Ah, the collaborative inquiry…
What is not lacking is the creativity or the knowledge to begin this work, and, in truth, much of it has been initiated already. What may be lacking, however, is the energy, discipline, and patience to study what is involved in the transformation and the courage to test our capacity for commitment to sustain such change. -Emihovich, C., & Battaglia, C. (2000). Creating cultures for collaborative inquiry: new challenges for school leaders. International Journal of Leadership in Education. 3(3), 225-238. Taylor and Francis Ltd.
Last year, I was part of a teacher collaborative inquiry with a grade 2, 5, and 6 teacher. It was a time of firsts. We had never worked cross panel before. We had never belonged to a Collaborative Inquiry (CI) before. We had never dabbled with student inquiry before. We had never made our thinking visible to our colleagues before. We had never presented our learning at a regional Ministry of Education event (Leaders of Literacy Collaborative Inquiry) before. I did write a post about our LLCI, and although it captures a snapshot of teacher learning, it does not capture the process. But, I can tell you that we had never had a professional learning experience like this before: Powerful.
This year, I have been part of a high school CI that has had its share of firsts, too. For some, it was the first time observing another teacher; for others, it was the first go at student-teacher conferences. We tackled the question
What is the impact of explicitly teaching reading strategies on students’ ability to comprehend complex text?
Here is a summary of our process and our learning:
Again a powerful learning experience.
That final note in the reflective video in the above Prezi is the thinking that moved us into our second CI of the year. How might we support students in knowing how to make their own decisions in their learning? How might we help students identify which strategy is the right one to tackle the task before them, and what tools will help them?
Identifying the student learning need is, I believe, one of the hardest parts of the CI process because we can think we know what the learning needs are, but can we be sure? What assumptions might we be making that stand in the way of us realizing what our students need? What is the combination of hard data and perceptual data that will direct the team’s thinking and support its decision?
We certainly had evidence from our work in first semester that students were not self-directed, independent learners, and on the strength of that perceptual data, we decided on a metacognition focus for our second CI. But metacognition is a tough thing to measure, isn’t it? Not for Jenni Donohoo.
We had met Jenni Donohoo, author of Collaborative Inquiry for Educators, earlier in the year, when she was brought on board to assist the CIs in learning the process. Jenni was back at our school at the end of January to deliver a workshop and to participate in our CI ‘celebrations’. I approached her with the problem of creating a tool to measure metacognition, and she responded with a statistically validated questionnaire (Metacognitive Awareness Inventory)! Very cool.
We eventually generated our question:
What’s the impact of explicitly teaching metacognition on students’ abilities to know and apply appropriate strategies when needed?
The second hardest part of the CI process is identifying the teacher learning need. This should be straight forward, right? If I know the student learning need, then I know the teacher learning need. If my students need to learn how to become more metacognitive, then I need to learn how to explicitly teach to that need. So we develop teaching tools, we design lessons around a Strategy Evaluation Matrix, we challenge each other’s thinking around learning goals, we revise, try again , revamp the tools, and run out of time.
It’s messy, this business of learning.
But it’s ok. We’ll go back at it in September because what we know we have is the energy, discipline, and patience to see it to the end.