I started the student inquiry project with my Grade 8 English students in January. We talked briefly about the project before the winter break so they could have a chance to think about what it is they wanted to research and have the chance to discuss it with their families. The project was a "Me to We" inquiry where they had to connect a personal passion to a global issue or worldview. What seemed to really help when getting this project started was for me to share my personal inquiry journey and why it has helped me as a learner/teacher.
As the teacher, throughout the project I had many points of pure elation as well as many frustrations. It did not go smoothly all the time, but I know that in the end it was worth it. The final presentations were some of the best learning I had seen from the class all year. The thing that struck me the most in this middle school classroom, was the amount of respect it fostered as students listed to what each person was passionate about. The students enjoyed having the freedom for their project and many of them liked taking on the global lens. Students' responses to the project were that it was "a chance to look into something I am passionate about," "an effective learning experience," and "it really emphasized the importance of [thinking globally]."
There are many things I would change when doing this project again. To start with, I would give them a little more guidance about what the project will look like long term before they choose their topics. I also had multiple students suggest in their final write-ups that the inquiry interviews we had started in January should have continued throughout the year. The most important part of the inquiry project was to just get started. A lot of the activities and conversations flowed naturally from the work they were doing, it took a bit of courage on my part to just jump into the unknown but I am so happy that I took that step.
Interactive 8.4 Vanessa’s class and quilt
After teaching in grade one this past year, I am still amazed by the creative, inquisitive, and exuberant learning spirits I found nestled within my students. The children bound fearlessly into exploring art, poetry, music, and dance. They were uninhibited in their creative spirit and were unendingly curious, particularly with regard to the natural world. Within this complex terrain, I invited my students to take a journey of Transformative Inquiry. Our first meeting began with Cajete’s questions which I placed on a piece of chart paper depicted here, and we recursively returned to these themes throughout our journey. As a large group we discussed these questions. Interestingly, the first one proved the most baffling, as their concept of a heart was purely physical. For example, they made suggestions to take care of their hearts by exercising and eating well. I tried to help them move their understanding of a heart beyond the physical realm to the locus of feeling and passion.
After we discussed Cajete’s questions, I invited them to select an inquiry topic. We then decorated hand-made books where their only prerequisite was to write down their inquiry area; for example, “Matthew’s Inquiry on Turtles.” The children did not hesitate and I encountered only one student who was puzzled about what topic to select. When confronted with this, I asked him, “What do you care about? What do you like to do after school?” To this he replied that he enjoyed playing video games. I gave him permission to pursue this as an avenue of inquiry and he was pleased to be validated in this way. There was a wide range of inquiries, many centered upon animals, such as sharks, koala bears, dogs, and owls. Several inquiries sprawled out into social, historical and personal terrain, where topics emerged on friends, mummies and Lego. In this way, I felt their inquiries connected to their learning spirit.
I tried to facilitate a space where the children would be able to envision their topics in relation to others. Within their books they wrote a small piece about why they cared about their subject(s). Later, we did a colour-web where they created a web, in one colour, about everything they knew about their subject. Next, a partner would select a different colour to write everything they knew about their classmate’s topic. These activities had varying degrees of success, due to the limitations of grade one writing and reading abilities. While I was challenged by my students’ restrictions with regard to reading and writing to deepen their thinking, I also found that it facilitated a further disruption of my own understanding about the way learning occurs. I still wonder if part of the reason my students were so engaged by their inquiries was because of the emphasis on learning as a relational activity that privileged the collective knowledge shared between them and their peers.
Additionally, I tried to move TI into a cross-curricular space with regard to music and art. We learned mindfulness songs, such as “Take a Breath” by Betsy Rose (which has implications for TI and fostering pro-social behavior).
The most successful element of our TI journey was an Inquiry Quilt that we created. My students were each given a section of a quilt-square to illustrate their inquiry topic (see interactive 8.5 slide 5). Each quilt piece had two arcs running across it that comprised a quarter of a circle. These acted as a guide that some children chose to use and others did not, but when fused together, each set of four formed a complete circle that served as a visual image of the connections between their inquiries. When all the pieces were joined together, an intricate quilt was created and I led them in a discussion about how their inquiries were inter-connected and the relatedness of all living things. They were fascinated with the final product and very proud of their work.
As the year dwindled to a close, I wanted my students to remain grounded within the attitude of TI. I accentuated in my report cards, in the “Goals and Ways to Support Learning” section that parents continue to encourage their children to inquire into the things about which they are most passionate. Finally, I ended the unit reminding my students to always explore what they care about and reinforced the importance of valuing their personal passions.