Friday, February 17, 2012

Inquiry as a stance: revisiting ideas

“...inquiry is a collaborative process of connecting to and reaching beyond current understandings to explore tensions significant to learners.” ~Kathy Short

One of the first books I read about inquiry was Learning Together Through Inquiry. It was in a sense the book that propelled me to look more critically at what I was doing as an educator, which ultimately led me to the IB and teaching in an international school. So when I recently read, Taking the PYP Forward  I was excited to see that it was Kathy Short who had written the first chapter ~ quite fitting, I believe.

Inquiry as a stance on curriculum outlines the key features of the inquiry model developed by Short and Harste in 2002, addressing some of the common misconceptions about this ‘authoring cycle’ and clarifying what this model might look like in practice. Revisiting these ideas that are at the heart of inquiry practice has been a great reflective prompt for my own practice. 

It is natural (I would argue essential) that our practices change over time. As a PYP teacher, reflecting on teaching and learning is an integral part of the planning process, seeking to find ways to better facilitate student learning. As we attempt new approaches or concentrating on improving a particular aspect of our teaching, we often let go of practices that have become routine. But just because something has become routine doesn't necessarily mean it is an ineffective practice.

While reading Inquiry as a stance I found myself thinking, 'Oh, yeah - I used to do that' and wondering why I stopped. The best part about becoming more aware of what I am actually doing, or not doing, is that I can make small changes very quickly. I have found when I purposefully make such changes I am much more focused on the result or impact of the change and thus in a better position to reflect on my own practice. 

Reading this article reminded me of the importance of allowing time for learners to build on their conceptual understanding ~ not rushing to 'unpack a central idea' or make connections to the 'transdisciplinary theme'. While tuning in to our most recent unit of inquiry, I made sure we had opportunities to explore the concepts before making any connections to the theme, and all of this well before sharing the central idea. The students were so engaged and the connections they made to the unit once introduced were so strong, that the invitation to inquiry was a natural next step. 

Student created movie trailer exploring understanding of concept causation. Click here to see others.

Reflection is an essential practice for effective teaching and learning and we must make time for it. Unfortunately, this critical practice is often forgotten, or left until the end of a unit ~ a way to 'wrap-up' a planner. On-going reflection, focused and purposeful is a habit I must develop. I want my next 'Oh, yeah' moment to be 'Ah - that's why I do this!'

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Managing Time ~ Realistically

The business of reflection in determining the true good cannot be done once and for all... It needs to be done, and done over and over and over again, in terms of the conditions of concrete situations as they arise. In short, the need for reflection and insight is perpetually recurring. 
~John Dewey
I must preface this post with an apology for taking so long to write - I cannot actually believe that my last entry was at the beginning of October! It is not fair to say I've been busy - every teacher I know is exceedingly busy and yet many of them manage to write articulate, thought-provoking and at times, inspirational pieces regularly in their blogs. So, what happened? More importantly, how shall I remedy this?

In an attempt to 'work smarter' I am trying to bring the different aspects of my current context together. I cannot add the continual update of my class blog to this endeavor (which is a labour of love that I will always find time to maintain), but I can aim to focus my professional activities; a bid to stop spreading myself too thin and to participate more actively in my professional learning network.

What am I involved in? 
One of the most time consuming activities educators face is keeping up with professional reading. There are just so many fantastic books and articles ~ and I love to read! What I found difficult was remembering where all of the great ideas were coming from - Was it in this article? That book? So, I began a professional reading journal that would help me to remember the key points and my thoughts about the reading. A helpful idea for me, but another time consuming task that did not lend itself to sharing and learning from others' thoughts about the material.

As a PYP teacher and workshop leader, I am also continually reflecting on my practice and thinking of ways to capture what inquiry based teaching and learning looks like in the classroom (my students are the most wonderful participants in this undertaking!) The creation of videos and reflective journals again takes time and while I was documenting what I might be doing, it didn't really help me to expand on this. What are other teachers doing? How are they approaching inquiry in their classes? How can we share these experiences?

Finally, I've decided to participate in a course with colleagues and work toward a Certificate in Educational Technology. Another amazing learning opportunity ~ being able to share and explore with colleagues, thinking critically about the ways in which we integrate technology in our classrooms and develop digital literacies - highly engaging conversations. Again, incredibly time consuming, but more importantly - how can we share the conversations with a wider network? Learn from the collective wisdom of our shared learning communities?

Bringing it Together ~ a potential solution
Professional reading, personal practice and coursework - how to align these practices and bring them together? And then it hit me ~ through my blog of course! I sometimes can't believe how hard it is to see the easiest of solutions. Why have I been separating all of my professional work, creating separate writing tasks, when I have a blog? This is even more embarrassing as I am an advocate of blogging; often talking about the value of this practice both for teachers and for students? And so, taking a moment to reflect on my practice (ironic isn't it!) I am now 're-inspired' to continue with my blog.

Next post ~ soon!