Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pondering Inquiry From the Bed

Believe it or not, I have been lying in bed on a Sunday morning reading academic literature on inquiry. What's the matter with me?  At best, I could be reading the New York Times and doing the Sunday crossword, cross-referencing and finding the joy of wordsmithing with some jazz completing the idyllic picture.  A cup of finely brewed coffee would, of course, accompany this montage.

But, alas, guilt has set in along with a lingering sense of "I'm not good enough," that has driven me to set a resolution that I will spend at least five minutes a day immersing myself in material that will enable me to cogitate on and activate best practices in my classroom.  Granted, it's hard to get started when I know I have the latest David Sedaris queued up on my Kindle, but once I crack open a book, that five minutes often leads into, "I'm just going to finish the chapter," or "Who knew?  I think I'll read a bit more."  (This is a game I play with myself in all aspects of life that I go kicking and screaming into: "Just five minutes, Leah.  That's all you need to do.")

Yes, folks, I've been inquiring about inquiry of my own volition (and guilt), so I am practicing inquiry at its best: not because I am being forced to, but because I want to - I really do, even if it's not my very first choice on a Sunday morning!

I've been reading Kathy with a K Short, and resonating with her thoughts on how inquiry needs to be a stance, not just a teaching method that is "used" in the classroom.  Inquiry in the classroom, in its ideal sense, should look like inquiry anywhere else: people would become interested in something or another, dig a bit deeper so the small wonderings become bigger questions that titillate and confuse us just a bit more, and then we would be led to pose a problem.  One of the main tenets of inquiry, as defined by KS, is that people, by virtue of their interest, become not just problem solvers, but problem posers.

Becoming a problem poser takes time, background, engagements with experiences, literature, and people to fill in some gaps that we don't know about.  You can't pose a problem if you don't know one exists; you also can't pose a decent problem if you don't have sufficient understanding of a topic.  As teachers, we love to pose the problems for the students because then we can get our Units of Inquiry completed in the allotted period of time, we can create neat and tidy rubrics with specific requirements, and we can tick the boxes on our curricular expectations.

Inquiry is messy, though.  It should be.  It should be confusing and exhilarating, and lead to more questions, not just answers.  Inquiry is never completed, hence the "life-long learners" adage of IB and any other progressive form of education.

Inquiry at its best: Emily decides she wants to build an
airplane after studying structures at school.

Reading about this makes me less confused about "how to do it" but more confused about how to "shut it down" when it is time to start a whole new focus/unit of inquiry.  In the words of immortal Oprah: here's what I know for sure: I never want to "shut down" student inquiry when it is time to move on to some new big picture ideas.  It's my job to help students continue to make connections to what they have learned, thought-through, and acted on.  It is also my job to have them experience as many big picture ideas and conceptual understandings as possible during their time in school so they leave bursting with ideas about how they're going to change the world and what their interests and passions are.  I also hope to give my students experiences and opportunities to allow for a well-rounded look at what it means to be human in its deepest sense, so they can make it a way of life, both in and out of the classroom.

No, this is not academic literature: it's simply cogitation from a teacher lying in bed who is now ready to have a go at the crossword puzzle and indulge in another cup of coffee.

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