Monthly Archives: July 2017

Questioning and Expertise in Inquiry-Based Learning

This the third post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer. Here are the links to post one (IBL and Learning) and post two (In the Mess of Learning, what will stick?).

 

Nurturing curiosity in all our learners can be a challenge, especially when we detect a high level of reluctance or “disengagement.” Students, as well as teachers, may need to “unlearn” previous habits such as memorizing content as the goal of learning or viewing the teacher as the keeper of “the truth” (page 38).

Except there are times when it is appropriate to memorize content and when the teacher is the expert in the room.

When I theorize about something I don’t know a lot about, I start by making connections to what I do know. I use my existing knowledge to help my build new knowledge. My curiosity might be naturally aroused but if I can’t ‘see’ a connection or pattern or an experience to this new thing, I likely won’t stick with it. I think that my curiosity deepens when I begin to care about the new thing (object, idea, skill, etc.). Of course, (and I do mean this) there are times when I need to learn to do things or to memorize information that I don’t (yet) care about. I can’t understand that I need to care about these things. If I can learn to self-regulate when I am young, I will have better relationships and more opportunities presented to me in the future. But when I am young, I likely won’t understand that. If I can learn math facts so that they are available to me easily, then I will be able to tackle more complex problems with more speed and efficiency. But while I am memorizing them I may not yet get that point.

When we don’t know what we don’t know, where do we start?

The teacher should certainly adopt a co-learning stance with students, but we should never forget that we ARE the experts in the room. If a student decides to explore the government’s relectucance to establish an inquiry for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, I clearly am not the expert for this content. But I must be the expert in “the discipline and know how to pose intellectually engaging [questions] that will keep the learning moving forward” (page 45).

In terms of learning how to create questions, Watt and Colyer, illustrate how teachers need to teach students how to ask “both discipline-based inquiry questions that develop disciplinary thinking and analytical questions that develoop reasoning and self-reflective thinking” (page 38). I love this because it dove-tails nicely with disciplinary literacies generally (read like a historian, scientist, or mathematician).

This chapter shines a light on the necessity for teachers to be experts in both the inquiry process (formulating questions, gathering and analyzing sources, synthesizing, evaluating, and drawing and sharing conclusions) as well as in their subject areas (essential skills, core concepts and supportive content). I appreciate the list of ‘check-in’ questions (page 55-56) because speaking with students, in both formal and informal conferences, is the work (the teaching-learning process).

I like this series of guiding questions, too.

Figure 18: Analytical questions based on the eight elements of thought

Source: Paul, Richard, and Elder, Linda. The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential Questions. Foundation for Critical Thinking (2010)

They connect to the learning to be a learner question frames that I use with students.

By Maureen Devlin

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Teaching

In the mess of learning, what will stick?

This the second post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer.

Here is a blog post where I focus on the assessment process I use in one of my courses. It reveals how to use a rubric to capture the messiness of the project. There is often lots of choice in IBL which can leave you feeling like things are out of control. Not all students have done the same tasks, and even when they have done the same tasks, they may not cull the same activities to represent their learning as other students. Learning how to design an assessment workflow is key to the success of IBL, in my opinion.

One of the areas I’d like to improve in is making feedback “stick” better.

Wiliam asserts that if we can “Make feedback into “detective work”—make the students do intellectual work in responding to the feedback” then feedback will stick.

One way of making sure that students actively use feedback is to make responding to the feedback a task in itself. In other words, make feedback into detective work. In a previous article in Educational Leadership (Wiliam, 2012), I mentioned Charlotte Kerrigan, a language arts teacher who sometimes responds to her students’ essays by writing her comments on strips of paper. She then gives each group of four students their four essays, along with the four strips of paper. The group’s task is to figure out which comments apply to which essays.

Or consider a math teacher who provides feedback on 20 solved equations. Rather than telling the student which equations are incorrect, the teacher can instead say, “Five of these are incorrect. Find them and fix them.”

The same basic principle can be applied to any school subject. For example, in social studies, if a student has included the Emancipation Proclamation as one of the causes of the U.S. Civil War, instead of telling the student that the Proclamation was issued in the second year of the war, the teacher could point out that one of the causes he has mentioned can’t be a cause because it occurred after the start of the war, and ask the student to sort this out.

Such practices ensure that students, the recipients of feedback, do as much work as the teacher who provides the feedback. Making feedback into detective work encourages students to look at the feedback more closely and to think about their original work more analytically. (Wiliam, Educational Leadership, 2016)

I can work on designing detective work opportunities during the conversations and observations of the inquiry process. For example, during the research note-making process, I could say to a student, “This note is almost completed properly. There are three criteria missing. Find out what they are and add them to the note.”

I think that I can generate some canned responses based on my prior experience. I bet you can too. Here is a collaborative document where we can list possible detective work practices.

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching

IBL and learning.

I have been using an inquiry-based learning (IBL) approach for the past four years in various courses. Each inquiry has looked a little different as I learned how to design, roll-out, and support it. But there has been one constant in all of them. Many students are not engaged in the process, which in turn, does not lead “to increases in critical thinking, the ability to undertake independent inquiry and responsibility for [their] own learning, intellectual growth, and maturity” (page 8).

The question must be asked then, should I persist in using IBL?

This book study will provide me with the opportunity to think deeply about learning, IBL, and my practice.

Here it goes…

Inquiry-based learning is a pedagogy. As the authors state, “Inquiry-based learning is a process used to solve problems, create new knowledge, resolve doubts, and find the truth” (3).  Before I dive into thinking about this pedagogy, I want to think more about what learning is.

I don’t think that this is a crazy idea. I don’t think that because we are teachers, we automatically have a clear idea of what learning is. And I don’t think that we should be embarrassed about this. I do think that now is the time to wrestle with what researchers in various fields are discovering about learning so that we can evaluate any pedagogical moves through that lens. In other words, given my context, what do I believe learning is and how can I best support my students so that they do learn? Where does IBL fit into the learning process?

What is learning?

Learn (noun)– the characteristics or parts of what it is to learn

“Learning is an increase, brought about by experience, in the capacities of an organism to react in valued ways in response to stimuli” (Black & Wiliam, 2009 p. 10).

“Learning is a relatively permanent change in a behavioral potentiality that occurs as a result of reinforced practice” (Hilgard & Marquis’s Conditioning and Learning, 1961).

Learning is a multidimensional process that results in a relatively enduring change in a person or persons, and consequently how that person or persons will perceive the world and reciprocally respond to its affordances physically, psychologically, and socially.” (Alexander, Schallert & Reynolds, 2009).

“Learning, which in the Behaviorist era was defined as a change in behavior, should now have been defined as a positive change in long-term memory.” (Tobias and Duffy, page 131).

Learning is tripartite: it involves retention, transfer, and change. It must be durable (it should last), flexible (it should be applicable in new and different contexts) and liminal (it stands at the threshold of knowing and not knowing). (David Didau)

Learn (verb) — the process of acquiring new capabilities

“A process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of experience and increases the potential of improved performance and future learning.”

From How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Susan Ambrose, et al.

“Learning is a broad term that includes any gaining of new knowledge or skill. We learn through experience, practice, study, and other means” (Watt and Colyer, page 3)

In his book, Why Don’t Students Like School, Daniel Willingham says this about learning.

For material to be learned (that is, to end up in long-term memory), it must reside for some period in working memory-that is, a student must pay attention to it. Further, how the student thinks of the experience completely determines what will end up in long-term memory. (page 49)

And he says this about discovery learning.

In discovery learning, students learn by exploring objects, discussing problems with classmates, designing experiments, or any of a number of other techniques that use student inquiry rather than have the teacher tell students things. Indeed, the teacher ideally serves more as a resource than as the director of the class. Discovery learning has much to recommend it, especially when it comes to the level of student engagement. If students have a strong voice in deciding which problems they want to work on, they will likely be engaged in the problems they select, and will likely think deeply about the material, with attendant benefits. An important downside, however, is that what students will think about is less predictable. If students are left to explore ideas on their own, they may well explore mental paths that are not profitable. If memory is the residue of thought, then students will remember incorrect “discoveries” as much as they will remember the correct ones. (page 63)

Learning theories:

Image shows four perspectives on learning based on theoretical principles. Instructional methods associated with each, adjacent to respective quadrant. Orange quadrants represent a student-focused learning approach, blue instructor-focused. By Debbie Morrison @ Online Learning Insights

 

Watt and Coyler tell us that IBL is influenced by constructivism (page 4), and they also acknowledge that IBL is only one pedagogy amongst many that we decide to use based on our knowledge of how our students learn. This point is important, and it is why I have begun the book study by thinking about what learning means.

I believe that novice learners (regardless of age or grade) need more “traditional” learning processes; that is, instructor-focused practices. In behaviorism, for example,  “a teacher creates an environment and stimuli (such as lectures and presentations) that produce desired behavior, learning is thought to happen as a response to that stimuli. This response is further reinforced when the consequence is positive and pleasant. Successful learning is thought to occur when the learning process starts from the student’s initial knowledge and then increased gradually. In order for students to master the information, the teacher often provides practice, drill and review activities.” (Wongyauhsiung)

Or  “in cognitivism, learners acquire information, processing and organizing it into their cognitive structures (schema).  Information is processed through the sensory registers and goes into the short-term and then long-term memory. The teacher organizes the information in such a way that the learner can assimilate it. The concepts and skills must be shown in a logical sequence and go from simple to complex. The main points must be emphasized and the differences and similarities among concepts should be pointed out. The content must show relation and continuation from chapter to chapter.” (Wongyauhsiung)

More advanced learners need “progressive” learning processes that are, experiential, inquiry-based or student-focused learning. For example, in constructivism, or active learning, “if the materials are useful and beneficial to [students], they will be likely to master [the learning].  Students should actively understand the learning materials rather than passively absorb and memorize it. The students should be able to construct their own understanding and build on what they already know. They make connections between new information and old information.” (Wongyauhsiung)

Who are the learners in my classes? Are they novice or advanced learners? How prepared are they for IBL?

I am not just thinking about the content (new and prior knowledge) that students need to have in order to achieve positive learning outcomes as John Hattie speaks of below.

I am thinking about the “when” of IBL in terms of Watt and Colyer’s Reproducible #1 How to Model and Assess Inquiry Dispositions. I think that teachers might believe that the dispositions would be an outcome of the IBL process, rather than necessary at the outset.

So, some questions that I am currently thinking about are

  1. Do students arrive in grade 9 with the dispositions required for IBL? Some? Most? None?
  2. Does it make sense to teach (direct instruction) to the dispositions in grade 9 and 10 to prepare them for IBL as senior students?
  3. Does it make sense to focus on the inquiry process in stages (to teach to particular stages) over grades 9 and 10 so that students truly learn them and are able to use them independently in senior courses?

References:

Willingham, D. (2017).  “On the Definition of Learning”.

1 Comment

Filed under Professional Learning, Teaching