Asking the right kinds of questions…

I love inquiry. I truly believe that inquiry pedagogy (along with other vital ingredients) promotes learning and have embraced it.

I came across an interesting blog post “Do you have the personality to be an inquiry teacher?” and it got me thinking about what I do well and what I still find challenging.

This year I have been noticing, reflecting and acting particularly on ownership of learning. I am trying to become conscious at all times of who owns the learning and shift the ownershift onto my students as much as possible. I sabotage myself sometimes because one of the things I don’t always do so well is respond to some student questions in a way that will encourage students to want to own their learning.

I need to be more encouraging as sometimes I can be a bit dismissive of the “simple” questions – but I am realising more and more that students ask simple questions for different reasons:
– they genuinely want to know the answer
– they don’t know how to articulate their thinking and it comes out as a simple question
– they are unsure what to think
– they don’t have a question and go with the first one that comes to mind
– they need more time
– they need more provocation
– reasons yet to be discovered.

Next year I want to respond more openly to the simple questions and become more encouraging by developing my questioning skills. By this I mean that I want to learn to ask the right kinds of questions to scaffold student thinking and help them to grow their simple questions that have a yes/no/ amount/ name answer to ones that involve more conceptual thinking and build a deeper understanding. Most importantly, I want to ask questions that helps them to articluate what it is that they are really curious about.

I could ask questions like:
What did you see/ read/ hear that made you wonder this?
Once you find this information – is there more to your question that you are curious about?
Does your wondering connect to other wonderings that you may have?
What are you passionate about – is there a connection between your passion and this wondering? Or this unit? How could we make a connection between your passion and our learning in the classroom?

I need to do more reading and thinking. I need to observe others who are skilled at this.
Feel free to give suggestions for questions, blog posts, etc.

Letting go!

Shift control!

This year I have been doing my own inquiry into letting go of controlling students’ learning.

(By letting go I mean handing over ownership of the learning to the student – where it belongs. I have blogged about this a few times and you can get a sense of my efforts to do so by reading about them here, here, here and here, if you wish.)

A few weeks ago I had another epiphany about letting go. There are many reasons why I have been able to let go but what’s has made it easier to let go THIS year is that I moved into a new year level and so have had no prior ownership of our units of inquiry. Instead, I went on a journey with my students and was open to discovering things along the way. My head wasn’t already full of ideas for where I wanted to lead them and what I wanted them to do, etc. I was free to listen to where they wanted to go and how they wanted to get there. I was not attached to anything and so I followed their lead. This year, I have purposefully made the time and space for their thinking to take form. Because I had very little in the way of preconceived ideas, I have been more open to noticing my student’s thinking and wonderings. I have been getting better at listening very carefully to understand what my students were trying to tell me.

The more I let go, the better I am getting at letting go.

The impact of choosing the right images for a provocation!

I, see, think, feel and wonder...

I, see, think, feel and wonder…

provocation 3

My thinking…
When looking for images for our opening provocation for our unit, it occurred to me that the images we had used in our previous unit’s opening provocation were not as successful in provoking deep thinking. This time round I suggested to my team that we purposefully include images and info-graphics that showed contrasting situations and that would be challenging and require analysis. This time round we had about 50 images.

I was excited to see how our students would respond. We asked them to use the thinking routine ” I see, think, feel and wonder…” and record these on an index card. We gave them 10 minutes to study the images which were spread out on a long strip of paper stretching across the room. We expected them to work independently and in silence to give each student the time and space for thinking.

What happened?Students were so engaged by the images that they didn’t talk (apart from a few who occasionally were wondering allowed about the images). Students were so engaged that they needed an extra couple of minutes. Students didn’t just see the obvious, they made connections and comparisons. There was a depth to their thinking and wonderings they demonstrated that a deeper conceptual understanding had happened for most students. Their responses indicated that our choice of images were spot on for provoking thinking and wonderings directly related to our unit’s central idea and transdisciplinary theme.

What I learned …
Choosing the right images empowers students to become engaged and challenged grapple with ideas, make connections, make comparisons, connect personally and respond emotionally, build conceptual understanding and go beyond the obvious when wondering.

When the other two teachers repeated this provocation with their students, they had the same response from their group of students. Jina came to me excited about the impact the images had had on their students and we chatted excitedly about all we had learned from this experience.

I used to be the kind of teacher who…

Over the last two years I have changed and grown professionally…

I used to be the kind of teacher who…

knew exactly where my lesson was going from start to finish, from introduction to plenary, from activity to activity, did most of the talking, was the conduit for student talking, controlled who sat where and who spoke when, made all the decisions, expected students to respond to the engagements in the same way, controlled the time and space for learning, made a lot of assumptions about student learning and owned the learning.

Fortunately, I am also reflective and have always wanted to do what’s best for my students’ learning. I just didn’t always fully understand how to teach so kids can learn. My understanding has grown exponentially and I have undergone a substantial paradigm shift.

Now, when I’m at my best, I’m the kind of teacher who…

knows where I want us to focus conceptually, plans thoughtful and purposeful engagements to this end, notices and listens to my students’ thinking and follows their lead, caters for differences in learning styles and abilities, values and is mindful of making the time and space for learning, talks less and listens more, encourages students to make their own decisions, focuses on developing skills and attitudes to enable student decision making and independence, looks for evidence, makes student thinking explicit, actively encourages collaboration and student ownership of learning.

I have some way to go and I’m excited to go there. I look forward to who I will be in a year’s time…

Big understandings realised in my own learning…

Since the last time I posted, which was nearly two months ago, I have been tuned into my own learning like never before. My learning during this time can be compared to being on a roll when building a puzzle and several pieces fall into place in a short space of time and a bigger picture emerges. 

What has caused this avalanche of learning? A combination of things: my own intrinsic motivation driving me to get better at noticing and naming what was happening, reflecting on and refining my teaching pedagogy, professional learning with Sam and Chad, positive responses from both my students and Charlie’s students to our team teaching efforts, positive responses from my own students to the changes I have implemented in my teaching, talking to colleagues, professional reading and probably other things I haven’t yet identified.

So much has happened…

Essentially I have been trying to live the following quote as I realised the importance of doing so more than a year a go but it’s taken me this long to understand what that looks like and how that feels – and I’m still learning… “Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you understand well, perhaps teaching will be different from before. “ Lori Malaguzzi

Some of the things I have learned from the changes I am implementing in my teaching practice…

  • team teaching opens up opportunities for me to notice things about my students’ learning while they are learning and allows me to meet individual needs more effectively
  • creating purposeful engagements and asking pertinent questions saves me time as I can support my students to make connections to knowledge and skills they have acquired which they can transfer and use in that context
  • creating simple learning engagements that tap into the essence of the learning and doing so in a way that students can connect to the concepts on a personal level, sets students up for powerful learning
  • taking the time to set the mood for learning saves time as students begin the task with the right intentions (sustaining the mood is not always easy though 🙂 )
  • knowing my students interests, strengths and insecurities enables me to takes the steps necessary to engage them in their learning
  • creating space for other options and possibilities that I may not have considered opens up learning for my students and for me
  • only teach students what they don’t know and can’t teach themselves
  • investing time in reflection empowers students to understand themselves as learners

Some of these understandings I have known and lived for a while, but in the last two months they have all  come together and as a result I have gained a different kind of clarity and my understanding of the familiar has grown.

On Friday we held a mini exhibition in Year 4 for the first time. To me it seemed like a logical culmination to our latest unit which falls under the transdisciplinary theme “How We Express Ourselves” (PYP).  Fortunately for me, my colleagues were open to the idea and prepared to go with the flow. Even more fortunately, our students loved the idea.

In the creative process leading up to this day, and in every opportunity that presented itself in other curriculum areas, I tried and tested (not always intentionally)  the changes I shared above.  I learned so much (as much from my mistakes as my successes) and have been so excited.

I felt it was time to write this post so that I could clarify my learning and capture the big understandings for my own benefit.