As Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Ferdinand Magellin, or maybe James Cook, stood on the shore about to embark on their next adventure, imagine the feelings they must have had. What questions were running through their mind as they set out into the vast, uncharted oceans, having only the vaguest idea of where their destination was or even if it existed at all. What new lands will we discover? How will we find them? What new knowledge awaits us? What if we get lost or shipwrecked? Will we ever make our way back? Such was their thirst for knowledge that they set out in what must have felt like a very tiny vessel, risking even their own lives in order to have their questions answered.
I can’t pretend to be prepared to risk it all but as I stand on the shore of the 21st Century Information Ocean, I can’t help feeling a little overwhelmed at the limitless scope for knowledge, the hidden dangers that may waylay my unsuspecting course and the possibility of being left stranded on a deserted bit of information with no hope of return. Never in the history of the world have we had such uninhibited access, to such an endless supply of information. Yet where do we begin? How do we find what we are looking for? How do even know what we are looking for? It seems from my shoreline questions that in the end, it is only those with the skills to navigate the unreliably charted oceans of information that are well-equipped to engage in the adventure of learning and succeed.
That is what this blog is about; my adventure into the unknown waters of Inquiry Learning. I have the somewhat limited map of my own experience and knowledge which has guided me part of the way but I want to know more. So here I too leave the safety of the shore for a while and sail away in order to have my questions answered. The destination is unknown but my questions are before me; by journey’s end I want to know how to better navigate the information ocean myself and be better equipped to take others on the journey with me.
I like to think I have used Inquiry Learning as a pedagogy in my own classroom. However, as I dig a little deeper I am inclined to think that I have, thus far, not been particularly skilled in this. As I begin my search into Inquiry Learning, I come across this interesting set of questions. I so often teach so that students will find the answers I want them to find. I begin to wonder, have I really engaged with inquiry at all?
One of the aims of an inquiry-based pedagogy is to give students the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the curriculum and of themselves as learners (Kulthau, 2012). Yet as I reflect on my own practice I recognise that students in my class have not necessarily engaged with the topic on anything more than a superficial level. I want to know how do I, as an educator, guide students successfully through the inquiry learning process so that deep learning is achieved? And while I am at it, how can I change the questions I ask as I assess student learning so that I can find out what students have really learnt and understood.
I enjoy Inquiry Learning and I find other students do too but as I reflect on my past practice I recognise that not all students in my class were engaged. These are the students that are hard to inspire; perhaps they do not have the literacy skills to engage in the class activities; perhaps they have felt too overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Whatever the reason, there always seems to be students who get left behind. So in beginning this unit I want to know how I inspire all students to engage with the topic and how I meet the needs of students at their own unique skill level so that everyone can participate and develop and grow from where they are to somewhere better.
I can only understand this process fully if I too engage in the learning process. As the astronomer and astrophysicist, Dr. Carl Sagan once said:
“When you make the finding yourself –even if you’re the last person on Earth to see the light – you’ll never forget it”.
So this is my learning adventure. This is where I leave the shore, in search of knowledge and understanding with these three questions in mind:
1. What will true Inquiry Learning look like?
2. How do I become skilled at navigating through the process to achieve deep understanding of the topic and of the learning process?
3. How can I use my new skills to help inspire learning in the students I teach?
Kulthau, C., Maniotes, L. and Caspari, A. (2012). Guided Inquiry design: a framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.