Learning through IO: Reflections by Peggy Gerrard
1. How has my teaching practice changed when I work in an inquiry way?
Over the past several years I have gone on a tremendous journey of learning. I have progressed from a very structured, in control, type teacher to one that is allowing the students to discover their own learning and question more of what they want to know. I have become more of a facilitator than an expert. What IO has given me is a gift of learning. It has not taken away the skills that I already have. They’re old and familiar and are easy to retrieve when the time or the lesson needs a more traditional approach. However it has changed the way I talk to kids, the way I listen to kids, the way I watch kids with the question embedded in everyone of my lessons: What do I really want the children in this class to understand?
Inquiry is questions and issues, which have a focus and a meaning to engage the learner in going further. Inquiry must have a structure. It must make sense to the learner. It helps the learner construct his or her own understanding. Through asking good questions and having students do the asking and discovering, I know that there is more learning going on in my classroom. It is allowing the students to wonder and ask, be engaged and go further along their own continuum of knowledge building. As more understanding occurs, more questions pop up wanting the learner to continue and continue.
Through the IO process of designing inquiry projects, I have become more of a facilitator. A teacher encourages. A teacher facilitates learning, facilitates an environment that allows that learner to feel comfortable, allows that learner to feel challenged, and allows that learner to try something more than they have already tried before. Through this the learner continues to ask more questions, to push further along their own journey of learning continually asking more questions.
2. How does IO prepare me to teach in an inquiry way?
Through IO I have had the privilege to design and create an extremely worthwhile inquiry focused unit. IO is a process for planning and learning. It continually asks questions, provides the latest research and background information on topics of importance and leads you through a thoughtful process of planning. As the questions kept on coming on the screen I was able to continually reflect on what I wanted to do and why I felt this project was important. I was able to work on and refine my own thinking until I was clear about what mattered, how it mapped to the curriculum, and what fundamental concepts would guide this study. The articles in IO allowed me to rethink, refocus, and reframe continually. I was able to make new connections of my own. As you work through such an intense planning process it changes you and your thinking.
When I had come to the end of my planning I was clear about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go with my students. I was clear about my focus. I did not have to plan elaborate lessons once the study began. I had the time to listen to what the children had to say, to follow their leads, to use what came up in their conversations as opportunities to drive the study even deeper.
What IO is doing is it is talking about thinking, it is talking about questioning, and it is talking about inquiry. It gives me the opportunity to congeal an inquiry-based type of thinking into everything I do.
3. When I look at the quality of work the students are producing what do I see is different than before?
Learning became alive for the students while they were creating something that was meaningful to them. One of the tasks in this project was: “You have being asked to create a story about the artifacts in a historical home in your community. You are asked to use your senses to establish your own connections, viewpoints and ideas. Let your senses guide your exploration and creation of these stories. Through these interesting stories others will learn about the changes that continually take place in our lives.”
What happened was that through an experience, a trip to an old historical home, the students had something to say on paper. The day after we had walked down to explore this home the students took up their pencils and immediately began to write. One little girl did not write about the artifacts, she wrote about a bird who landed on her finger and made her feel safe to be home. Her descriptions were simple but vivid, using her senses to guide her thoughts.
Another one of the tasks involved a visit to an old wagon parked on someone’s lawn in the school neighborhood. The students were able to take the experience of walking to see the wagon on a very hot day and mix this experience with their own rural experiences with horses and the space of living in a small town. These stories were rich with descriptions, impressive because they were written in the third week of grade 2/3. One student wrote: “A wagon trip would be boring with nothing to do and no room to do it in.” You know that he was able to see the size of the wagon and feel how it would feel to be trapped in it for a long trip.
The third task was to take a digital picture when we visited Heritage Park in Calgary. Each student was able to decide what he or she wanted to take the picture of and from what angle. When they got back to school they were able to hold this picture as they wrote. The reluctant writers had something to continually refocus on. It was not just a memory, they had the actual picture to look at over and over again so that they could check on and rethink their ideas. As one student recalled getting on the train at Heritage Park she focused on her picture and wrote: “As I walked up to the train, it looked big and dark. It made me feel small and scared. I carefully walked up the crooked stairs and stood for a moment to touch the cold metal railing.”
Through their own experiences students had something to say on paper. They were able to see significance to what they were thinking and where their ideas were taking them. They were able to make their own connections and create something meaningful for themselves. I found that I was able to take something required in the curriculum and actually make it important to the students.