As an IB PYP school, we have 6 units of inquiry across the year. Traditionally, teachers guide students through the central idea, lines of inquiry, and key concepts of each unit, while trying to provide as many options and opportunities for inquiry as possible. As a grade 4 team, we have almost 100 Studio 4 students in 5 classes, and a dedicated EAL teacher for the group.
We decided to explore an option we call “inquiry groups”. Our why behind this is so that all of our students have the opportunity to dive a little deeper into an interest of theirs, related to the unit. It also makes it easier for teachers to guide a group of students who are generally interested in similar things.
Choosing inquiry groups can be an interesting process. There needs to be a balance of providing new opportunities and using interests the students already have. Usually we do this by having a week or two of tasters for many concepts within the unit so students are exposed to new ideas they might hold on to. After that, we usually send out a Google Form asking for their first and second choices.
From this, we balance the groups. We try to give everyone their first choice as often as we can. This means that as an adult, WE need to be the flexible ones. It is great to teach to our own strengths and interests, but if there are two groups worth of students interested in one area, we make two groups for that area. If there seems to be a group of mismatched interests, maybe one group is a bit of a mismatch group. If no one is interested in one of the areas, we don’t run it.
If you are familiar with the exhibition at the end of a student’s journey in the PYP, I feel like the process is sometimes similar to that. We don’t always have the celebration of learning at the end, of course, but we have many groups of students working under the same central idea that is modified for each group. Sometimes we have even had blank spaces in our central idea, that depend on which group they learn with.
As a studio, we believe in providing a balance of opportunities for every learner to flourish. Opening up a unit so students have these focused groups and the support of a teacher is one way we create this environment.
Cindy’s Top Tips for Inquiry Groups:
- Keep your unit broad - this way, many groups and pathways can be taken
- Play to your own strengths and interests (..but, #3) - this makes teaching inquiry groups way easier, and way more fun!
- (#2, but…) Shift based on student interest - remember that the students are your priority. Their interests come first. Be flexible.
- Innovate inside the box - Have standards you need to stick to? That’s fine! See what standards could fit into each group, and document that. Try to give tasters of these at the beginning of the unit as well.
- Change as needed - We change things up all of the time. While the same basic idea might work, the structure of a unit might change, depending on the content. Do what works for you and your students in your setting.
Interested in more? Check out Cindy’s blog innovativeinquirers.weebly.com for more reflections about the studio model.
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