It will come as no surprise to many of you that I’m a talker. I actually didn’t speak at all until I was four years old, and my parents and close friends like to remind me that I’m now making up for lost time. 🙂 As teachers, we talk a lot. We also need to listen.
Yesterday, I had a Directions Team Meeting at lunch. Part of our discussion was on inquiry: my personal professional goal for this year. One important point that was discussed was that the inquiry approach often means trying something, reflecting, and trying again. It means making mistakes, and being okay with admitting them and learning from those mistakes. As we had this conversation, I started thinking back to my Social Studies lesson on Monday. We just started a new Social Studies unit on First Nations Peoples. I was so excited about it! Our provocations inspired lots of deep discussion, and students were eager to write and discuss wonders and questions.
There was a problem though. As we shared our wonderings on Monday, I noticed that many of the questions did not connect with our time frame. Most of the questions were also basic knowledge and understanding ones, and students weren’t digging deeply enough to get to the juicier questions. I had to start again! That’s when I thought of one of the sessions that I attended at ECOO, presented by Aaron Puley and Jennifer Faulkner. Inquiry was a large part of this workshop, and the introductory activity that they provided would be perfect for re-introducing this Social Studies topic! This activity would also help me address one of my goals after ECOO.
Just as I figured out how I wanted this activity to work, I happened to enter into a discussion this morning with our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop. Kristi is passionate about inquiry learning and has an incredible knowledge of curriculum and assessment. When I was talking to Kristi, I mentioned that my next blog post might be on inquiry and assessment/evaluation. I’m struggling with how to evaluate inquiry. As I said to Kristi, I’ve offered students more immediate feedback than I ever have before, and without a doubt, they know how they’re doing and we both know about goals for improvement. I’m grading students less though. While I love the descriptive feedback approach, eventually I need to give my students marks, and I worry if I’m giving them enough. I use the Learning Goal and Success Criteria approach, and students realize that meeting the Success Criteria is a “B,” but do they need to see this actual grade more often?
That’s when Kristi spoke to me about portfolios. Students could keep portfolios of their inquiry work, and at different points throughout the unit, they could share their learning and prove that they’ve met identified expectations. This doesn’t need to be done with a big project or a test, but instead, can be them pulling examples of work that support the expectations. As Kristi mentioned, it’s kind of like what I have to do as part of the Teacher Performance Appraisal (evaluation) process, and now the students get to do it too. What a great connection, and how very true! As part of these check-ins, students can receive marks, feedback based on Success Criteria, or both. They can also self-assess their work, as well as receive assessment data from me. I love this combination! Listening to Kristi gave me a new plan.
So when I introduced our new Social Studies activity today, I explained that I wanted to go back and try things again (and why). I also asked the students about assessment (feedback) and evaluation, and what they noticed with this inquiry format. They all agreed that they receive much more feedback, but fewer marks. That’s when I shared Kristi’s approach, and then I gave the students some responsibility: I said it was up to them on how they keep their work, but that they need to be prepared to show it to me and explain how they’ve met different expectations. Most students chose to use a folder to organize their activities, but some used electronic files (on their own devices) instead. Maybe this comes down to student choice: right?
The amazing part is that no matter what they did or how they did it, this new approach worked. I can’t wait to see where this inquiry takes us!
Where do we go from here? Surprisingly enough, it was talking and listening over dinner tonight that helped me with this. I was out with three friends from school — Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper (a Grade 8 teacher), Gina Bucciacchio (a Grade 6 teacher), and Karen Nowacki (a French teacher) — and we started talking about inquiry. I was so excited about this conversation, that I actually asked if we could go back and discuss it again, so I could record it for this post. 🙂 I’ll admit that the first part of the discussion was actually the second time sharing the information, but the last part of the discussion was new. I love that we can all talk inquiry, and set next steps with the support of each other.
We’re all still learning, but it’s nice to know that we can learn together. How have you used inquiry in the classroom? What thoughts, successes, and questions do you have to share? Let’s talk, listen, and share online!