Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The way INQUIRY has changed my teaching

When I started using Inquiry Circles in the classroom 4 years ago I had no idea what was in store for the students in my classroom or for the growth and change of philosophy that I would experience.

I started by pouring over the book Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles Illuminated by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels.  (Click on picture for link to purchase this book.)
The book excited me and made me feel scared.  I was scared that I was going to lose control.  Control over learning, grades, motivation, organization, and the list goes on.  My desire to see inquiry circles in the classroom outweighed my fear of losing control...so I finally hit the go button! Sitting here now knowing what I know now I'm so thankful that I decided to leap into the unknowns.

The start of my journey:
Confession:  I used to be a control freak.  Some may say I still am but trust me I've mellowed out A LOT!  So back when I was a control freak I had to have a very decisive plan and inquiry felt a bit unstructured to me having taught more traditionally (I do, We do, You do).  I created documents to help guide my teaching and here is the first set,

From the get go I started to see a transition in my class and within myself. Below is part of a blog post from 4 years ago,

 Here's a little inspirational note about Inquiry Circles.  A child in my class has been very dejected.  Life at home isn't great....his parents are fighting :(  It has really shown itself at school.  He is a high level kid that has just been making it through the day...not learning fervently.  This child is in the group researching turtles.  He knows the inside and outside of every turtle book stored in the group's basket.  I sit down to do a mini-lesson with the group (the difference between reading with a question in mind vs. tracking your thinking while reading a book) and this kid just blows me away.  I decided to show the group what I mean and start with a question, How do turtles have their young?  He rips out four books flips to the pages and starts telling me all about it.  The other two students didn't stand a chance for keeping up.  So the two of us, him and I, laid it out for them successfully. He is smiling more often and told me after school that he loves to learn {be still my heart}!

Back then I was still holding tight to structure.  I used a specific conferring form, created a pack of inquiry circle student sheets, used a rubric and made detailed lessons that focused on organization.

And here are my lesson plans for the reptile inquiry circle.  You will noticed that I tried to hit important organizational lessons and some from our county roadmap.  **Note that we found that although we planned lessons most of the time our teaching came out of authenticity. The kids needed different material than we had anticipated.**


By the end of the first inquiry I was sold.  I knew this component would be in my classroom for awhile. 

Changes I've made along the way: 
Along the way I have posted about inquiry circles and how they are working in my classroom.   There has been some major changes along the way.  Now, I embrace the unknown while knowing that whatever we discover will be amazing.
1. My ideas about structure started to change.  I let the students have more say in what they wanted to work on.  I became more flexible with groupings.  At the beginning of the year I would tend more towards groups and by the end of the year they could work alone, in pairs, triads or whatever they wanted.  Groupings started becoming more about interest and less about my desire to control.  I do have to say that at first I suggest working in groups of 4 or 5 because when it is new it is easier to support 4 or 5 groups rather than 12 groups.
2. My reading block makes way for inquiry first.  I start with a mini-lesson which is usually standard-based, then the students break off into their groupings to research while I support with conferring, and finally we meet back to share our new learning and thoughts.  At the beginning of an inquiry the lessons are about asking and answer questions, then I start honing in on other standards like text features.  I am able to teach to the standards while the students are choosing their interest, which is a win-win.
3.I let students lead.  I used to think the teacher led the class, boy was I wrong!  Now my students lead the class meaning that their thinking and interest push us forward.  At times I give them specifics on what I would like them to research and I usually tell them why. I'll say,  "In science we will be learning about extreme weather so for our next inquiry I would like you to think about weather that makes you wonder."  For the inquiry we just started I told the students that they needed to pick a living thing with a habitat and life cycle (which directly ties to our science for the next month).  
4. Because student motivation is so high, I quickly get to conferring with the students and understanding their thought process. I don't spend time trying to find just right books because the students are finding books of interest.  I just spend time listening to their thinking.  When you listen you discover.  Motivation also pushes the students to go out of their comfort zone when it come to reading.  Many times I have thought, "That book will be way too hard. That student won't get anything from it," and every time I've been wrong.
5. I am a facilitator.  I set the scene for success...that's my job now (and I love it).  I make sure students have the resources that they need.  The school library and county library get frequent visits from me (along with Goodwill).  I teach short mini-lessons that will lead to success.  I make rubrics and post language stems.  I tell the students why they are doing what they're doing.  I outline why it is purposeful and tell them how it has helped me in my own life.  
6. My learning is on display.  I'm gobsmacked daily by all the students teach me.  I show them how human I am daily.  I've caught myself saying, "That's not right.  Where did you find that?" with an accusatory tone and they always prove me wrong.  I show my imperfections all the time and I realize that I have so much to learn from these 7 year olds.  I feel so lucky that I get to use my brain daily and not do some boring, menial task.  I'm constantly stimulated and humbled by how much more I have to learn.
7.  Inquiry has taken over because it is contagious.  In every subject I find the students learn best when they are in control.  When we want to know why an author is good at writing, we inquire about it, research it and answer it for ourselves.  It's another instance of letting go and becoming a facilitator.  Kids are smart and they can figure out most things with the right resources.

Here are some inquiry pictures from over the past 4 years:

If you have a change to read the book listed above then I would say do it!  If you want to leap into inquiry I would say you'll never look back!!

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