This article encourages inquiry at every step in a PYP classroom.
Having just 1 year experience, what attracted me the most to the IB was inquiry-based learning, hence I kept digging into it. This article and yearlong practices are the product.
“Strong inquiry schools have a distinct climate – a climate that breeds curiosity, a relentless passion for investigation and a genuine fascination with learning.”
~ Kath Murdoch
How I wonder that since the whole world, its machines, approaches to finance and life have changed completely in last few decades; why has education not changed? The IB does promise to bring that transformation and indeed it has. Classrooms in the IB PYP schools are led by curiosity and inquiry both from teachers and students. Our learning and teaching is focused on ‘what our students know’ and ‘what they can do’. Guiding an inquiry based classroom is challenging, but fun! Certain practices of an inquiry based classroom will take your learning and teaching to another level.
Planning for inquiry takes time. Teachers need time and space to collaborate and come up with flexible plans for guiding inquiry in their classrooms. No matter how experienced you are; planning collaboratively and regularly reflecting on your planning weeks ahead will always be important. Deeper conversations, curiosity and research are from which powerful teaching comes into existence.
Groundwork for inquiry
For an effective inquiry, prior preparation is the key. To go ahead with any concepts, one should be well informed and well equipped for it. For example, our school has a practice of sharing all the work samples and study material on Google Drive in a folder called Resource Pool. We can refer and access any grade’s materials and resources for our own inquiry and for vertical and horizontal planning. For new teachers it is a valuable resource. They can have a look at the previous year’s activities, planners, learning engagements, etc so that they do not have to begin from scratch. It also helps in self-assessing our own work from last year. We can always improve learning and respond to the students’ interests and inquiries better when we have all the samples in one place. Therefore, practices like these, where you refer and learn from yours and other’s experiences, make a strong foundation for a productive unit.
Inquiry into what students already know
Provocations are open-ended invitations for a child to explore and express a variety of thoughts, interests and ideas. Schools can sometimes overlook the importance of provocations and take them lightly, whereas they are the foundations of a strong and active inquiry based learning. For example, our grade 2 students were inquiring into ‘workplaces’. To get them engaged, we took them for a visit around the school especially to the unexplored administration block. They were full of curiosity and bursting with ideas. This experience acted as a perfect provocation.
Prior knowledge is more than the building blocks for knowledge and learning. It can facilitate learning and provide a kick start to the knowledge, skills and conceptual understandings being taught. Prior knowledge activities should be equally engaging and interesting as they help us to understand from where we need to begin.
Drive the relevant inquiry
Once the teacher or the student understands what inquiry is, next they need to know what it is not. At times it happens that students ask questions that might be outside the scope of the ongoing inquiry. For example, while facilitating a unit inquiring into efficient use of machines, one student kept asking questions about how robots are made. I did not want to stop his excitement and curiosity, so we ran with that. But I had to bring the inquiry back to where it was supposed to be headed. Hence, I took his question, wrote it on a post-it, displayed it on the board and told him “we will come back to it”. Later, I posted a question to the class “How do you think people might use robots efficiently or inefficiently?”. This made my students thinking about the efficient ways to use robots or any machine and it also sufficed for the student’s query. Fuel students’ curiosity and try not to discourage any inquiry.
Connecting ideas with opportunities/reality
Inquiry-based classrooms lets students experiment, innovate and explore, encouraging their creativity and imagination. If they are not interested in the way you are teaching them; change the way you teach. For example when my students were learning about multiplication, it began to make sense to them when I told them that multiplication is used when we need to add a number certain times. I designed a party menu where 20 guests were invited. Each guest would be offered 5 burgers, 2 pastries and 3 chocolates. This got students excited as they love the idea of organizing parties. And there started our application based learning. Students understood that situations like these (and even more complicated ones) need quick solutions that multiplication offers. As they finished making the party menu, we planned and organized an actual party at the end of the unit using multiplication skills learning during the unit.
Assessments: An inquiry by teachers
During assessment teachers positions themselves as inquirers into the learning of their students. They choose inquiry based methods not just to teach but also to assess the students’ understanding of any concept. We observe, analyze and question to know what they have understood and what learning needs to happen next. Each student experiences the unit in a different way as we all are unique. When we were learning about measurement, the whole unit was full of hands-on activities. When it came to assessment, we planned it with even more rigour. We gave the students a shopping list and made stations based on different products and standard units. They were divided into different groups and their task was to shop the exact amount of products as written in the list, for example: 1 litre oil, 2kg rice, etc. This assessment not only tested their understanding of standard units, but also its real life application. It enhanced their social, communication and critical thinking skills. Inquiry-based learning and assessments help students to personalize the content and make it meaningful to them.
Reflection, a step towards meaningful action
The IB recognizes reflection as an integral and essential part of learning process. We learn best when we reflect on our experiences. We know how inseparable reflection and PYP are, hence we must emphasize inquiry oriented reflections. We have a working action cycle in our class where students put their reflections under Choose (what was the problem?), Act (how can I solve it?) and Reflect (what worked and what did not?). This gives them a clear understanding of both reflection and action.
Mishkaat Khan is the homeroom teacher for grade 2 at Eastern Public School in India, with 1 year experience. She is a dedicated academician with a vision to create a positive difference in the field of education. You can follow her on Twitter @mishkology.