Passion to Possibilities while learning from home – creating opportunities for students to explore and inquire into their passions or interests in a distance-learning setting.
By Kalpita Jain
“Children are active protagonists of their growth and developmental processes, they have extraordinary potential for learning and each child has the right to be respected and valued.”-Reggio Emilia
As educators we always wonder how our students learn best? What opportunities do we provide for students to explore and inquire into their passions or interests? What are the possibilities in a remote setting where we could make it happen? How do we build better partnerships with parents to support student’s learning and inform their understanding of new learning for new times?
When asking students to reflect upon the most significant experience of their holiday or any particular interest or hobbies they have developed, G3 children at Neev Academy shared their interest in baking, playing with their siblings, a particular interest of one child in knowing about neutrons and how everything is made up of them. While some others pondered over the speed and design of formula cars, making roller–coaster 3d models with family, learning how to calm oneself down, gardening etc.
We all agree that children often identify activities that involve real people, real places, real objects and the stories that surround them. We also realized they gather information from direct experience and stories. Teachers were equally curious to know, why did the 9-year-old child want to find out strategies to calm himself down? What could have made him say that? Do children at this age have the emotional competency to reflect and try to bring about the change in them?
What is our image of a child? At Neev, we believe in one of Reggio Emilia’s principles, ‘Children are active protagonists of their growth and developmental processes, they have extraordinary potential for learning and each child has the right to be respected and valued’.
Passion to possibilities is the approach we were looking for. Many educators across the world have worked hard to develop approaches to ‘personalized inquiry’. This work has been fascinating, complex, problematic and revealing but our children tell us over and over again that they adore the chance to spread their wings, to investigate what intrigues them, to have more voice and choice in their learning
There is something wonderful and deeply satisfying in school when we walk into the beautiful learning spaces where you listen to their stories, when you see the spark in their eyes when they talk and then you take this opportunity to provoke curiosity, support their thinking and metacognition, challenge their assumptions, provide strategies to build independence and collaboration both.
How do we continue to nurture the practice of noticing, having meaningful interactions and support their inquiry at home?
Teachers at Neev reflected that in a distance-learning mode, it is hard to listen actively to their student’s informal talk, their personal stories, the relationships they build, their questions/struggles, their discoveries and wonderment. While a deliberately planned schedule of online learning, sharing and clarification time does give some scope, teachers were wondering how they could make it more meaningful? How could they find out HOW learning is taking place (enhancing student agency) – not just what is being learned.
After doing research and reflection; reading educator’s blogs, connecting with other educators, dialogue and discussion with the leadership team we soon realized this could happen through continuous observation, connecting with students more in one to one or small group sessions, discussing learning with students, and inviting them to talk about their learning experiences. Inspired by Kath Murdock’s Inquiry Mindset, the focus is now on 5 best practices of Inquiry – Keep it real, Collaborate, Play, Think big and Grow learning assets.
While keeping it real, what is our Big Question? How could we provide the same learning environment in a remote setting? How can we engage curiosity, launch conceptual investigations?
As a next step, teachers role modelled their own inquiry with their students, what inquiry looks like at home, what their interests are, which they want to further investigate. This was the hook for inviting personal inquiry in a group of children in a G3 class.
“Powerful inquiry is driven by real purpose and the learner’s desire to make a difference to their lives and the lives of others – Kath Murdoch .“
A small group of students showed a desire to extend their interest and inquire more about their passions. While the teachers were not too sure about where this ‘unplanned inquiry’ would lead to, they were ready to take risks in playing with possibilities and experimenting with new ideas with their learners in an online setting. Such important modelling for our learners!
The journey of Personal Inquiry started by setting an essential agreement, agreeing on structure and schedule, inviting parents in the conversation and defining the role of each member of the community. We gave ourselves opportunities and structures to reflect and notice how, what and why we were learning.
Documentation of these sessions were frequent and in the form of zoom recordings, photographs, videos and noting the voices of the children as they interacted with peers and adults around. Standing back and letting the children take control of their learning was a wonderful experience. Connections were made, inspiration was given and received and collaborations emerged.
Much more autonomy was evident over the content of the student’s learning and the teachers’ emphasis was very strongly on skill and disposition development.
“Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors and inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasures of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode.” – Loris Malaguzzi, Reggio Emilia
‘The Cycle of Inquiry’ helped guide the learner’s thinking beyond simply coming up with activities or engagements and towards a more thoughtful process that assists students to move from the known into the unknown and to engage in meaningful dialogue.
The inquiry into nature of self- ‘How can I learn to calm myself down?’ – was a challenging personal inquiry that activated an emotional connection with a topic many students had not experienced before. For some, it was only at this point where they began to ask and care about questions. This provoked other students in the class; willingness to work independently was spreading across the group.
We agree that to be able to identify and manage core emotions is one of the essential competencies of social emotional learning and it leads to self-directed learning. What strategies should we use to support his learning? At the same time we need to remember that developing these skills and habits is a gradual process that takes time. We need to be patient and unhurried while interacting with students. As Kath Murdoch says in her book, ‘The Power of Inquiry’, Inquiry is about what learners do. Learners do not simply choose a project to work on – they are challenged to identify and strengthen their ‘learning assets’ through the process.
The continuous interaction was about asking: Why did you choose this topic to inquire; what do you think you will learn during this process? What motivates you to do this? How will you share your learning with others?
They may be spending time finding out about how the shape of a car supports the speed of a formula car, but alongside this, the learners demonstrate skills in research and time management. As they investigate the feelings human beings have and how they can be controlled, they may have chosen to demonstrate their capacity to critically reflect on their own behaviour and the skills of ‘self-awareness and self- management’. And this process of building learning muscles gave motivation and inspiration to our students as well teachers.
Learner participation in personal inquiry is not a given, it is what they do in their own time at their own pace. Learners know they need to continue to demonstrate the responsibility that comes with this kind of freedom. Here the teachers also ask students to ensure their chosen investigations connect to a broader conceptual theme. They are required to reflect on and self assess their efforts. It’s complex and demanding work but there is greater satisfaction and tremendous joy!
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