Inquiry Learning: One Teacher’s Journey – Part 1

Inquiry

I had some comments at the SLANZA Conference last month that my blog has been a bit quiet.  This is true. But it hasn’t been due to lack of material.  It has more to do with timing and the size of the undertakings. Good things take time!

For example, it has taken me the better part of 10 months to be in a position to share about the new and improved Tertiary Prep Programme.

Another significant piece of work I’ve been involved in this year has been supporting and working alongside of one of my teachers as he embarked on a huge mind shift towards guided inquiry learning in his classroom.

It has been a roller-coaster year for both of us so I’ve asked Leon to share, in his own words, how this journey has been.

This will be the first in a series of blogs over the next few weeks outlining:

  • why undertake this journey
  • what approaches were taken
  • the outcomes for the students
  • reflection of the process from the teacher’s perspective
  • the benefits of collaboration

LDN 9Home 15

I am absolutely thrilled to be introducing you to Mr Leon Dunn. Not only is he a pleasure to work with, he has shown himself to be brave in launching into a new direction in his classroom practice, generous in sharing and discussing ideas with myself and others, and genuine in his caring connection with every student who enters his sphere.  Here, Leon shares about why he began this journey:

This year I decided to step out of my comfort zone and look at teaching through inquiry in my class. This was a relatively new concept to me and I had only touched on inquiry in a school I had previously worked at.

WHY?

For the past three years I felt I have been just going through the motions in terms of my classroom teaching. There are some great systems put in place in our school for curriculum delivery, but I felt like neither I nor my class had any control over what happened in our room.

An example of this is our school reading programme. A folder was given to me on arrival at the school and we were instructed to only use the resources that were in it! The same applied to writing, where the unit and resources would be given to us and we taught from that. No collaboration with other staff or students about what and how curriculum would be delivered in the classroom. I felt restricted in terms of planning and resourcing and after gathering student voice data I knew it was time for things to change. I was tired of filling my students heads with “just in case” knowledge with a didactic teaching approach that was boring for all of us.

I teach a Year 9 Homeroom / Alternative Pathways class in an all boys school. There is a roll of 15 students in my class, with numbers this low because our homerooms are made up of very low academic and high pastoral needs students. For some of my students it is a win just getting to school on time!

Teaching through inquiry was a scary thought because I would be “flying blind” having no idea how it would work or how the boys would respond. This is my first year trialling this so am by no means an expert on the subject. I am also a self-confessed control freak so letting go and stepping into the unknown is very stressful. But over the course of the next few weeks I would like to share my journey warts and all! 

Leon is a primary, bilingual trained teacher in his ninth year of teaching.  After completing his degree he spent almost five years in London teaching all ages groups from Nursery to Year 6.  Upon returning to New Zealand he worked for a year in Alternative Education before  teaching a Year 6-8 class in a small primary school.  He has been teaching at Southland Boys’ High School for the past three years with Year 7 and Year 9 classes.

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Research and the Internet – Are we getting smarter?

Human – business evolution

Reused from Flickr with Creative Commons License

I have just finished reading a thought-provoking article from the American Psychological Association regarding research into whether internet searching makes us feel smarter than we truly are.

It would seem that it does!  Apparently the research would suggest that we gain an inflated sense of our own knowledge, even when we don’t find the answer to what we’re looking for, after the physical act of searching the internet. However, it appears this is not the case when researchers provided the link to a website to enable subjects to answer specific questions.  It is the act of searching that makes us feel all-knowing.

Lead researcher Matthew Fisher suggests that as a result of the act of reading a book or talking with an expert we are more engaged in the research process than when we are searching the internet and so it becomes apparent to us when we have gaps in our knowledge.  This then leads us to investigate further to find the answer. “With the Internet, the lines become blurry between what you know and what you think you know.”

So what are the implications of this on education and our future generations? And will it become more obvious as our current crop of young people who seem surgically connected to their smart phones become adults?

My initial thoughts are that we need to be designing lessons that require a level of critical thinking that demands our students to engage with the material they find, and that we should not be too quick to physically or mentally throw out our non-fiction collections.

We also need to continue to engage in learning conversations with our students as well as encourage those conversations to take place between peers, and demand not only reasoned and cited answers to questions but that further questions need to be asked in the quest for new knowledge.

It could become a dangerous world indeed when decisions are being made by people who think they know everything, but in fact know very little at all.

Why I need to be in the library and not the office!

So yesterday I had to take up a position at the circulation desk instead of the library office.

SBHS Circulation Desk

Today I’m still there, and here’s why:

In the course of an hour this morning I had three separate conversations with three different teachers that I wouldn’t have had if I’d been in my office.

  • Conversation No. 1:  A Science teacher who was booking in her Year 10 class to use computers to research common contemporary myths, such “red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”, for scientific accuracy and proof of validity.  As we discussed what her expected outcomes are and a possible approach to guiding her students in a meaningful way, I shared with her the Quality Information Checklist website to illustrate for students the types of questions they need to ask themselves to validate information for research.  As a consequence, I taught the first part of this lesson …. today! …. for her class and she is going to share this website with other science faculty who are also teaching this unit.
  • Conversation No. 2:  A Health and Wellbeing teacher who had booked in at the last minute with his Year 10 boys to use computers.  After chatting with him about what they were doing I found out they were researching sexually transmitted diseases, a fun and challenging assignment to research with a class of red-blooded 14 & 15 year old males! I asked him how that was working and showed him the EPIC database, Health and Wellness Resource Centre which is tailor-made for this type of research and presents no problems with filter systems.  One of the features I love about this resource is the comprehensive table of contents which helps guide the students to the information required for them to answer their questions.
  • Conversation No. 3: Teacher number 3 had brought a couple of her Year 12 Media Studies students into the library to look at newspaper headlines as she was getting them to create their own.  I asked “Have you seen the Newspaper Clipping Generator? It might be just what you need.”  Half an hour later the same boys came in to show me what they’d created.

View into Library OfficeLibrary Office Desk

As you can see from the photos above, my office is tucked behind a wall, out of the way and while I have plenty of glass (still a barrier) that only gives me a view of half the library.  I can’t see people arriving, and more importantly, they can’t see me!

As a consequence of being “front and centre”, I’ve had more spontaneous conversations with the boys as they move through the library in the past two days than I have in the past two months!

Now …. to devise a plan to have us all working in the library and not the office!

To shush or not to shush …. that is the question?

Shh--Daily Image 2011--April 2

Today is the first day of our secondary schools here in New Zealand being senior-less after the antics and hi-jinks of yesterday’s final day of classes for our Year 11-13 students.  Of course, those of us in the school library know that we’re really not senior-less at all.  In fact, here at Hargest anyway, we find that they make their way here in droves every day.  Ostensibly they’re here to study for their NCEA exams, but often it’s for various other reasons, some of them with a strongly social agenda indeed.

Now, I’m no party-pooper but invariably this is the time of the year where the two sides of my personality do battle.  The Senga on my left shoulder says:

“They’re all good.  It doesn’t matter if there’s lots of excited chatter, frivolity and laughter out there.  The library is a social space and should be able to be used as such.” while the Senga on my right shoulder is frowning and shaking her head:

“What about the serious students who have come here to actually study?  Don’t they have a right to some peace and quiet? Should they have to combat the constant distraction of their more social peers discussing their plans for Friday night or what dress they’re wearing to the Year 13 leavers dinner?”

And of course, lets not forget the junior classes that are still booking in to work in the library.

So I’ve decided to let you, my fellow librarians, sway me in the direction you think I need to go.

To shush or not to shush …. that is the question.  Or should it even be a question?

What do you do in your library?  Please help me reconcile the two distinct and at-the-moment warring sides to my personality.  Have your say on my little poll

And if you feel strongly enough, leave me a comment as well, explaining your position.

Like something out of a Dystopian novel

I’ve got my dander up this morning.

Those of you who know me will testify to the fact that I can be garrulous and a bit feisty but I normally attempt to keep myself under control – just.

But I’ve just become incensed this morning after reading this article in the Guardian entitled: Kensal Rise library stripped in night of books and Twain plaque. (Thanks to Val McDermid for tweeting it and drawing it to mine and Twitterland’s attention).

So sneaking into a local public library and stripping it bare of books, artworks, furniture at 02.30 in the morning has now become standard practice? What has it come to in the democratic world when this sort of behaviour is considered acceptable!?  Do our voices no longer count? Has the push to save money finally crashed over the public’s right to demonstrate and have a say in their local government issues?

I shall pause for a deep, cleansing breath ….

Nope, that didn’t help.  It still seems totally ridiculous behaviour.  Obviously the “they can’t put it back once we’ve destroyed it” premise is at play here.  It’s these types of things that make you feel helpless in the face of the government “Big Brother” mentality.  Heaven help us if this type of policy and it’s implementation was to ever reach NZ shores!  It just doesn’t bear thinking about. 

So I say, people everywhere, love your libraries, treasure them and at every opportunity tell the people who fund them (yes, you elect them!!) how much you want and value them! Don’t make the mistake of being passive about it, or assuming this could never happen here. It would seem this should never be taken for granted in case you end up like the library users at Kensal Rise – libraryless.

Are You Up For the 30 Day Challenge?

Normally I use this blog space to make comment on my own library practice, or good ideas I come across, or share my thoughts on the library profession in general, but in this post I want to invite you to be inspired to do something new, different, challenging, daunting, fun or important in 30 days.  And yes, that might take the shape of something to do with libraries!

I have personal reasons for recommending the new blog culturaleutopia to you, but if nothing else, if it doesn’t inspire you to take your own 30 day challenge, you’ll enjoy the stream-of-consciousness writing that you’ll find here.  It will make you smile, make you grimace, make you roll your eyes or shake your head, or just make you think.  Hopefully it will also make you take action.