Involving students in planning and inquiry

Allison Rassp, grade 5 teacher, Alvin Dunn Elementary, USA

This article explains how to support and involve fifth grade students in the planning of their  learning experiences.

“Look what I found!” This is one of the many statements I hear from my students throughout the day. Our classroom is full of wonder and excitement because my students are stakeholders in their own learning.

Typically I begin a unit of study with questions such as, “What excites you? What do you want to know more about?” Involving students in the planning of their own learning allows for meaningful learning experiences that all students want to engage in. To assist students in this process I provide choice in the inquiry process while involving students in planning how our learning environment will look, act and feel.

One learning experience that supports students in planning for their own learning is providing students with choice in the inquiry process. For example, students were put into expert groups based on topics that interested them. One support that was used during this learning experience was an organizer where the expert groups of students had to collaborate with each other to generate three questions regarding their topic. Some of their questions included:

  • How does water pollution form?
  • How does water pollution let animals survive?
  • How is water pollution expected to go away?

They then choose one of the three questions to focus on to guide their research and discovery. Students next embark on their learning journey which creates excitement and curiosity, encouraging communication and cooperation among the groups.

Creating classroom essential agreements is another learning experience where students are involved in planning for their own learning. Students want a say in how they want their learning environment to be for the school year. One way we involve students in creating these agreements is through a gallery walk. Students respond with sticky notes on posters to the following questions:

  • How do you want to be treated by each other in this class?
  • What should students in our class be doing to make sure it runs smoothly?
  • What will you need in order to be successful this year?
  • How do you want to be treated by Ms Rassp?

We then look at all the responses individually and compile our classroom essential agreements based on their responses. This learning experience allows for students to plan out how they want their classroom environment to be for the entire school year. These agreements and responses set a positive tone for all of the learning experiences coming their way while creating a sense of “we are all in this together” atmosphere.

A third learning experience that supports students in planning for their learning lies in our classroom reflections. One example of this is during our Sharing the planet unit where students work together to create a newscast. After students have been given time to work with their groups, they are asked to reflect on how it went with the following questions (using the IB learner profile attributes, attitudes or approaches to learning):

  • Today our group worked well at _______________.
  • One thing that our group could improve on is _________________.
  • Tomorrow, I will work on _________________ so that my group can be successful.

One student response said, “Today our group worked well at using our communication skills. One thing that our group could improve on is our time management skills. Tomorrow, I will work on showing cooperation so my group can be successful.” Students then share their responses with their group members so that they are held accountable. These reflections assist students in not only planning for their learning, but also in making more successful choices within a group setting.

When you involve students in the planning, learning is more meaningful and relevant!

Allison Rassp is currently a fifth grade teacher at Alvin Dunn Elementary, United States. This is her third year at Alvin Dunn and her fourth year teaching with an International Baccalaureate World School. My passion as an educator is to influence students to be open-minded, caring citizens who use their curiosity to grow in their knowledge of the world around them. Allison tweets at @Msrassp.

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2 Responses to Involving students in planning and inquiry

  1. ib elite tutor 6 June 2017 at 7:27 pm #

    What excites you?
    this is really a good question to start with. As teachers, half of our work is done if we are able to make our students stakeholders in their learning. this is really a great article. thanks for sharing

  2. Juliana Castellanos 22 June 2017 at 6:57 pm #

    Really great ideas Allison, thank you so much for sharing! I am definitely going to implement the expert groups and the gallery walks in my 4th grade classroom.

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