Bringing out Inquiry: How?

New year. New students. Changed land in Bangladesh. Lots of security. WordPress is blocked so I’m in Thailand typing.

We are off to a smoother start in the classroom, and at times I have inklings that this could be one of my favorite classes ever. However, I have a burning question: How do I encourage all students to be inquirers?

This year I’m starting off with a few really strong, active inquirers. Last year I started with none so that was a different challenge altogether. We have a lot of inconsistent teaching at our school (especially in regards to inquiry) and a controlled culture and so I’ve noticed that coming into 5th grade, students need a lot of encouragement to actively participate and take responsibility for their learning.

What I’m noticing this year is that now the strong few are taking over the rest of them. They ask the questions; they control the learning. They move things forward. I can see that with one of them, at least, this has been par for the course for at least the last several years.

As a result the students who have been with those strong ones have sat back and let things flow. Most of the students at our school have been together since early years. Patterns develop and things move along and suddenly they are in 5th grade and have never taken charge of their own learning.

At the beginning of the year when I started asking questions I noticed this. I quickly got them into learning partners, always do think, pair, share. I draw names randomly with sticks. It’s helping some.

But I’m still wondering how to bring them out more. One of the strong ones, a girl, has quickly caught on that I’m not going to call on her much of the time. She’s relieved when finally her stick is drawn. She has good ideas and needs challenge. I don’t want to hurt her in the process of bringing out the others.

So what to do? In looking back at teaching I’ve realized I’ve always had some strong ones that often drive discussion. However the difference between those few and the rest of the class wasn’t as stark as this year. Most of my kids are not used to thinking for themselves, taking control of themselves. They have maids, drivers, and they’ve had a lot of direct instruction. Now I’m noticing that they have had others students to take care of them too.

I want all of my students to take responsibility for their learning and to actively engage in it. How do I encourage all of them and still honor the king and queen bees? I’m inquiring and would love to hear your thoughts.

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3 thoughts on “Bringing out Inquiry: How?

  1. I’m sure lots of us can relate to this situation. I think your comment about students in many international schools having people take care of them is really key. Thinking is hard work! And so often, there are people out there to do it for you. I don’t have many ideas for you but would encourage you to try the Question Formulation Technique (Right Question Institute) and maybe instead of working in teams, students are paired up or do this as individuals as well. Would love to hear how it goes. Keep writing and thank you for sharing!

  2. First of all, I am sure that your class is driven by a wealth of opportunity for all to inquire – it is just who you are that that would be so. But you are asking, so I am offering ideas. My first thought: Do you use the phrase “How might we…?” The “we” part implies you are speaking to everyone and while you want each person to have ideas, the whole group is at stake. Secondly, let your go-getters go. When I spoke at the ADE institute last year, I shared my thinking on Swamp Dwellers, Fence Sitters, and Go-Getters. My experience has been to let the go-getters go and get! If they are solid with the tools of inquiry, let them inquire! The fence sitters will either observe and stay on the fence or observe and jump off to go too. Then you can pull the swamp dwellers out of their non-inquiry mud and at least get them to the fence but hopefully beyond. Sometimes it pays to focus the energy on the go getters although in your case it sounds like this has been done exclusively. What happens to these kids when they are not the centre of the teacher’s world? When they are left to their own devices? Do they really have the inquiry skills? If so, let them have at it. If not (but they have the enthusiasm) can you aim for the highest common denominator and pitch things at their level in the hope others will rise? I feel like everything I am saying is going to be something you have tried. I guess ultimately you want to make being involved a greater pull than NOT being involved.

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