And then there's the issue of assessment. What your students have accomplished can't neatly be summed up by a multiple choice test. When you review what you thought would assess learning (back when you designed the unit), now measure the organic conversations the class had about deep subjects, the risk-taking they engaged in to arrive at answers, the authentic knowledge transfer that popped up independently of your class time. You realize you must open your mind to learning that occurred that you never taught - never saw coming in the weeks you stood amongst your students guiding their education.
Let me digress. I visited the Soviet Union (back when it was one nation) and dropped in on a classroom where students were inculcated with how things must be done. It was a polite, respectful, ordered experience, but without cerebral energy, replete of enthusiasm for the joy of learning, and lacking the wow factor of students independently figuring out how to do something. Seeing the end of that powerful nation, I arrived at different conclusions than the politicians and the economists. I saw a nation starved to death for creativity. Without that ethereal trait, learning didn't transfer. Without transfer, life required increasingly more scaffolding and prompting until it collapsed in on itself like a hollowed out orange.
So how do you create the inquiry-based classroom? Here's advice from a few of my efriend teachers:
- Ask open-ended questions and be open-minded about conclusions
- Provide hands-on experiences
- Use groups to foster learning
- Encourage self-paced learning. Be open to the student who learns less but deeper as much as the student who learns a wider breadth
- Differentiate instruction. Everyone learns in their own way
- Look for evidence of learning in unusual places. It may be from the child with his/her hand up, but it may also be from the learner who teaches mum how to use email
- Understand 'assessment' comes in many shapes. It may be a summative quiz, a formative simulation, a rubric, or a game that requires knowledge to succeed. It may be anecdotal or peer-to-peer. Whatever approach shows students are transferring knowledge from your classroom to life is a legitimate assessment
- Be flexible. Class won't always (probably never) go as your mind's eye saw it. That's okay. Learn with students. Observe their progress and adapt to their path
- Give up the idea that teaching requires control. Refer to #8: 'Be flexible'
- Facilitate student learning in a way that works for them. Trust that they will come up with the questions required to reach the big ideas
In the end, know that inquiry-based teaching is not about learning for the moment. You're creating life-long learners, the individuals who will solve the world's problems in ten years.
How do you ensure they are ready?