Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Better than Trivia Crack.

The Philadelphia Inquirer was the newspaper to read when I was a kid.  "Current Events" was an actual assignment, requiring that students find something of interest happening in the world, understand it well enough to share it with a class, and develop an understanding of literacy strategies, society, and public speaking.  The assumption, I now realize, was that the readers of the paper were, by nature, inquirers.  (As opposed to the National Enquirer, which left nothing to the imagination.)  

Today, people don't really consider the value of "inquiring,"  they just plain old ASK.  But when we "ask" for answers, do we really do anything more with the information than satisfy an immediate curiosity?  Think of it this way -- playing Trivia Crack asks you a question, to which you provide an answer.  If you happen to get the answer wrong, you probably won't seriously consider even trying to remember the actual answer.  The information is there, but doesn't get enough consideration for a transfer to long term memory. Kids sitting in classes receive information in exactly the same manner.

Think about it. When provided with a graphic organizer that provides sentence skeletons or fill in the blanks, even adults sit and listen for key words to trigger the "right" answer to complete the paper.   It doesn't really allow or encourage higher-order thinking, it's more about data processing, as the mind dismisses information deemed unimportant for the task at hand.  It's "garbage in garbage out," in the finest sense of the word.  (And who needs to have the finest garbage?)

We need to be Inquirers.  (And not necessarily just from Philadelphia!)  There is significant evidence that supports the value of students focusing on curriculum topics as a whole and generating their own questions -- essentially giving them ownership of their own learning. Inquiry Learning creates a sense of student autonomy and self-direction that is unlike any environment that exists in a traditional classroom.

Back in January, I outlined my practice for student-designed rubrics.  This is not the "dumbing down" of my gradebook, or lowering expectations of my students.  In fact, these very rubrics have actually increased student achievement, based on evaluating the new papers on the "old" rubrics.  The students owned the expectations, paid close attention o the creation and design of the rubric during the class discussion.  The same can happen with student-designed learning.

Inquiry Learning is a radical idea to some.  For many teachers using Learning Focused Schools or Understanding By Design lesson planning, there may be a philosophical struggle about this process, or the alignment of lesson plans to the actual activities, but it works...
And it works better than anything else that is happening in classroom.  It's learners looking at something -- searching for a current event -- and asking questions, and constructing meaning from what they've discovered.  This is the making of long term learning AND lifelong learners.

I'm hoping to convince a colleague of mine to contribute her classes' success stories as a guest blogger here in the near future. It's her story, and her evidence that she enthusiastically shared with me after school today made it clear that as a teacher, she was clearly as excited as her students about Inquiry Learning, and  felt that it was well worth the struggle of conforming to the almighty lesson plan templates, while encouraging autonomy.