Here comes part four in our inquiry series. Leon shares his concerns about the process, how students reacted to the new learning structure and what he learned because of it. If you’d like to you can catch up here, here and here.
As I’ve already alluded to, there were definitely some stumbling blocks along the way with our guided inquiry. There were many times when I felt like I needed to intervene as I became concerned about the amount of work the boys were producing. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and let them take ownership of their learning process, which was the hardest thing for me to do as it goes against every fibre of my being!
There were two students who constantly missed deadlines and never seemed to be on task. I had conversations with them around the importance of meeting deadlines, self management strategies and how this work would make up a large part of their final assessment for the year. Following each conversation they would “pick up their game” for a short period of time but seemed unable to sustain it.
I asked myself why. What was I missing? They told me they were enjoying the topic and found it interesting but I was worried they were they just telling me what I wanted to hear. Was it because this new way of learning was taking more time to settle into it? Were my expectations of them too high? Was it the lack of perceived structure to the lessons and my approach to teaching? Was the work beyond them? I spent considerable time locked with my thoughts, trying to make sense of my questions, while wrestling with whether I should punish them for failing to meet deadlines and failure to submit work.
In the midst of grappling with this I finally snapped! I took them both aside and gave them a right grilling about their work ethic and how little they had achieved in two terms. I continued by pointing out they appeared to have learned nothing and wasted almost half a year.
Hold on to your hats, this is the awesome part! Their response to this was that they had learned something and they then proceeded to tell me about what happens when you ingest unhealthy amounts of sugar and the effects this has on the body.
The light went on for me and I started probing them further for more information. They could describe what happens when sugar enters the blood stream, how it affects our organs, and the difference between eating whole fruit and just drinking juice and that we need the fibre from the fruit to help get rid of the glucose. Both talked about having sugar highs and lows and how it impacts your thinking. The discussion was awesome!
This led me to an epiphany of sorts around my pedagogy. These boys may not have followed “the rules” we had set out as a class at the beginning of the process but they had definitely absorbed the information, synthesised it and had even formed more questions to continue the investigation. Was this not the point of what we were doing? Not all students research and process information the same way and here was the evidence.
Yes there were a lot of times along the way where I felt like I wasn’t really ‘teaching’, rather standing back and letting them go. To begin with this felt lazy to me. I worried every time someone walked into my room they would be judging me for what looked like lack of control and sometimes utter chaos.
However, this job of teaching isn’t about me and how I look. It isn’t about having total control over students. To a certain degree, it isn’t even about the content of what they learn. To me, teaching is about the HOW they learn. Sure, I can impart knowledge and go over and over facts, figures and strategies, hoping that it sticks, but I have done this to death. The big thing I have come to realise is that it’s all about the skills they learn to become self-regulated learners. How I can motivate and give them the tools to become life-long learners.
The other great thing I realised is the importance of collaboration. I’m very lucky to be working in a big school where so many were willing to help us on our journey. This would never have been possible without the input of other staff. I have to say a massive thank you to Senga, our Research & Learning Coordinator who showed us how to research, record and present our findings and thinking along the way. I’m that guy who never really spent much time in a library because for me, it was never cool to be there when I was at school. So it’s only now I fully appreciate the massive resource it has become for me.
As teachers it is easy to get so wrapped up in our own classroom with our own students and exist in our bubble, doing what we do and protecting our realm, hidden away from others.
Through this I have learned that opening up and asking for help is not a bad thing. In fact it’s actually a wonderful thing! I have learned more in the past two terms about how learners learn than I have in the previous eight years. Now I welcome anyone into my classroom to help, share or critique my professional practise. I do not view this as criticism. I see it as a chance for me to grow as a teacher and provide extra opportunities for my students as they benefit from the perspective of others.
I am still only in the beginnings of my inquiry journey but see the massive benefits this approach has on learning. I am determined to continue on this path. I will allow myself to feel okay about the mistakes I have made along the way as we have all learned because of them and they’ve allowed me to move forward.
Next week Leon will share some of the students reflections about their inquiry journey this year.