How Do You Create A Culture of Inquiry?
As students enter classrooms for the beginning of a new school year, the rally cry from business leaders, university professors, and policy makers is for a K-12 experience that develops more critical thinkers. “Skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, applying academic knowledge and situational judgment are more important than ever to an individual’s labor market success” (Association of Career and Technical Education, 2008, p. 7). How can K-12 teachers develop a culture of inquiry?
According to the United States Department of Education (2010), “The goal for America’s educational system is clear: Every student should graduate from high school ready for college and a career” (United States Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, ESEA Blueprint for Reform, p. 7). When lesson plans focus on activities or coverage of a pacing guide, opportunities for inquiry learning are often overlooked. Wiggins and McTighe (2005) referred to traditional lesson/unit planning as the Twin Sins of Curriculum Design (Activity-Oriented and/or Coverage). This article highlights instructional strategies that support a Culture of Inquiry.
Accountable Talk is when students use evidence appropriate to the discipline. When you see two second grade students turn and talk to one another, you may assume that they are having a conversation about the lesson. Accountable Talk provides a structured format for students, so all students know how to engage in the conversation and how to ask their partner thought-provoking questions. Accountable Talk is a method of inquiry that sharpens students' thinking by reinforcing their ability to reflect and think critically. For more resources on Accountable Talk, visit The Institute For Learning.
Essential Questions are an effective way to frame a unit of study. When students struggle to find the answer, it raises the level of inquiry. Essential Questions encourage students to think outside of their class/content area. Wiggins and McTighe shared several examples of Essential and Non-Essential Questions at ASCD Bookstore.
Five Benefits of Essential Questions:
1. Essential Questions establish a learning focus for students.
2. The process of identifying Essential Questions helps educators clarify their intended purpose.
3. Essential Questions promote critical thinking.
4. Essential Questions support integrated instruction (i.e., teaching and learning across disciplines).
5. Essential Questions help students see the Big Picture, while allowing each student to connect prior knowledge to new understandings.
Formative Assessment is a method of measuring student understanding. In some schools across the United States, this term has become confused with benchmark testing and test prep. Formative assessment, done well, represents one of the most powerful instructional tools available to a teacher (Stiggins & DuFour, 2009). If you would like to strengthen Formative Assessment in your school, visit 60 Non-Threatening Formative Assessment Techniques (TeachThought, 2015).
Too often, assignments are designed to teach content. Teachers focus on covering standards, pacing guides, or district units of study. Project-Based Learning focuses on critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, and contribution. When you observe student work, ask if students are consuming knowledge or contributing to the lesson and existing knowledge about the topic that is being studied. For resources on Project-Based Learning, visit What Is Project-Based Learning? (Buck Institute for Education).
Reflection is a lost art in several classrooms. With the push to cover more content and standards, teachers often make a choice between coverage or pausing for reflection. Reflection comes in many forms: reflective journals, group work, whole class, silent reflection, reviewing yesterday’s work, reflecting on an essential question, or creating a product that shows your thoughts on a previous lesson or understanding.
How often do students feel like the pace of schooling is rushed? Once a unit is finished, the teacher moves to the next unit. Reflection involves slowing down to share what we learned. In the absence of reflection, it is unlikely that a classroom is a Culture of Inquiry. How do students reflect and make meaning out of their experiences? Clements highlights 35 Questions For Student Reflection.
Learning takes place when inquiry is present. As you meet with your teacher team to develop lessons and assessments, analyze the amount of time students have to question, talk with their peers, and reflect. College and Career Readiness is not a score on an ACT test or a high school diploma. Readiness means that students graduate with the skills that provide them with opportunities for success beyond high school. Determine how your grade level or course can use age-appropriate strategies to foster critical thinking, problem solving, and application of academic knowledge.