The power of a provocation…

Whether it ignites an inquiry or shifts the gears of learning, if it’s fuelled by careful consideration and clear intentions, a ‘provocation‘ can drive powerful learning.

Considering the ‘power of provocations’ with our Lana Fleiszig recently, teachers explored the purpose of provocations, what could be used as provocation and the teacher’s role in the provocation process. The most important question, though, is what might the provocation reveal about our learners, their thinking and learning and where to next?

Our teachers collaboratively developed a list of questions to consider when designing provocations:

  • Might the provocation excite/engage the learners and ‘hook’ them into learning?
  • Might the provocation ignite curiosity and wonderings?
  • Is the provocation likely to generate questions?
  • Is the provocation likely to leave a lasting impression?
  • Is there a degree of complexity?
  • Might the provocation invite debate?
  • Might the provocation begin a conversation?
  • Might the provocation extend thinking?
  • Might the provocation reveal prior knowledge?
  • Is the provocation likely to uncover misconceptions?
  • Does the provocation transfer the ‘energy’ in the room from the teacher to the students?
  • Does the provocation have multiple entry points?
  • Can the provocation be revisited throughout the unit?
  • Might the provocation lead learners into a zone of confusion and discomfort?
  • Does the provocation relate to real life/their world?
  • Is the provocation inconspicuous and a little mysterious?
  • Might the provocation lead learners to broader concepts that tend to carry more relevance and universality?
  • Will the provocation make the best use of learning time and teacher preparation time?
  • Might the provocation be student initiated or documentation of their learning as a springboard?
  • Is the provocation likely to clarify the essence of what is being inquired into?
  • Is the provocation the right provocation for the time planned?
  • Might the provocation be best during the inquiry, rather than at the beginning?
  • Does this provocation elicit feelings?

We’re looking forward to taking it further in the coming ‘ Reveal’ workshop with Sam Sherratt exploring ‘what it means to be aware of, receptive to and curious about what our students are revealing to us so that we can be constantly inquiring into our students and adjusting our planning accordingly.’

Do you begin with a purposeful provocation and then plan in response to learning?

Empowering our learners…

One of the most exciting things we saw during our recent visit to ISHMC (International School of Ho Chi Minh City, where Sam Sherratt is based) was the unstructured inquiry set up in a Grade 4 class by Adrian Watts, the principal.

Learners were given a choice between four different explorations (although they didn’t know the precise task until after they had selected what seemed interesting to them):

  • Reassemble a computer so that it works.
  • Fix the motor on a scooter.
  • Knit a finger puppet.
  • Sew a pair of trousers that fits someone in your group.

Participants were permitted just three questions over the course of the day. It was interesting to observe the thoughtful way they approached this, writing down possible questions and carefully considering what and whom they would ask.

It was more difficult for the observing adults to adhere to the rules. Most found it hard to overcome their natural inclination to step in and help, instead of stand back and observe the learning (and the range of trans disciplinary skills in action).

What did we observe during this exercise in child driven learning?

  • learner agency and empowerment.
  • total engagement in meaningful learning experiences.
  • curiosity and willingness to experiment.
  • competence, creativity and problem solving.
  • resourcefulness and fearlessness in approaching the unknown.
  • interesting group dynamics and differing gender biases within groups.
  • risk taking, learning from failure, persistence and resilience… in varying degrees.
  • collaborative decision making.
  • and more…

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The transferable messages…

We need to believe that children are capable, curious, competent and creative and, given the opportunities and encouragement, can lead their own learning.

We need to rethink contexts where the teacher controls the learning and the students jump through hoops set in front of them by the teacher, the school or the system.

We need to stop ‘doing school’ and think about what it means to really learn, because real learning often has very little to do with traditional notions of school.

Should we focus on teaching or learning?

Inquiry happens when you focus on the art of teaching.” Kath Murdoch.

This is an interesting moment in Kath’s conversation with teachers. I lose focus on my note-taking as I pursue this thought… I tend to say ‘focus less on teaching and more on learning’, and here is Kath Murdoch, inquiry guru, expressing what, on the face of it, seems to be just the opposite.

Kath has spent the week with teachers at my school, provoking thinking, that of teachers and students alike, modelling in classrooms and then collaboratively analysing teachers’ observations. The conversations during the week have been as valuable for teachers as the classroom observations, especially the final day reflections, when teachers draw out the big ideas in response to Kath’s question:

What does it mean to have an inquiry stance in our teaching?

After the session, I attempt to categorise the teachers’ ideas under conceptual headings. The more I think about their statements, the more my categories overlap. I consider first Kath’s shared list of inquiry practices and then Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces. In the end it comes down to a handful of big ideas, for me…

  • Language:  Use a language of learning not compliance. Choose language that supports learners in describing and reflecting on their thinking and learning.
  • Process:  Focus as much on the process of learning as the content. Use split screen teaching. Notice and name how we are learning, not just what we are leaning.
  • Release:  Let go of your expectations and allow students to lead. Ensure the learners do the heavy lifting. Release responsibility as early as possible, then observe where to take the learning next.
  • Teacher as learner:  Position yourself as part of the learning community, not as the expert in the room, both physically and through your interactions. Make your own thinking process visible.
  • Time:   Do less, but do it more deeply. Devote time to developing learning dispositions. Give children time to reflect on how and why they change their ideas or thinking.

But, even as I elaborate on these, I notice they are further interconnected. I keep going back to change and revise them. It’s impossible to separate ‘using the language of learning’ from the notion of ‘teacher as part of the learning community’… or the ‘focus on process’ from the notion of time…

And, in a moment of clarity, I see that Kath and I are talking about the same thing… The ‘art of teaching’ IS knowing how to focus on the learning.

Everything is an assessment…

What would happen if we didn’t have numbers?

Rubi poses this question to her Year 5 class, as a provocation,  generating wonderful ideas and discussion…

  • We couldn’t build houses because we’d have no units of measurement.
  • No price tags. Everything would be free.
  • You wouldn’t know your age.
  • There wouldn’t be computer technology if there were no binary numbers.

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One student declares ‘We wouldn’t have time’ to which another responds ‘There would still be time, just no way to record it’…and they are on their way to a deeper conceptual understanding.

As Rubi shares the conversation with me, we are excited, not just by the kinds of things the children have thought about, but by the power of a simple open-ended question to  provoke thinking and inspire discussion.

She tells me she had planned to give a Maths pre-test during that lesson but, swept along by the comments, questions and conversation, had forgotten all about it. I point out that everything is an assessment. She agrees that she has gathered a broad range of data via this discussion, not just in terms of their understanding of the content, but about her students as learners. She can tell:

  • What they know about numbers.
  • Who understands the difference between time and the recording of time.
  • Their understanding of the application of numbers.
  • Which learners think in a complex way, beyond what’s on the surface.
  • How open each learner is to debate and ideas that challenge their thinking.
  • Which students are already engaging with higher order thinking and which might need support.
  • Who is naturally curious and eager to learn.
  • Which children think they are not interested in Maths and are turned off by talk of numbers.
  • Who is ready to take ownership of their learning and run with their own inquiries.
  • Who will need another provocation that engage them further…

Our school goal for the year is to use data to inform teaching and improve learning. While many think of data as the formal, numerical kind, it’s interesting how much informal data can be gleaned from careful observation and really listening to the learning. This is how good inquiry teachers decide where to go next.

Plan in response to learning, not in advance…

Orientation for new teachers…

Original plan posted at Inquire Within.  Modified below, including reflection and follow-up.

Learning takes place through inquiry.

Learning is most meaningful when the learners have choice in how they learn, as well as opportunities to wonder, explore and construct meaning for themselves.

This is why we chose to structure our new staff orientation in the form of an inquiry

As part of a broader introduction to the PYP, our new teachers explored concept based learning, one of the essential elements of the PYP. They developed their understanding of the conceptual approach by using the PYP key concepts as a lens through which to generate questions about our school.

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The next step was an inquiry, via which they had the opportunity to actively find out about their new school, rather than passively sit and listen to us ‘tell them stuff‘…

Central idea:

Each school has a unique culture, beliefs and approaches.

Suggested lines of inquiry:

  • Cultural beliefs and values of our school
  • Our learning principles
  • The learning environment
  • Roles and responsibilities within our school
  • Our written curriculum

Participants worked in groups to select questions from those generated in the concept exercise and/or formulate new questions, based on what they felt they needed to know, before setting off to find answers that would help them learn about the school.

The following resources were at their disposal:

  • The school environment
  • The learning resource centre
  • Members of the school community who were present to support, demonstrate, facilitate, encourage and respond to questions
  • Access to curriculum documents

In truth, we had no idea how this would work out or to what degree it would be successful. But isn’t that how the best inquiries unfold?

It was gratifying to see the new teachers engaging informally with the principal, the head of primary, campus coordinators and other members of the staff  who volunteered to participate.

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At the end of two days of orientation (one an introduction to the PYP, the other an informal inquiry into our school) we asked each of our newest members of staff to sum up how they are now feeling in one word. They said they felt:
inspired, excited, reassured, welcome, safe, supported, motivated, energised, informed… and one said that the PYP at our school is ‘real’. (an interesting observation, which might provoke thinking…)

It sounds as if our approach was successful and we achieved our objectives:

  • Understand what our school believes and values about learning.
  • Begin to build relationships and feel part of our dynamic learning culture.
  • Acquire the information required to start the year safely and successfully.
  • An overview of the PYP in our particular context.

It was exciting for us to see how much our new teachers, with their broad range of educational and life experience, will bring to our school. We look forward to learning with them!

Read Anne knocks recent post, about her school’s plan for  ‘onboarding’ new staff (perhaps we’ll borrow that term next year). What’s your school’s approach?

 

What does inquiry learning look like?

Our PYP evaluation went really well and it was gratifying to hear the evaluators’ positive observations of our school.

They talked about our dynamic learning spaces, the energy of our teachers and learners and the respect that is evident between staff and students. They were impressed by how articulate our students are and the openness of our teachers. It was clear to them that the entire school community has a deep understanding of the PYP philosophy and that we have a strong culture of learning.

Almost all their recommendations are things on which we are either working already or have identified for action through the self study.

There’s only one thing I found jarring in their feedback and it relates to my beliefs about inquiry learning. They noted that neither students nor teachers seem able to identify what particular inquiry cycles we follow. They said the children to whom they spoke didn’t seem to be aware of the specific ‘stages’ of inquiry and that most teachers couldn’t articulate how an inquiry cycle directs our planning.

To be honest, I’m glad.

If it’s something we need to clarify, we will, of course, and perhaps it will be helpful for newer teachers to be aware of some of the inquiry cycles we have visited along the way. Over time, we have worked with both Kath Murdoch’s and Kathy Short’s inquiry cycles and examined some others. But I’m proud of the fact that most of us no longer need to use a specific inquiry model to guide our planning for inquiry – our planning looks more like this and this.

We’ve worked hard to develop an understanding that inquiry learning is messy and NOT limited to a step by step approach. True inquiry learning is neither linear nor cyclical, but rather moves back and forth between the different stages identified by most of the inquiry models.

Kath Murdoch herself, whose inquiry cycle is slavishly followed in many schools writes this – ‘ It’s hard to do justice to the complexities and nuances of inquiry in writing. So much gets lost. Something that is rich, layered and multidimensional can come across as flat, linear and recipe-like. Over the years, I have published several books that share a ‘cycle of inquiry’ and the kinds of learning engagements that we might design within a cycle. I have seen hundreds of interpretations of this idea in classrooms. Many have been gratifying and exciting. Teachers who really ‘get’ the intention, understand the complexity and invite their students into the learning have blown me away with what they have done. And I have also seen (and heard) many bewildering versions or iterations of the cycle that are such a long way off the original conceptualization and intent! Ironically, I have seen slavish adherence to a cycle actually impede rather than enhance inquiry.’ (Read the whole post here.)

Interestingly, I remember that educators who did the IB workshop leader training with me, when engaging in our own inquiries, all noticed that our learning journeys did not follow the inquiry models on which we were supposed to base our inquiries. Participants realised that the inquiry process moves back and forth between asking, investigating, reflecting, connecting and constructing meaning. Some groups found they even shifted between more than one ‘model’. I recall that some of the high school teachers in particular, less familiar with this kind of learning, admitted to feeling a degree of discomfort. But it’s the kind of positive tension that leads to authentic learning.

If anything, I rather like the star shaped model, based on the work of Barbara Stripling, which Dave Truss of the Inquiry Hub wrote about a while ago. I like the idea of ‘inquiry points’ much more than the more common models of ‘inquiry cycles’. Inquiry can start at any of the points and bounce between them, rather than moving in a defined order. Too often in (so called) inquiry learning contexts, teaching and learning follow a prescribed order, as per one or another inquiry model.

I’m proud to work in a school where inquiry is a natural, non-linear process and teachers are encouraged to listen to the children’s learning and plan responsively, rather than follow a prescribed path that has been set in advance. This is true inquiry. It has no map, no set pattern and it can be messy…

It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen…

“It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen”… This is the crux of Sugata Mitra’s message, whether he is talking about minimally invasive education, self organised learning environments or the School in the Cloud.

It’s very different from traditional approaches to education, but not so far removed from the student centred, inquiry driven learning that takes place at my school.

My colleague Jocelyn, with the task of teaching her spelling group Latin and Greek derivations, decides to let go even more than usual and use the SOLE approach.

She begins with Sugata’s ‘Child Driven Education’ TED talk as an introduction to provoke their thinking. All she does is show the video and ask her eleven/twelve-year-old learners to make observations and connections…

  • You don’t need a teacher to teach you If you want to learn.
  • It’s like a process – we learn from each other just like the kids in India at the hole in the wall.
  • If we do our own exploration, we will learn more skills.
  • If we find out and understand for ourselves where spelling comes from, we are more likely to learn it and remember.
  • We can choose what we want to learn and we learn more when we are passionate about it.
  • When you set your mind to something you can do it.
  • Sometimes we just need someone to look over and tell us we are good.
  • You need curiosity to learn.
  • Kids learn by themselves. If they have an interest they will learn.
  • Learn how kids want to learn and they will learn.

In the next lesson, Joc introduces the ‘big question’ – How have other languages influenced English words?  She explains that in self organised learning environments, learners are free to choose their own groups and to move freely between groups. They will need to present their learning to others in an engaging way at the end.

And then… she lets the learning happen!

Marty forms a group of six and suggests they go through each step of the information process -define, locate, select, organise, present. By the end of the lesson, they have broken the big questions down into three inquiry questions and begun to explore. They will consider many ways to present but only choose later, so that they will be able to see the mode of presentation that suits best.

Raf’s group realises they need some background knowledge as they only know a little about Greek and Latin roots. They immediately start researching and are very excited to find out that the English language has developed over time from so many different sources. They are intrigued to discover the extent to which wars have influenced the language.

Each of the groups decides how they want to approach the learning and every group is different.

Every one of our learning principles underpins this inquiry

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

The learners are highly engaged and motivated. The teacher sits back and observes the learning unfold…

This is how inquiry teachers teach!

Traditional pedagogy sees the teacher provide a set of instructions, make sure everyone ‘knows what to do’, explain everything and THEN students might be given some time to do a task themselves. It’s about 80% teacher led and 20% student. Inquiry-based pedagogy gets kids doing, thinking and investigating – and the explicit teaching happens in response to what the teacher sees and hears. The 80:20 ration is reversed. Good inquiry teachers know how to get more kids thinking more deeply more of the time.

– Kath Murdoch, How do Inquiry Teachers… teach?

Jocelyn (Year 6) shares her excitement at the way her students extracted the conceptual ideas from a series of learning engagements before collaboratively developing their own ‘central ideas’. We recall a time when we thought we had to explain all of this to our learners at the beginning of the unit!

Claire (Year 5) talks about how she provoked her students’ curiosity by asking simply ‘Can graphs be persuasive?’ Instead of Claire covering the material, the kids took off on their own inquiries, discovering different kinds of graphs themselves and making connections between maths (data) literacy (persuasive writing) and their unit of inquiry into digital citizenship.

Hailey (Year 4) reflects on the process of letting go of control, as her students develop the skills to take responsibility for their own learning. She’s practising what Guy Claxton calls split screen teaching, and her kids are using the language of ‘learnacy’ to reflect on their own learning. ‘Metacognition’, once a word teachers hardly understood themselves, let alone shared with learners, is not only practised but noticed and named by Hailey’s students.

Linda (eLearning Facilitator) tells us how she’s been supporting learners in discovering effective search strategies in an authentic context in year 5. As the children googled what they needed, they uncovered what kinds of sites would give them unbiased information and she was able to respond with tips at their point of need. She highlights the difference between this kind of learning and the old way… where she would stand and teach an isolated lesson on a particular computer skill, unrelated to any particular learning context.

Lana (Maths Coordinator) shares the excitement of one of our new teachers, developing her understanding of inquiry. She took her Year 2 students out for a walk to collect data and encouraged them to observe and count whatever they like, to be represented visually later back at school. Once she would have given them all the same boring worksheet with specific items to count. This time the learners are highly engaged as they notice their surroundings, independently recording their observations and wonderings.

We relate all these shared learning experiences back to Kath Murdoch’s latest blog post ‘How do inquiry teachers… teach?’  (Every teacher should read it!)

Kath’s post is our inspiration at today’s Learning Team Leaders meeting, one of a range of such communities of practice which exist within our school’s wider learning community. Sharing practice and professional dialogue are part of our culture. Inspirational blog posts such as this one are often the trigger for our discussions.

There is nothing quite so satisfying in a school as the passion in the voices of teachers, as they talk animatedly about teaching and learning, ask provocative questions, openly express frustrations, offer each other advice and support…

The challenge is to create enough time, within the hectic demands of school life, for everyone to be involved in these conversations.

Building an understanding of digital citizenship…

What do these two words mean?

consume           create

Everyone in the class knows what ‘create’ means but only a few are familiar with the word ‘consume’. mostly in the context of eating, although one girl says ‘It’s when you take something in, for instance information’.

We use breakfast as our example and they get the idea that making the eggs could be seen as creating and eating them as consuming. We deliberately do not use a dictionary, so that they construct meaning for themselves, rather than narrow down their understanding with a fixed definition at the start.

In groups, the children then brainstorm all the things they do in a day, making sure every item includes a verb – watch TV, play Minecraft, eat lunch, write a story…

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Using two colours, they highlight which of these are consuming and which are creating. The conversations are rich, as they build their understanding and discover that it’s not either/or, that some are both and some are neither… maybe.

Which of their daily activities are digital? In new groups, they now brainstorm their digital activities, taking care to include verbs, so that, for instance, ’email’ becomes ‘read email’ and ‘write email’…

They are already discussing consuming vs creating before we even ask the question. They are totally engaged and, apart from building their understanding of the desired concepts, so many trans-disciplinary skills are evident – communication, thinking and social skills – and, quite incidentally, a host of outcomes from the English scope and sequence.

At the end they write down what they understand about creating and consuming now…

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They’re clearly ready to move ahead in developing the desired conceptual understandings in this unit of inquiry…

CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING BEGINNING DEVELOPING ESTABLISHED
We need to think critically about digital content that we view and create.

Reflection

I don’t think critically about digital content.I believe what I read on the internet.

I don’t think critically about what I post online.

 

I understand that not everything on the internet might be valid or true and can explain why.I can give some some examples of how I consider audience and purpose when I create digital content online.

 

I can explain how to assess if a website is reliable or not.I can identify and analyse techniques used to influence consumers.

I choose appropriate techniques to communicate creatively and  effectively online and can give examples.

People are responsible for digital content they create.

Responsibility

I can give some examples of how I can be responsible online.  I can explain how things I post online can affect my own reputation.I can explain how things I post online can affect the wellbeing of others. I take responsibility for my digital footprint and can explain how and why I do this.I can demonstrate my positive digital footprint.

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The internet enables us to communicate and collaborate with people all over the world.

Connection

I can identify ways that I communicate with others online.  I can compare and evaluate different tools for online communication and collaboration. I connect, communicate and collaborate with people online and can say what I have learned from my interactions.

Our learners are gearing up to connect with kids in other parts of Australia as well as India, Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, Canada and other countries via Skype, Twitter and blogs. And they are already asking a range of interesting questions into which they might inquire!

In addition to refining this unit of inquiry with the Year 5 teachers at my school, I’ll be leading an IB workshop on Digital Citizenship in Melbourne in May, so feedback, resources, ideas and other perspectives are invited.  Please leave a comment!