EduCon 2.5: Creating the Conditions for Structured Inquiry

Some thoughts from others about the session I ran on Sunday morning – Beyond Googling: Structuring Inquiry

Inquiry Breaks Down Rigidity – by Kristen Swanson

Why Inquiry Learning is Worth the Trouble by Ian Quillen of KQED

So my Sunday morning session at EduCon was entitled Beyond Googling: Building the Conditions for Structured Inquiry. The slide-deck is at the bottom of post. It was an evolution of a workshop I’ve done before, but my whole goal was to really think about the session on both the real and the meta-session level. (Yeah, I just made up a word.)

The goal was to create an environment where some real tough questions around what this word “inquiry” really can mean in the classroom, followed by more problem-solving around how to do that well. In a workshop like this, there isn’t much research going on (although, given that almost any group of teachers at EduCon will have at least one internet enabled decide, if not five to ten of them – so that’s a challenge for next time, I suppose.)

I enjoyed doing the session, especially as session participants really engaged deeply in the questions we were asking. One thing that came out organically from many folks was something I was hoping would — inquiry isn’t just question and answer, it is very much a process…. and that the word can represent the idea of a deep dive into learning through questioning and seeking.

The 90 minutes went by really quickly, so much so that we were way over time before we all realized it was time to go. That’s what inquiry is supposed to do – it’s supposed to get people talking, researching, questioning and learning so much that time really does just fly by. So the session ended up being a pretty good model for what I hope folks can then do in their own classrooms, I think.

But what did I learn by facilitating the session?

It was a chance for me to keep exploring the idea that inquiry really requires people — students and teachers — to live in the uncomfortable places, and that’s hard. Inquiry requires that we all develop a nimbleness of mind so that we do not give in to the orthodoxy of our own ideas. That’s important for students and teachers (and principals) so that we can start to really hone our skill of deep thinking.

It was a chance for me to hear folks bring up empathy over and over again, as inquiry means deep listening and deep understanding of others – other texts, other people, other ideas. Inquiry should help all of us develop our ability to question to learn, not just argue to win.

It was a chance for me to think about — and talk about — how inquiry cannot just live in the classroom or as a stand-alone pedagogy of the stated curriculum. Inquiry allows students to access the hidden curriculum, as they will question grading structures. They will question discipline policies. They will question how teachers and students interact. And while, on one level, kids have been doing that for years, if students are taught the true spirit of inquiry, this will be far more than the traditional “Why do we have to do [x] this way?” Kids can question, problem solve, and most importantly, they can understand the complexity of school and of learning in ways that help them grow up well.

Perhaps my take-away, more than anything else, is how the longer we go on this journey at SLA, the more of a seeker I have become. Doing this workshop was a chance for me to step back and really look at how I have come to believe deeply that the inquiry process doesn’t just teach us a way to teach and learn, it gives us a powerful lens through which we can live our lives.

6 thoughts on “EduCon 2.5: Creating the Conditions for Structured Inquiry

  1. Chris

    Thanks for a great session and a great weekend overall. The most striking slide to me was the slide that says “Inquiry Isn’t – Us asking kids questions we know the answer to” I had really positive conversations with my neighbors and was sad to leave when the time was up. An old quote I share with my students as I try to lead myself down this path is one I found when I was a student again in the recent past. I clumsily have lost the attribution for the quote but I want to share it here:

    Genuine enquiry is an important state for students to recognize and internalize as socially valid. Consequently it is an important state for teachers to enact. But it is difficult to enquire genuinely about the answer to problems or tasks which have well-known answers and have been used every year. However, it is possible to be genuinely interested in how students are thinking, in what they are attending to, in what they are stressing (and consequently ignoring). Thus it is almost always possible to ask genuine questions of students, to engage with them, and to display intelligent directed enquiry. For if students are never in the presence of genuine enquiry, but always in the presence of experts who know all the answers, then students are likely to form the impression that there is an enormous amount to know, and that experts already know it all, when what society wants (or claims to want) is that each individual learn to enquire, weigh up, to analyse, to conjecture, and to draw and justify conclusions.

    Jim Doherty

  2. I loved the session, Pal — even if it does have me in an uncomfortable place.

    You see, I am in one of those heavily tested classrooms that we talked about where inquiry is squelched simply because it’s not neat and tidy and easy and quick.

    And while I truly believe an inquiry-oriented classroom is right for learners, I’m also — thanks to Obama’s education initiatives — held accountable for results on poorly developed content-heavy tests that do nothing to reward and/or encourage inquiry.

    I was pushing that theme in most sessions last weekend and I was told time and again to “just take risks” and to “do the right thing for kids.”

    That’s, sadly, a lot easier said than done — and it always rings hollow to me when it comes from people working beyond the tested subjects who don’t have to wrestle with the consequences of the same risks that they’re asking me to embrace.

    But I walked away from your session more convinced than ever that the risk is probably worth taking simply because I enjoyed learning while living in the soup — and I’m convinced my students will too.

    Thanks for that,

    • Yeah… I think we have to honor the real work going on in classrooms and own that people live in difficult places professionally that force them to choose between what they believe is best for kids and what they are mandated to do. And Tim Best and I just spent 15 minutes going over where we think we have to focus / review when Keystone testing comes around this spring. So we’re not immune, either.

      In the end, we can’t ignore the tests because we all need to stay employed, but I think we have to also make that leap of faith that we can do this. For schools where kids aren’t passing the tests, I do believe that there is a moral imperative to use better pedagogy because even the test prep isn’t working there. For schools where the tests are going well, we need to understand that we don’t get into an arms race over test data… that “good enough” on the test is good enough, and then we can focus on what our students really need to be the thoughtful citizens our world needs them to be.

      But yeah, it is frustrating that is that balance we have to strike.

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