Liberating the program of inquiry…

What if we develop a new whole school unit of inquiry, linked to our whole school focus?

What if teachers and learners focus on the same inquiry?

What if we critically evaluate all our units against a list of criteria generated by both teachers and learners?

What if units do not follow one after another, but rather overlap and intersect?

What if some units are year long, some short, some ongoing… depending on content, concepts, trans disciplinary possibilities and student interest?

What if we actively seek unexpected combinations of learning areas, like science and poetry?

What if one unit incorporates two trans disciplinary themes?

What if we wait to develop the lines of inquiry till we see where the learners want to take it?

What if we we have the same central idea for all the classes at one grade level, but each group of learners develop their own lines of inquiry?

What if we analyse our program of inquiry in terms of the concentric circle model and check the balance between opportunities for self discovery and thinking beyond ourselves?

What if all units focus not just on developing knowledge and understanding, but on developing human beings?

What if every grade level has at least one unit that is individual and personal, student selected and student driven?

What if we liberate ourselves from the traditional curriculum prison and explore new vistas? 

These are some of the questions we are considering as we head into the annual review of our Program of Inquiry . We have already experimented with some of these ideas.  How might we shift thinking and learning even further, for both teachers and students? What else might we explore? 

I used to think the POI review was about checking for curricular alignment and conceptual development… Now I think it’s about asking evenmore beautiful questions’.

What do you notice about yourself as a teacher?

It’s exciting to see teachers adopting the idea of thoughtfully considered reflective questions for themselves, as well as for the learners, in continued pursuit of the goal of developing the whole child – and the whole teacher! – rather than simply focusing on curriculum content.

If I want the children in my class to be creative, how might I encourage creative experimentation? How will I foster creative thinking and problem solving?

If I want to develop writers who consider audience and purpose in their writing, how will I help them find opportunities to write for an authentic audience?

If I think feedback is an important part of learning, how will I promote the giving and receiving of effective peer feedback?

If I want learners to be empathetic and understand different perspectives, how will I ensure that all points of view are considered to help them develop empathy?

If I want the next generation to make sustainable choices, how will I help them to understand the impact of their choices and to become thoughtful, principled global citizens?

If I want them to care about their environment, how will I foster a genuine sense of shared responsibility?

If I don’t want them to see mistakes as failure, how might I help learners use their struggles to develop resilience?

If I want my students to be positive, active digital citizens, how can I provide authentic contexts to practise digital citizenship? And how will I help them understand that positive active citizenship applies online or off?

In a recent collaborative planning session, while developing the notion of iTime (or Genius Hour) into an opportunity for self reflection and personal growth, the Year 6 team took this type of reflective questioning to another level!

What do I notice about myself as a teacher?

What skills and dispositions do I need to develop as a teacher…?

 

Planning (but not too much) for inquiry…

 

There were so many things to be excited about during the planning of this unit with our Year 1 team:

  • the honest reflection of the teachers who engaged in this inquiry last year and their willingness to view it through fresh eyes;
  • the openness of the teachers for whom the unit is new and the ideas they bring to the learning process;
  • how far we have come from the days when we thought we had to plan the whole inquiry in advance;
  • our split screen approach to planning, in which we simultaneously consider the unit and the format of the new planner we are designing;
  • the opportunities for the development of the whole child, both as a curious scientist and as a human being who cares about animals;
  • the authentic learning that will arise from having caterpillars, chickens and rabbits in the learning space;
  • the teachers’ own inquiry into how best to provoke, support and encourage the children’s inquiry;
  • the agency learners will have as they help care for the animals, share their wonderings to lead the inquiry, develop their own theories, find the best ways to document their observations and choose how they might like to present their learning…

and now, the wonderful possibilities arising from the children’s initial wonderings:

  • I wonder if they eat their poo.
  • I wonder what patterns they will have on their wings.
  • I wonder what they do when no-one is there…

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?

10 ways to make learning meaningful…

Whether your students are completing assignments, inquiring into areas of their interest, covering curriculum or exploring their passions, to what extent does it feel (to you, as much as to them) as if they are simply complying and ‘doing school’?

How can we extend learning ‘beyond the project’ and ensure it’s a powerful learning experience, rather than a task for school? (Hint: the answer does not lie in assessment criteria, rubrics or grades.)

1. Do you LISTEN more than you talk?

2. Are the learners really inquiring, in the broadest sense of the word?

Look at the description of inquiry from Making the PYP Happen. Are they doing most of these things? Or just researching?

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

3. Will this inquiry be worthwhile? Will the learners experience challenges and figure out how to overcome them?

Support them in feeling comfortable in the ‘learning pit’?

4. Is the inquiry concept driven? Are the learners doing more than just finding facts and information?

  • Are they exploring and developing an understanding of big conceptual ideas.  
  • Are they looking through the lens of one or more key concepts?
  • Can they identify big ideas and apply them in other contexts?
  • Can they articulate conceptual understandings developed along the way?

5.  Do the learners have ownership? Will this inquiry help them grow, not just in knowledge of content, but as learners?

Some questions to support their ongoing reflection:

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6. Are the learners thinking critically and creatively about the content they explore?

A variety of less common thinking routines that can extend their thinking:

Think Puzzle Explore
Circle of viewpoints
Generate Sort Connect Elaborate
Tug for Truth
Parts Purposes and Complexities
People Parts Interactions
Think Feel Care
Imagine if…

7. Are the learners able to think about how their inquiries impact on other people? Will they be motivated to take action?

8. Will they explore ways of extending the learning beyond the classroom?

  • Look for opportunities for collaboration across the year level.
  • Extend it to other year levels. (Can older learners create for an audience in lower grades? Can learners seek feedback or support from another class or year level?)
  • Encourage interactions with primary sources within and outside outside of school.
  • Use your network and theirs to help extend the learning to the broader community and the world.
  • Use Google docs, Twitter and blog posts to reach out globally. (click links for examples)
  • Connect with experts face to face or via Skype. (eg Skype in the Classroom)

9. Will there be opportunities to identify problems and issues and develop solutions?

For some learners, the design thinking process might be useful:

10. Will learners have opportunities to express their  learning meaningfully and creatively?

How will learners present, represent and/or share their learning? Will they choose to express their learning through a creative medium such as art or film? Will they paint or sculpt? Will they write poetry? Set it to music? Do an expressive dance? Create a stop motion animation? Build a model? Develop an app? Design a website? Write a book? Organise a debate? Start a blog? Make a speech? Create a campaign? Lead a workshop? 

Will they do, say, think, feel, want… or be something different as a result of this learning? 

What if education was about improving the world?

12-year-old E is passionate about changing the world. While some of her peers struggle to extend their personal interests into deeper or broader explorations for the PYP expedition, E wrestles with how to narrow her focus down.

She cares deeply about everything. Her ‘top 10 list’ includes a range of human rights and environmental issues and she can’t decide which to explore further first. I ask if she’d like to begin by identifying a change she could work on that could make a difference at school, before taking on the world, and she likes the idea.

E quickly sees a way to take this further. She will ask the children of the world (well, those she can get access to!) how they would change their schools and how they would change the world. Analysing the data will answer a range of questions about which she’s wondering and might help her decide on her next move.

Can you spread the word to help her reach a broader audience? Here’s her survey, if you can share it with young people you know. This is E’s investigation, but I’m looking forward to seeing the responses too.

world

I’m intrigued by an idea in the first paragraph of Marc Prensky’s book:

Our current education is wrong for the future not because we haven’t added enough technology, or because we haven’t added enough so-called 21st century skills, or because we don’t offer it to everyone equally, or even because we haven’t tried hard to incrementally improve it. Our current K– 12 education is wrong for the future because it has— and we have— the wrong ends or goals, in mind. Up until now, education has been about improving individuals. What education should be about in the future is improving the world – and having individuals improve in the process. ~ Education to Better Their World by Marc Prensky.

It seems that while encouraging E in her exploration, I’ll be pursuing my own parallel inquiry…

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.

Student ownership of learning…

“I think teachers should not be telling the students exactly what they should be doing. They should be finding their own path and figuring out the ways that they learn best.”    ~ Georgia, Year 6.

The Year 6 PYP exhibition is a prime example of the kind of learning that is unleashed when students own their learning. The confidence and understanding with which Georgia and the other learners shared this learning experience are evidence of the power of student ownership…

Looking forward to increasing opportunities for student ownership in 2016!