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.