Recently, I was invited to facilitate a workshop for a private school in Izmir on concept-based inquiry. The school had recently undergone the self-study process and a revision of its guiding statements. With a newly revised learning and teaching policy based on the new mission and vision, the process of shifting the approaches to teaching had to begin. I was asked to shift their beliefs about learning and teaching from a teacher led classroom to that of a thinking classroom through concept-based inquiry. Sometimes shifting mindsets can be quite a challenge because beliefs are challenged and affected by the need for self-efficacy.
The school follows Cambridge International Curriculum (CIE) and the International Primary Curriculum (IPC). As the course was not solely for primary teachers but including the whole school staff, I had to consider ways to make the content contextual for all ages so every teacher could visualize concept-based inquiry in his or her context and age range. Thus, I chose the run the workshop through concept-based inquiry day and allow the teachers to learn about inquiry by experiencing it. Before I arrived that Saturday, I sent a short survey to pre-assess their understandings so I could be sure to address any misconceptions and try to find ways to answer their questions.
Some of the questions and misconceptions I saw were:
In order to be able to address these questions and misconceptions, I decided to begin the workshop with a jigsaw activity wherein different groups read articles about concept-based inquiry and created a headline with a summary of the content. During the sharing time, I observed discussion, critical thinking and reflection. Using this learning engagement, enabled the staff to begin to shed some light on their areas of concern.
Then we used the Frayer Model to define inquiry-based learning before taking a look at a step deeper to concept-based inquiry.
As a time of application, I asked the teachers to plan one lesson that would be inquiry-based using the lesson planner acronym from Jane Pollack, GANAG. We did this rather than planning an entire unit because the workshop was for just one day. To guide the teachers, I gave them a template that explained this acronym more thoroughly with examples to show how it can be useful and relevant to the concept-based inquiry classroom.
G - goal - with inquiry, we begin with a question or a series of questions
A - access prior knowledge
N - new information
A - application
G - goal review / reflection time
Finally, everyone filled out an exit ticket using the visible thinking tool, I used to think but now I think. This was even more rewarding than the conceptual understandings. It was an amazing day and I was so happy to see all teachers finding relevance to their context - from early years to grade 12. Everyone left the workshop feeling challenged and empowered to try out concept-based inquiry in their classrooms.
One of the five elements of the inquiry cycle is Action. Action is a powerful response to learning so at MEF IS, we watch for it, foster it and celebrate it. Our students are encouraged to act on new understandings developed from relevant learning. We see the learner profile in action through the action cycle as students become reflective thinkers, knowledgeable risk-takers and principled communicators.
This is the season of general reflection for the world as we move towards a New Year celebration. Most people are reflecting on this past year and setting goals to achieve for the upcoming year whether it be to lose weight, participate in a triathlon, learn a new art form or pursue a promotion at work. While seasonal goal setting is a noble, worthwhile process, I challenge you make an adjustment to that yearly routine. This does not have to wait until December. Goals can be incremental and it takes making reflection a daily practice. This transforms life into a daily learning journey as you learn from your mistakes through reflection and set achievable goals for new accomplishments and knowledge or skills to learn. Know yourself, be honest with yourself and take action on your reflections.
Below are some reflective questions for metacognitive thinking:
It is the beginning of a new academic calendar year which fills us all with anticipation about the teaching and learning that will be taking place, the relationships we will build and the challenges we will face and conquer. As an inquiry school, facilitating the IB Primary Years Programme, we are currently asking ourselves the question, ‘how can we grow as an inquiry school?’ As a staff, we have begun to reflect on our beliefs about inquiry as well as our current understandings. We are considering our process throughout each stage of the inquiry cycle developed by Kath Murdoch. Our staff are acknowledging what we do well and looking at the areas that we want to improve. As lifelong learners, this should be an annual process and lead us to continuous process improvement at MEF IS.
To better facilitate this reflective process, we are participating in a staff inquiry into Turkey. As the PYP Coordinator, I posed the question, ‘what do you wonder about Turkey?’ This question has lead us into a free inquiry about Turkey to delve into any area of interest, be it historical, cultural, geographical, current events, fashion, economics, cuisine or entertainment. This approach allows for freedom of choice which makes the learning relevant to each teacher individually as all will be inquiring into their own questions about Turkey. As we find ways to answer our questions, we hope to rediscover the process of learning something new through the lens of the learner. If we become aware of the many ways we can inquire into answering our own questions generated through personal curiosity, then we can apply this in the classroom to improve inquiry at MEF IS.
You may be curious and wondering what I mean exactly. I would encourage you to ponder the same question we are considering. What do you wonder about Turkey? Identify your personal curiosity and begin to follow the stages of the inquiry cycle to not only answer your question but deepen your understandings about Turkey and act. Action can be a shift in pre-conceived ideas or it can be to share what you learned with others. Action takes many forms but it always brings change. Pay attention to process you follow to investigate.
What are the ways you inquire? Get to know yourself as a learner again. As educators, we watch our students to observe the ways they learn. This helps us to tailor our learning engagements to meet their needs throughout the entire inquiry process. How can we improve the teaching and learning cycle so that students find learning relevant and meaningful? I believe relevance is so key. It is like selling the why. Why are we learning this - how does it connect to reality and in what way will it help me later in life?
Recommended further reading
As an international educator, I work with colleagues in my local and global network regularly to implement inquiry through concept-based approaches to learning and teaching. It is a journey of discovery, learning and growing our own understandings about the ways children learn.
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