I am on a Journey! We are all on a Journey!
FitzGerald, B. (2015) “The Great Wall”, Beijing. CC by 2.0
My teaching journey began around 18 years ago when I entered a Primary Preschool Classroom in an independent school on the Gold Coast, Australia. Since then many opportunities and educational ideas and passions have crossed my path, changed my journey or started me on a new life-learning cycle.
I believe that we are all on our own journey of learning as a result of the passions we have, the opportunities presented, and the risks we take – inquiries we choose to ask and follow. This blog is about my questions surrounding the Inquiry Journey – the pedagogy, the approaches; the understandings of myself and others. I endeavour to ask these questions about inquiry, and to search effectively for different viewpoints to help me discover more about this style of educational delivery.
My first exposure into Inquiry began around four years ago after having professional discussions with friends who worked in PYP – International Baccalaureate schools. The IB system is well known around the world and for some a highly sort after education. The idea of “…an authentic and active approach that draws upon student’s natural curiosity” (Lupton, in press 2016, p.1) was appealing to me. As a Prep teacher for many years I enjoyed the spontaneity of this age group and loved seeing the changes in my daily plan from morning till afternoon. As I began to teach older age-groups, I often wondered as to when in school life this spontaneous curiosity becomes more structured. The system I was in (at that time) was a very inflexible curriculum whereby the same themes were rolled out year after year. The questions I had back then about this process were always shushed as a result of the fantastic results the school received in all state standardised testing – why would we do anything different?
Whilst I continued on in this system for many years, I believe that my individual teaching style did allow inquiry to slip through the doors of my room daily, as the questions asked by students, and their natural curiosities, always allowed for interesting tangents to be followed….to a point. I eventually moved away from the yearly themes and ventured into the world of International Teaching whereby it was mainly PYP schools that I sought work. I wanted to know more about this teaching program. Test it out! Find out more.
And here I am today, two years later working in an international school in China that is an IB school. Am I a true inquiry teacher yet? Have I mastered all ways inquiry? The simple answer is – No! I have attended, “Making the PYP Happen”, and sat in on other PD days of learning how to deliver inquiry. I have watched my peers plan and introduce ideas, and I have observed the child inquirers in my classroom who are openminded and use their knowledge to build on their understandings and take action. I have been a mentor to Grade 5 students completing their Exhibition (a large student led inquiry project). I still ask lots of questions. I wonder about whether we are creating a true inquiry atmosphere in our classrooms and I wonder how to make inquiry teaching/learning better in this fast-paced, informational tech world. I now step out of the mainstream classroom this year into our Library. My new challenge is to take our library to a place that is more inquiry based and to establish a more collaborative team approach in the delivery of this. I am on my Inquiry Learning journey.
What do I know?
I know about Inquiry from what I have been exposed to via the school system I teach in, my experiences as a learner, my experiences as an observer and from what I choose to research to find out more. I know that Inquiry Learning is a teaching approach that is viewed worldwide as a system that works. First and foremost the system I am exposed to is that based on the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate, however as teachers on our staff share and compare we bring in Kath Murdoch ideas, and our own views and perceptions, and cultural understandings. For example, I work under the American system so even the way we pronounce the word “inquiry” is different. One of the ways we deliver our inquiry unit cycles is as the chart below: Choose a topic; Access our background/prior knowledge; Ask questions; Explore research methods; Collect information; Synthesise the information; and then Reflect and celebrate what has been learned. These types of formats are followed in our rooms to help the inquiry cycle flow.
AISG Inquiry Cycle
FitzGerald,R. (2014) Posters.Permission to use. Cycle Image created by Author. (2016) CC by 2.0
I think, like others that “inquiry is something that we do naturally” (Lupton, in press 2016, p.2). At this stage in my re-search I think that as a teacher my role is to help guide my students in their inquiry and be their ‘director’ to help them find out more. This however, is not always the way. I have standards to ensure are covered and I find that once an inquiry unit is covered we move onto the next and I wonder how the cycle can continue for those that have more questions.
What I want to know?
So as I begin this re-search process I have begun reading many articles. I have enjoyed seeing in print:”Keywords: inquiry learning, inquiry-based learning, research-based learning, pedagogy, information literacy, multi-literacies” (Lupton, in press 2016, p.1) and realising the many terms used by some in this area of learning. And, I particularly like the Kuhlthau idea of “The Information Search Process” (as cited in Kuhlthau, C,C. 2010, p.4)……I am in this process….and it has made me reflect on how the students in my classroom may have been feeling at the beginning of a Unit of Inquiry. I am certainly in the ‘Initiation’ phase.
So upon reflection and further readings I have come to the conclusion that I have many questions. How to bring these down to just three for now was a little tricky. I thought I’d use the “Key Concepts” ( PYP, 2009,16-20 ), – a guiding tool that we use in the PYP to help our students along their inquiry journey, to help me explain a little my reasoning for these questions.
- What is true Inquiry? This is based on the Form concept as everything can be organised and described in a certain way and as I have established that there are many key words in this re-search area I wonder do I really know what is true Inquiry. Is the way I have been professionally developed “the way” or is there a better option?
- How should a library be involved with all classes in their inquiries? This is based on the Change concept as I move from being a classroom teacher to an Elementary librarian with 40 minute library sessions, with each class a week. I want to know what the expectations of my new space could be.
- How does the natural curiosity of early childhood change throughout the formal school years? This is based on the Causation concept as I wonder if more years of formal schooling and the relationships made along the way, have any affect on this natural inquiry.
Let the Inquiry Learning Journey begin!!!
International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2009) Making the PYP happen: A Curriculum framework for International Primary Education. Revised edition. Anthony Rowe Ltd, United Kingdom.
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004) Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services, 2nd ed. SantaBarbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Lupton, Mandy ( in press 2016) Inquiry learning: A pedagogical and curriculum framework for information literacy. In Sales, Dora & Pinto, Maria (Eds.) Pathways into Information Literacy and Communities of Practice: Teaching Approaches and Case Studies.Chandos Publishing.