in different ways. We note which kids are ready to fly with their own inquiries and which still need some support. We consider some one-on-one conversations to help a few of the learners clarify what interests them and why they care.

Rubi groups the related questions so that her kids can have the option of inquiring collaboratively. We discuss some primary sources with which the kids might engage now to further their inquiries. She tells me about one girl who likes to interview people in the community and another whose passion for art is driving her inquiry. Rubi knows her students well and will support and encourage them accordingly.

What happens next? It depends… We couldn’t plan in advance for this kind of learning, if we tried. 

And a final word from inquiry guru Kath Murdoch, in response to my other post:

One of my favourite moments in the planning process is when we ask : ‘So, what are our students revealing to us – and where do we go from here?’ This is true, responsive, organic planning that honours student voice. And it’s sooooo much more satisfying than simply coming up with ‘good activities’. ” Amen.

24 thoughts on “Planning in response to learning…

  1. Hi Edna, Would it be possible to use a couple of your blog posts as readings in a PD I’m running with staff? I work in an IB PYP school and would love the staff to have some time reading a variety of posts I have highlighted. If so, am I able to print them for those who don’t have computer access there? Thanks for your wonderful insights and thought provoking posts 🙂


  2. I’m in total agreement. Of course in many subject disciplines (I’m a secondary teacher) curricula are packed to a degree that makes it very difficult to responsively incorporate arising inquiries. It’s a contradiction which needs to be dealt with at the curriculum level.


  3. I completely agree with teachers not trying to be in control of their students’ learning as much as they think they need to. Give students time to ask the questions they want to and ask questions that encourage creativity! Great Post!


    1. We go through the curriculum requirements in advance and make sure we include important conceptual ideas and might plan a few learning experiences that address the big ideas. I think it’s important to see beyond ‘delivery of facts’ in prescribed curricula and to make the curriculum your own.


  4. I can relate to your comments re visiting the kindergarten room! I have a class of 5 year olds and we have been using strong provocations and following the lead of the children since our work with guru Kath Murdoch. Our children are blossoming with oral language, curiosity and wonderings. It has been refreshing to be able to scaffold children’s learning in a different direction and the motivation, engagement and interest has been so high – all through the observation and creating relevant learning experiences. I need to explore more the recording of it as this is very much teacher driven at early stages. Any ideas or suggestions please? Great work Edna


    1. Hi Lynda, this is Deb. I also have 5 year olds. When I record the children’s thinking I try and make it as visual as possible for them e.g.hoola hoop Venn diagrams for sorting – then photographed and displayed for future discussion and reference.
      Letting the children use mini iPads for photo inquiry – printing out their photos and asking them what they are wondering or curious about – how can we find out.? Always writing down their words.
      I try keep their Wonderings in display books in the book corner all year so that even when the unit of inquiry is over they know that their thinking is still valued and can keep on asking questions.
      Hope this helps a bit!


  5. This is so true. I just moved to a new school and found the first unit so difficult because it was completely teacher led. Now my year 2 class are well into their 2nd unit and, after ensuring that they had connected fully and understood the central idea and lines of inquiry, they’ve come up with a whole bunch of fantastic questions and are ready to go!


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