Examining the Water: Part 2 of Diving Into Inquiry

With the book Dive Into Inquiry in hand I was very excited to embark on the journey reading this book. As I shared in my previous post in this series linked here, I had already connected with the author on Twitter, had a conversation with a colleague about the book, and so I was very anxious to begin. Before I get into the content of the book there’s a couple things I want to share that immediately got me excited. First is the bi-line to the book: “Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice”. I loved how this was so student centered. A lot of books I have read or have come across in education talk about “improving my teaching” or how to “better deliver content” etc… I immediately connected with the focus on the student experience and so I had a feeling that this book would deliver.

And the second thing that jumped out at me was the length. It is a short book. Most academic books or books about teaching tend to be at least 300 or so pages and on up to 600 pages at times. This book was clocking in at a cool 120 pages total. This made the topic feel approachable and broke down any walls I may have had about incorporating inquiry into my classroom.

So now to the visual layout of the book. The main thing that I want to focus on, that goes along with the short length of the book, is how approachable everything is. There are simple to digest phrases about inquiry that are set in a much larger and different font spread throughout the paragraphs. These are marked with the hashtag #DiveintoInquiry. These are little nuggets that can stand on their own as important pieces of learning to take into your classroom. Also there are easy to read bolded sections in each chapter along with a number of bulleted points that the author wanted to emphasize such as a series of prompts to use during student discussions. Finally there were a number of illustrations and QR codes to resources that are great summaries of important points and additional resources.

Now what about the content? All of those things I mentioned about length and layout are moot if the content isn’t good. Well this is where I think Trevor McKenzie really brings it all together. In a very sequential way he lays out the different types of student inquiry from structured to free inquiry with examples of what each would look like in a variety of high school subject areas. One thing that I was left wanting is some examples added in for the middle and primary levels.

After explaining the different types of inquiry, the author lays out the seven steps in the inquiry process: the four pillars of inquiry, creating an essential question, creating your free inquiry proposal, exploration and research collecting learning evidence, creating an authentic piece, and a public display of understanding. For those that may be very early in the process of getting to know what authentic inquiry will look like and how it can be designed, I think this is a very simple to follow road map to help in the first introduction into this type of learning. I included an illustration from the book so you can get a better idea.

What this all does is keep the reader grounded in some fundamental and easy to follow directions on how to get started. The language of the book is clear and simple, yet guided by forward looking educational pedagogy.

The first part of the inquiry process is the “Four Pillars of Inquiry”. These are the different ways that students can connect with the inquiry process either through exploring a passion, aiming for a goal, delving into curiosities, or taking on a new challenge. Each of these pillars are complimented with some helpful insights about how you could introduce these into your classroom with concrete learning tasks for students to complete during the process. These are definitely sections that have the potential to be built out in more detail as obviously the entire learning progression of all four pillars of inquiry cannot be communicated in a 120 page book, but there is enough there to at least get your creative teaching juices flowing to begin the design process of creating your own inquiry curriculum.

Moving into the second half of the book the author starts to dig into the meat of inquiry based learning, with particular emphasis on essential questions, the proposal, and the exploration and research phases. Again what I liked so much about how the book is written is that author provides very easy to follow and applicable tools to use immediately in the classroom. I have read a lot of things on generating essential questions, completed workshops on this, done collaborative work with colleagues, and I found the layout by Trevor McKenzie to be the best approach I have yet to come across. By categorizing different types of essential questions, along with question stems for students to use to begin drafting EQs was an effective way to structure this often challenging part of the inquiry process.

This all leads up to the concluding section of the book in which the author effectively bookends the knowledge he had shared with some helpful advice and suggestions. Now I will admit that in my excitement to start the process of incorporating inquiry into my classroom I missed a couple crucial elements in this section that I will layout in my next blog post. But most importantly I can read back on this and chuckle at the last piece of advice he leaves us with, “Find comfort in the mess of uncertainty”.

I do believe that there is a fine line in the commitment to being an agent of change in our classrooms and schools. We don’t want to just blow out the entire structure of what we do and run the risk of creating confusion for the students in which they are not clear about where they are going. But at the same time we don’t want to continue to keep regurgitating the same learning experiences year after year for our students when we know that they are yearning for so much more. So what do we do about this tension? Well as an educational intrapreneur I think the answer is to stay grounded in the fundamentals of design thinking. By constantly empathizing with our students with an honest desire to create engaging learning experiences for them, along with a humble commitment to iterate, revise, and improve, we can minimize the negative impacts of being an innovative risk taker. Top this all off with a focus on developing relationships with our students and we have the opportunity to be co-creators along with our students on this wonderful journey of learning.

And that is really the main point I want to make here. Often we think of innovation and creative thinking as being this gambling risk taker and taking chances. But one thing I have learned is that quite the opposite is true. Being an agent of change within your organization actually involves carefully curating change. There is a lot of legwork in research, reading, considering, evaluating, talking, sharing, and analyzing before making a change. When working within an organizational structure I feel we need to be even more sensitive to this as we are often using other people’s resources, money, time, and experience to create the change we are looking to make. And that is what I like so much about Trevor McKenzie’s book. I think it is an easy to follow, clearly written, and well grounded book on inquiry. One that I would encourage any educator who is looking to add student voice and choice into their classroom to familiarize themselves with.

I hope you join in my next post in this series in which I dig into my experience with inquiry based learning in my music technology class.

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