“The deepest parts of the ocean are totally unknown to us,” admits Professor Aronnax early in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. “What goes on in those distant depths? What creatures inhabit, or could inhabit, those regions twelve or fifteen miles beneath the surface of the water? It’s almost beyond conjecture.” Inquiry is like the sea: it expands in front of our eyes and there is a point where it meets with the sky.
Inquiry is shapeless, boundless and immeasurable; but it’s livable, observable and, like clay, can acquire the form our hands give it. Teachers and students are, consequently, artisans when they embrace inquiry in the classroom and outside.
Collaboration is key in the MYP, but finding the pleasure in the shared responsibility when co-teaching two groups put together in order to enrich the level of communication is priceless. While planning an inquiry is an enjoyable experience, living it is a one of a kind experience.
One of my colleagues and I have been experimenting with different models of collaboration, and we have been following Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle to as our learning trail. This time, since we want to optimize on the opportunities to have a service-led unit, we have agreed to co-teach. This means that each of us would be leading a stage of the unit; this also means that we will need to have intense, meaningful dialogue on how we are sensing the unit is progressing; and this also means each of us will have the chance to experience and contemplate the inquiry process as the other is engaged teaching.
We are currently working on a unit on communication, in which our statement of inquiry (SoI) is: The way people communicate ideas is an ongoing evolving process that is influenced by context in which statements are uttered, and the purpose for which they are spoken. We have planned a wonderful set of provocations that rank from images on the different forms in which we communicate ideas; a comparison between animal communication systems and language in order to determine what constitutes a language; the way our voice, sounds, color, shapes and symbols change or modify the ‘meaning’ of words and statements; as well as the relationship between the items in these relationships. These provocations have served as an opportunity to introduce and play around with the language targets for the unit, which is fully loaded with the function of reporting (reported speech).
As we were moving from the tuning in stage towards finding out, and eliciting the big understandings from students, questions started emerging. Clearly showing the original video of Rocky vs. an intervention that made us wonder about what if Rocky was a romance movie, allowed students to generate a diverse set of questions that could be researched on this key concept (communication), considering our SoI. As one of us typed the questions that were being projected, and the other worked on elevating the engagement students were demonstrating, our eyes met and realized that not only were the questions students asking indications of possible formative assessments that we could bring in in order to scaffold learning towards our summative assessment, but also were clear exemplifications of work for each of the strands in our four criteria. This moment proved to us that the journey in this sea of learning was worthy.
As we revealed the statement of inquiry and asked students to find connections with the questions that had been generated, we were able to see that not only were they showing how personalized their journey was so far, but also had already thrown themselves into an exploration of something that was making them feel curious. Thus the only thing we needed to do was to create an opportunity for us to assess how ready they were for the next stage of the unit, the stage in which things become more complex; the stage at which ideas form clouds and we have to look up and around as we continue to wonder. We, hence, asked students to choose one question they would like to focus their inquiry on, and to write why they were interested in it, as well as what they expected to find out. Silence took over, and we could even hear the music of our breath and heartbeats.
On February 4, 2016, with a gloomy sky, near a smooth sea, and a moderate breeze, QAIS MYP Language Acquisition students were conceptualizing at a speed of 13.43 thoughts per blinking of an eye; their ideas were churning the seas of understanding with perfect steadiness.
At 1:36 in the afternoon, an hour right after lunch, a collision occurred, scarcely noticeable at first, affecting the classroom’s architecture.
The language room was experiencing happenstance. This encounter seemed so minor that nobody on board would have been disturbed by it, had it not been for the shouts of one of the crewmen, who rose from his seat yelling:
“I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”
At the end of the day, as we allow our past experiences to copulate with our current interactions, we realize that while inquiry takes place, exist and can be felt as a collective, it is ultimately an individualized, personalized and internalized process that each one of us travels even beyond the limits our teachers can consider.