Over the past year I have been developing a model of Enquiry based learning, although the journey is infact much longer. The elements I have used come from multiple sources such as Problem Based Learning, The Critical Skills Programme, TEEP's ideas on collaborative problem solving, Learning Skills In Science (which I piloted with the Wiezmann Institute), Learning to Learn, PEEL's ideas on learning processes, a generic Enquiry cycle, a science specific hierarchy of different kinds of structures (search for Carl Wenning at Illinois State University), and Science in the classroom from the How Students Learn series by the national academies press in the US. This list of inspirations are indicative of the difficulties in defining enquiry, but highlights why having a pedagogical purpose in our teaching.
So what I'm intending to do is list some teacher thinking required to construct enquiry experiences within the classroom. These are not in any particular order.
1. Teachers need to see enquiry as intergrated to everything that they do, it's not an add on. So that normal everyday lessons will share strategies, tools or develop attributes that will allow students to be independent enquirers. This is what I mean by pedagogical purposes.
2. A note on tech, this is not a substitute for pedagogical purpose. Infact, Tech requires extra planning, so that's purposeful, and develops what you want to develop. It does not mean that if students are using say Etherpad that they actually collaborating, in enquiries the process of collaborating is important and will require feedback.
3. Be aware that students (and tempting for teachers too) will be product focused, very much at the expense of the process. Teachers should let them make this mistake, and use a combination of non judgemental feedback and rigorous debriefing to tackle this. Students will progress on this teachers or more accurately facilitators need a geological view on this.
4. Students require multiple metacognitive activities during this as well as time to make their own mistakes and do their own learning. Teachers need to be observant. Post it notes with praise, prompts or interjections are a non invasive way of influencing the route the lesson is taking.
5. Teachers will find it beneficial to make detailed notes on who said and did what. Tallying how many people are engaged in discussion, the number of points,nods, smiles all help provide a full picture of the process the students have and / or are undertaking.
6. Long term planning is essential not only how the locus of control can be assumed by the students,but also how the afore mentioned tools and strategies can support the students with this.
7. Students will require a structure to research. My students have found Read----> thinking tool----> notes. As a way of genuinely learning from their researching.
8. Students will need training on how to ask questions that can be persued. The right stimulus that may have been tested to asses it's fruitfulness,is essential.
9. Teachers are facilitators and should constrain their influence. They must provide high quality, frequent feedback. The classroom environment they provide should be safe to allow risk taking and failure with confidence. This does not happen overnight.
10. Teachers should not lose the focus of why enquiries are a useful experience and become product focused. This focus allows them to create the time needed for students to reflect on successes and experiences this should be augmented by a thorough debriefing process. Therefore a shared language is needed to do this.
11. Beware of the word fun, everyone has a different perception about what this means. Learning experiences can be satisfying if the students are appropriately challenged, stimulated into thinking for themselves and feel as though they are making progress. The design of the enquiry should consider these parameters first.
12. There are many enquiry models available some generic and some subject specific. Choose a flexible one that you can adapt to you and you're students needs. These structures are essential early in the students enquiring training and plans should be made on how you can withdraw them over a year or more if you need.
A good start point for Further Reading is at Futurelabs Enquiring minds project as well as the sources of inspiration mentioned above.
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My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.