Neil Stephenson’s take on formats of inquiry on November 4th sparked a good discussion around our table. I found myself nodding when Neil spoke of the effectiveness of guided inquiry, thinking of various “inquiry” projects in our school library where students were let loose and those where they were guided in their research process. Some of my tablemates were more excited about free inquiry as a more personalized, engaging learning process.
It seems to me that the four formats Neil discussed (structured, controlled, guided, free) are valuable depending on the purpose, scale & timeframe of the inquiry, as well as the learning context and a student’s stage in the learning process. But I do also see that there is a risk of misinterpreting free inquiry as giving full reign to discovery learning without providing opportunities for skill development. As we engage students in these experiences, we also have to hone our guiding and questioning skills.
Nutshell quotes are sometimes useful tools for understanding. Neil quoted David Perkins’ metaphor that I also found helpful when I facilitated a workshop on inquiry: that students need a chance to “play the whole game”, or a least a version of it, not just learn about the rules and the equipment.
In second language classes, we now refer to language users rather than learners, to put the emphasis on the “whole game” in authentic contexts. We have always known that student engagement soars when they can talk to “real” speakers of a language outside the classroom and providing real-life language experiences nested in the target culture has become infinitely easier with communication technologies. But even when we work on specific language skills & structures (grammar), the inductive approach can be like a small-scale structured inquiry. Students are exposed to multiple examples and need to recognize language patterns themselves before they replicate, apply and use them to express their own ideas in new situations. When they figure out for themselves the structures they need to express certain ideas, their own powers of observation frequently lead them to that satisfying aha moment. If they first describe the patterns and then discuss their findings, they remember more easily than if they are shown the rules.
By the way, if you haven’t yet had a look at the Calgary Science School’s teacher blog Neil talked about, it’s worth the time. There are some really inspiring ideas. < http://calgaryscienceschool.blogspot.ca >. I’ve been following it since I discovered its richness a couple of years ago and just recently pulled out this following links for our English teachers to check out as we look at fostering the joy of reading:
- Litspiration project
- Inspired reading, not required reading
- Novel Inquiry - The Scorpion Project
- Post: Great Literature Inspires Great Writing: The House on Mango Street & My Name
- Creating trailers for Short Stories
- Graphic Novels made from short stories
- General link to the CSS Language Arts teachers' blog with all of the above projects (and more - including poetry etc.)