Responding to authentic student inquiry

There is intentionality behind setting up a meaningful provocation for inquiry. During this playful inquiry, children showed excitement in understanding school systems, demonstrated ownership of learning, and applied mathematical skills in a real context while collaborating with peers.

Kalpita is head of Primary school at Neev Academy, North Campus, Bangalore, India.

Neev Academy, North Campus’ academic year kicked off with lots of hopes and possibilities for all the learners in the learning community.

The pedagogical team at Neev collaboratively plans learning engagements and is in a ceaseless watch for opportunities to nurture respectful relationships. The teaching team believes that setting up meaningful engagements to provoke children’s thinking, builds agentic learners and brings constructivism into our teaching and learning practices.

At the beginning of each year, the school plans the resources and educational aids for student use. When the new sports material and equipment arrived for children this academic year, it was a call for stock-taking! The sports material received was intentionally kept in the common area to discern children’s interest and response. One group of grade 2 children was curious to know how and when they could use the material. Intrigued after learning about the role of administration, children wanted to take part in the process of stock-taking as well as managing the storage space. Learners showed enthusiasm in understanding the administrative process at school and were eager to know what ‘inventory’ meant. In this playful inquiry we observed that children were engaged in a meaningful conversation with each other.

Questions we pondered upon, while observing and listening closely to these learners:

  • What does agency look like in action? Is this agency in our context?
  • What is the effect of agency on children?
  • What curriculum structures honour it?
  • What role does the environment play in supporting this?

During this process, a child wondered and asked “Who buys all these things for us? Doesn’t it cost a lot of money, the school does so much for us!”

This made us think and reflect as educators on the certainty that children have a natural desire to be empathetic and caring. So, how could we nurture this? How could we include such opportunities in our day-to-day learning and teaching practices to pause, reflect and recognise these emotions and feelings.

Inspired by Reggio Emilia’s philosophy, we believe “Learning is an act of love that results from a fundamental desire to make sense of the world. Members of the learning groups are engaged in emotional, aesthetic and as well as intellectual dimensions of learning.” This happens when learners have a strong feeling about the task. This comment showed gratitude, empathy, and a sense of pride in the child.

Soon this engagement became playful inquiry that allowed children to figure out ways to count, go through struggles; problem-solve, use different strategies and learn from each other. The teacher recorded the dialogues amongst the learners in this learning group and some examples of the children’s comment are, “Let me show you how we could sort small, medium and large hula hoops, if we could do this together it will be faster,” “How can it be 33 if we add 10,13 and 13 – let us do it again! Let me get the paper and show you,” “Making groups of 10 will make it easy to count.” Learners were making connections between mathematics and the real world.

As we were analyzing this learning engagement, we realised:

  • Group learning was evident in this creative process. The intentionality of using material as a provocation for inquiry plays an important role in teaching and learning.
  • Listening to children, tuning in to their prior knowledge, observing the connections they make is critical to take the learning forward.
  • Focusing on real-world problem-solving situations, engages students emotionally, socially and intellectually.
  • This learning engagement involved the leaner by choice without being judged by any pre-set expectations.
  • Learners used their strengths to take on roles and responsibility, making lists, counting, solving a complex problem, writing, counting again or just helping others.
  • Learners invited and included others in the learning group when conflict or disagreements occurred and made earnest attempts to resolve it.

Aligning with the ideas of Peter Gray, the IB PYP shared that through play-based learning, young learners develop attributes of the IB learner profile by collaborating, making judgments, learning how to learn and becoming increasingly autonomous with the support of involved educators who understand the educational potential of play.

What we observed in this mini inquiry process is that learners were engaged in play and a creative process for something larger than themselves, which gave them back meaning. They built a fair, solicitous and inclusive learning community! ‘Trust’ is an important factor in this sociocultural learning process. Children need to be able to trust the significant adults in their learning community to value their participation in and contribution to the group. Children have a capacity to experience complex and intense problems and make connections to real-world situations. It’s our duty as adults to make it relevant and purposeful by bringing in new and additional opportunities to student learning.

At Neev, it is our constant endeavour to develop group learning opportunities where children learn from each other, build on each other’s ideas and making meaning of the world around them.

  • IB Early Years in the PYP: Educators’ Perspectives
  • 2003 Making learning visible: understanding, documenting and supporting individual and group learning, Harvard Graduate School
Kalpita is head of Primary school at Neev Academy, North Campus, Bangalore, India. She has been with Neev for thirteen years, teaching various age groups from EY to PYP, to being a curriculum coordinator and heading a campus. She is closely involved in Strategic Planning, Parent engagement, Curriculum development, Creating and documenting systems and processes and Teacher coaching and mentoring. She strongly believes “It’s not just learning that’s important. It’s learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn things that matter.” – Norton Juster
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