There are many reasons to appreciate and respect inquiry-based learning environments: because we are no longer living in the dark ages; because we are surrounded by information that we need to digest and evaluate; because there are great opportunities to transform ideas with the skills we have; because we cannot not be a part of the change that perspires everyday. The structures of learning are like the walls of the maze in the Glade, in Maze Runner: they change daily; they are affected by intellectual, social, and emotional weather conditions; and they take the shape and form of our dreams and fears. Conventional learning structures are “so my grandpa’s time”, one of my nephews would say.
In this world that I am describing there is no room for punishment; there is no room for zeros; there is no room to negotiate the power and value of thinking and learning. Embracing dialogue when facing a challenge is an article of this world’s constitution, as is reminding ourselves of our duties and responsibilities when collaborating. Promoting a growth mindset instead of highlighting ‘can’t do’s’ and opting for acknowledging what we have not attained yet in order to take action is hence a magical instrument.
Upon unwrapping our statement of inquiry (SoI) in our MYP 2 class, a colleague and I (we teach the same grade) realized that students were not engaging with the understandings that we had listed and agreed on evaluating and possibly refuting. We had worked on the language skills, but felt students were not reacting to the provocations considered. Therefore, we needed to redirect the course of our learning.
We regrouped, rethought our exploration, and decided to have our two groups explore the SoI differently, to walk different paths and then meet at some point in order to share how our choice allowed us to experience learning differently. When we reconvened, all of us, teachers and students, were standing before uncertainty, but we were hoping to find what we wished for when we met again.
Needless to say, we stumbled and fell; we got up, restarted and considered different strategies several times: we wanted wild, unpolished, provoking, disruptive, engaging ideas to emerge from our diversion from the original path. Thus, we invited students not to think of zeros or can’ts, but to look at what we had not learned yet, as this would help us define our priorities in our quest to develop a new understanding through our unit.
Thus, we came up with the “Not Yetometer”: our scale to evaluate our progress, without negative remarks, only with reminders that prompted us to think of what needed to be done in order to attain what we wanted. As a result, I realized that scaffolding needed to be more diverse, with mutating qualities that allowed for differentiation, and that triggered students’ needs to express what they thought.
Students started planning their own blueprints and then they took the best of each in order to design a better one; they made individual reports and then combine their ideas, hence finding connections and observing the relationship between concepts; they started using elements of the resources they had studied before. Students knew they were soon to meet the other part of the gang and then show what they had found, so there was some pressure.
As it happens in good books, when paths meet new questions arise, alliances are formed and decisions are made. Yet, the questions my colleague and I observed were focused and showed curiosity (as they were addressing ideas they had not fully explored before); students were speaking with a strong sense of audience, establishing connections with their peers (as they knew they were saying something that mattered to them); and I was just proud of everyone. Those students whose voices I had not heard in weeks now wore colors that made them sound different.
One goal, two explorations became the motto of the re-launching of the unit I am describing. It sounded like a statement from the Matrix, it felt like providence, and it proved to be a wise choice. This experience allowed me to see that the paths of inquiry are not straight- they are winding and intertwined; they are messy; they react to emotions and happenstance. Likewise, looking back at everything we, as a team, experienced, I can see how taking the challenge to do something unusual allowed us to find inquiry instruments and gave us the opportunity to use them.
Inquiry instruments are like magical creatures: they are hidden from the common eye, and we need patience and determination to find them. Yet, once we’ve found them, and because of what we have undergone, we will be surrounded by scenarios where we can use them purposefully and meaningfully.
As students presented their findings and I saw how their questions felt so natural, I also realized that, while we were indeed addressing and putting our statement of inquiry to the test, ideas were divergent and moving in directions that we didn’t think would happen. There I was, thinking that the outcomes of inquiry could be contained… I was experiencing transformation and how learning was being unleashed, as the great Edna Sackson would say.
Thank you Edna, for putting words together that helped me reflect on this recently walked journey.
Student’s reflection to symbolise our journey: