Category Archives: 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?


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


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CDNcraft: A View from the Classroom

Part 1 in this series was originally posted at and it described one way of incorporating global projects into existing curriculum. What it doesn’t do is talk about the why. Why do teachers decide to join global projects? What compels them?

students of all ages need in order to succeed in an economy that is marked by ever-more-rapid change, both structural and technological. These “global competencies” build on solid foundations in literacy and numeracy.

what if rather than what’s wrong

collaboration……exchange of ideas… build knowledge

Recognize the value of traditional instructional approaches when they are well done

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A View from the Classroom

This post is re-blogged from the CDNcraft website. Click on the image to read the entire post.

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Choices into Hope

I don’t regularly follow American news. Nor do I follow their politics of the day. Heck, I didn’t pay attention to the most recent U.S. election until after Trump won. It’s not my country. I can neither effect events that happen there nor can I be affected by the decisions made there (well maybe, but let’s not get into that now). I often don’t even join the Twitter conversations between American educators (or British or Australian) in my PLN. Too much of the context is different.

But, I have been moved by Michelle Obama.

The first time was this past summer when looking for mentor texts for the upcoming school year, I stumbled upon a Poynter post called “8 writing lessons from Michelle Obama’s DNC speech”.

I was hooked. The writing, the delivery, and the passion of the speech reeled me in.

So, when I saw mention of Michelle’s last speech as a First Lady fly by me in my Twitter feed on Friday, I didn’t hesitate to curate it for later viewing. This morning while making chicken soup, I listened and I watched Michelle Obama’s final message at the 2017 National School Counselor of the Year celebration.


A strong contender for my 2017 word of the year was hope for all of the reasons that Michelle states:

Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise.

Hers is a message for all students, in every corner of the planet. One that young people need to hear repeatedly.

That’s the kind of hope that every single one of us — politicians, parents, preachers — all of us need to be providing for our young people.

But it is also a message that clearly spells out students’ responsibility.

But I also want to be very clear: This right isn’t just handed to you. No, this right has to be earned every single day. You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms. And that starts right now, when you’re young.

Sometimes students (and adults) think that choice means freedom from facing obstacles in their lives and freedom to do only that which pleases them. Michelle Obama’s speech to young people shows us that’s not the case. Rather, we need to learn to make the choices that make hope possible.

Full Remarks Transcript


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#craftreconciliation: The Climbing

In the fall of 2016, Wab Kinew wrote a Facebook post inviting educators to partner “mainstream” classes with First Nation schools/classes to discuss “What does reconciliation look like?”.  Jaclyn Calder and I joined forces (along with Shannon Simpson and Caroline Black) to design a project that offered students an opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between Natives and non-Natives in Canada, generally, and their understanding of reconciliation, specifically. You can view the project at #CraftReconciliation with SCDSB, Wikwemikong, and Rama First Nations.

Here I am summarizing and reflecting on the project. There are five posts in the first part of the series organized around the Ontario Adolescent Literacy Guide‘s five components:

I have also organized the posts in a way that I hope makes visible the teaching – learning process so that other teachers can ‘see’ the learning that emerged from this project. To meet this goal I have attempted to include the tools that were created for this project and to show them in action.

The Trek In

We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.

— Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC.

The climbing metaphor is an apt one. The preparation-physical, mental, emotional-for the task at hand, be it climbing or reconciling, is a process. As one does not simply head out to climb Everest, one does not just reconcile the past.

We didn’t reach the summit of the mountain, nor did we expect to. We managed to get to and set-up base camp. We figured out what tools we might like to use, what supplies we would need, and who would do what. We made short forays out from the base camp to check the terrain and plot out possible routes. We acclimatized. While this foundational work was valuable (and made visible our next steps), our biggest accomplishment was that we became a ‘we’. Students and teachers from all over the province from grades 3 to 12 sat around the virtual campfire and began the conversation on reconciliation.

All of our students … they’re the next generation. They’re the ones who are really going to have to come to terms with reconciliation [and] understand it.

When we have conversations together, when we get together and collaborate, and we learn together, then that personal connection can carry us a whole lifetime.

CBC Interview

The Summit Bid

It’s no small feat to make the summit of a mountain. Beyond the physical, emotional, and mental preparation, climbers need to be knowledgeable about the mountain they are taking on. This is the learning I need to better organize for next year: Ensure more opportunities for students to build robust background knowledge early in the process. We began with some background readings and videos on the TRC calls to action. We had conversations in class and online. We did some writing around which call to action was most important. But many students still struggled to connect personally. Of course, they connected with the overarching narrative: my students certainly know about residential schools and their own family history. Locating themselves personally in the conversation about reconciliation was more difficult, and I didn’t understand the gap until late in the process when we hosted Waubgeshig Rice.

This interview was a game changer for many of the Wikwemikong High School students. Wab summarizes his coverage of the Canadian Government’s apology and the TRC hearings as a journalist, and he answers student questions, ranging from water issues to the Indian Act to the future of the language,  from his own experiences. Post-interview, we saw an increase in student engagement, which carried students all the way to the finish line. It’s obvious, I know. The personal connection made via the hangout plays into what we know about student voice and choice.

The interview also reviewed or consolidated the foundational background knowledge that students needed to have to continue on with their own investigations.  The shallow background knowledge that the students acquired in the first part of the course led to a quality of ‘sameness’ across the project. If I want my students to truly engage in the topic (from a personal perspective), we need to spend more time on the front-end teasing out the issues so that students can see them. Yes, of course, residential schools were wrong and people’s lives were traumatically impacted. Yes, of course, racism is hurtful and harmful. Yes, we do want to build relationships between Native and non-Native people based on trust, honesty, and a greater understanding. But, diving deeply into reconciliation will mean grappling with really tough issues, and that is what we need to do. Consider these issues:

  • How sustainable are the many First Nation remote settlements, regardless of changes to education, infrastructure, and governance?
  • How can the treaties be honoured in the 21st century?
  • How might the land-based resources discussion be part of the reconciliation discussion?
  • How might the education of First Nations students shift to include cultural teachings?
  • How might individuals participate in the MMIW inquiry?
  • How might we debunk common myths about First Nations people?

These are some of the issues that people are talking about via social media. Reconciliation between peoples does not occur in the abstract, but rather in the concrete world the people share- land, water, laws, institutions, and language.

What Next?

Beyond bringing in more experts at the beginning of the course, we need to connect students across the project more intentionally. We need to devise a way for students to build knowledge together and then share their learning with each other. We need to facilitate student conversation via commenting more directly and purposefully. This last item-thinking through commenting-is an important modern skill to have, and in the work that I do in all of my classes that connects us to others, I see students struggling to engage in online discussions.

If we can do these things, we will be more prepared to make a bid for the summit of reconciliation.

Our future, and the well-being of all our children rests with the kind of relationships we build today.

– Chief Dr. Robert Joseph





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Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 5.46.31 AM

Rick Wormeli via Tweet by Andrew Kozlowsky @MrKoz31 July 14, 2016

This is a second post for #cyberPD, which is exploring DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Robers and Maggie Beattie Roberts. In the first post, I focused on how we need to establish the student learning need before we can turn to the tools that might support student achievement and how we can better determine that student learning via teacher collaboration. This conversation is where I live; it’s what I want to focus on all the time.

Why am I doing this learning?

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In my classroom, this question has a permanent home, and periodically, I ask students to write down what they are doing and why they are doing it and post their thinking. It’s hard for them to think about why they are doing what they’re doing. Sure we have learning goals and success criteria. Yes, we often co-construct both. Nonetheless, seeing the learning and connecting this discrete skill with the next one and the next one, so that eventually they can

  • engage in the research process;
  • write a blog post;
  • synthesize their reading into an infographic;
  • participate in an online literary discussion;
  • read increasingly complex text and make meaning with those texts;

is hard to hang on to.

Kate and Maggie offer us a series of four tools that can make the learning visible, and thus make it stick:

  1. Teaching charts
  2. Demonstration Notebooks
  4. Micro-progressions of skills

I already use both teaching charts and bookmarks regularly, and many students do access them when they need to recall earlier learning or to remind them about what questions they need to consider. For example, together we will construct a teaching chart of what the research process entails and then we will unpack each step thereby creating a series of explicit teaching charts. Here is one showing how an information paragraph with integrated evidence is constructed:

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 4.28.08 PM

However, not all students turn to these tools for support despite not yet being independent in that skill. Maybe the model of how one paragraph (in this case) is not enough. Micro-progressions may be the right tool for some of these students.

Micro-progressions show the way toward higher levels of work. by providing actual examples of work that’s improving, as well as listing the qualities that make up each “level” of work, micro-progressions allow for both self-assessment and self-assignment (17).

The first challenge I faced in tackling the creation of a micro-progression was that for every skill (including the one above) there were sub-skills that needed their own micro-progression. To write a good information paragraph with different types of evidence integrated with the writer’s own thinking, students need to be able to know how to integrate evidence using a variety of signal phrases. They need to know how to paraphrase. They need to know how to locate, read, and cull information from those sources that may be relevant to their topic. And this is what Kate and Maggie mean when they note “we encounter trouble when we teach too much to hold onto, too much to remember” (46).

Where to start?

I decided to start with an essential skill that students should be using throughout their academic career: the research note. The student note-making samples used in this strategy are all submissions from my students.



But notice how the note with the most breadth and depth is the one that includes the student’s own thinking. Well, that got me thinking about another essential skill: making connections. The models used in this strategy all come from student work.



I am keen to integrate the use of micro-progressions into the teaching – learning process and to get feedback from the students. I am hoping this strategy can provide clarity of purpose because they can see where they need to go next and independence in the self-assessment process that we began this past year (which I haven’t yet blogged about).

And as we co-create more micro-progressions, we may even innovate on the model, and add in an answer to the question: Why should we learn this?

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#craftreconciliation: Strategy


Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 3.02.53 PM

In the fall of 2016, Wab Kinew wrote a Facebook post inviting educators to partner “mainstream” classes with First Nation schools/classes to discuss “What does reconciliation look like?”.  Jaclyn Calder and I joined forces (along with Shannon Simpson and Caroline Black) to design a project that offered students an opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between Natives and non-Natives in Canada, generally, and their understanding of reconciliation, specifically. You can view the project at #CraftReconciliation with SCDSB, Wikwemikong, and Rama First Nations.

Here I am summarizing and reflecting on the project. There are five posts in this series, and they are organized around the Ontario Adolescent Literacy Guide‘s five components:

I have also organized the posts in a way that I hope makes visible the teaching – learning process so that other teachers can ‘see’ the learning that emerged from this project.


Refers to students purposefully selcting and using techniques and processes in order to construct and communicate meaning.

Strategy means…

From theory

Apply comprehension strategies before, during and after reading, listening, and viewing to develop understanding.

To practice

The #craftreconciliation project for me was a way to frame the research process for students. I want them to care about their topic. I want them to learn the steps in the process so well that they can decide to innovate and make the process theirs. But first, we work on making meaning with increasingly complex text. The conversation about reconciliation can be challenging not just because it might be emotionally charged content, but also because the content; that is the history, the politics, the culture, the opinions found in these conversations are complex. Take, for example, Daniel Francis’ ideas around the imaginary Indian. Students struggle to grasp the notion that people think that “Indians” don’t exist in the modern world, and especially that Francis’ argument that the “history of the “Indian” image mythologized by popular Canadian culture since 1850, [propagates] stereotypes that exist to this day.” Or the article on the Greetings Native Savages” sticker that I wrote about in #craftreconciliation: Critical Literacy. This is interesting, but tough stuff.

And worth the effort.

When we recognize how the ideas in a text connect to our experiences and beliefs, events happening in the larger world, our understanding of history, and our knowledge of other texts, we value what we are reading.

What’s the purpose of doing this thinking?

    • To deepen meaning and understanding
    • To think critically
    • To evaluate what I  have read/viewed/listened to
    • To accept or reject the text
    • To understand various perspectives

How do we do it?

The strategy I focus on is annotating a text. There are many systems for annotating a text but all of them push readers to read actively. Here is my list:

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Students initially hate this process because…well… because it is work. And because they have not yet discovered the pure joy that comes from marking up a text as a means of discovery. Although the student below includes highlighting in his repertoire, he identifies what each colour signifies creating intentional and meaningful annotations.


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From theory

Use subject-specific processes to create, solve problems, research, make decisions, revise thinking, communicate ideas and reflect on learning.

To practice

I want to make two points about teaching the research process.

  1. We need to teach it.
  2. It’s a process.

This is hard, hard work that we need to do. Every time we make a major purchase in our lives, we will want to research to find the best product, the best deal, the most appropriate item. Never mind the loftier research pursuits that we might engage in like researching for a job or which candidate should get my vote.

Here are the steps in my research process:Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 5.45.55 PM

Here is one student’s process:

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Here is one student’s mid-term reflection:

When it comes down to researching and creating research notes, annotating, increasing vocabulary to understand harder texts, and learning about media portrayal, I have to say this is the biggest learning process I’ll ever go through. I have to say it is fun and hard, and in going through it I have learned about so many things: purpose questions, styles of text, elements of text/posts, learning new words and phrases. Furthermore, the process gives me more knowledge to use for when I head off for college.

Did you notice he used the words FUN and HARD in the same breath?

That’s what I’m talkin’bout.

From theory

Select and use appropriate organizers to gather, manage and communicate information and ideas

To practice

I realize I am running the risk of English teachers everywhere lining up to take a shot at me for using a formulaic approach to writing. I hate it too, and as soon as a student says to me “I’m done with that structure!” the celebrations ensue. We are learning to include evidence from our notes into our writing to support our ideas. We are learning to use transitions to connect and link our ideas.

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I do lots of modeling on how to write, which is posted digitally and in the classroom for student reference.

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From theory

Use a writing process to generate, explore, develop, and refine writing for particular purposes, forms and audiences.

To practice


This image is the bottom portion from the Research Process above. Not only do I model how to write each type of paragraph in the report, but we work together through the writing and revising process. While I know that many teachers are dissatisfied with the peer editing/reviewing process, my students use peer feedback extensively, likely because we use the same peer editing tool structure over and over. Practice for mastery!

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The #craftreconciliation project is full of examples that illustrate how students used reading and writing strategies to help them develop their researching skills, including the planning skills they used to plan their #craft builds.

If you have questions about #craftreconciliation or if there are parts of this post that need clarification, please use the comment box to connect with me.

Up next: Metacognition.

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