I am writing this blog post upon culminating a very gratifying year or learning and teaching, as my summer break begins, and before the arms of the summer convince me that it is time to slow down and re-charge for next year. It is important that I acknowledge one of the best learning experiences I have witnessed in my life as a learner, and as a teacher.
I wanted to end my MYP 1 English Language Acquisition class offering students the opportunity to choose how they wanted to demonstrate their learning, and exploring a topic they were interested in. The only thing I would decide, as part of the structure of this inquiry, was the purpose of communication: argumentation; the rest of the experience would be designed by students, and my role was to be follow them in their learning journey, meeting them at different stages of their learning to, basically, learn from them.
I have 7 students in my class- yes, I am a lucky teacher. Yet, working with 7 different themes required me to multiply my efforts so that I could help students gather enough information in order for them to make wise decisions on the message they wanted to convey, and the way they wanted to do it.
In previous units, students experienced conversations that explicitly addressed the concepts we were working on; they became aware of the importance of being able to answer (and paraphrase) the inquiry questions that guided our learning, and, most importantly, they recognized the value of knowing how to demonstrate that they knew and understood. This awareness allowed me to conclude that they were ready to carry out an inquiry such as the one I had intended them to.
Once students began planning and sharing the inquiries they wanted to pursue, I realized that the approach to teaching I had to embrace had to be multidimensional, multifaceted, and eclectic. Nonetheless, as the unit progressed, I must admit that while it was a challenge to remain engaged with each student’s project, it was quite stimulating to witness how some students were focused on the design of their outcome, while others were supporting others in the creation of materials for their project, and others were unpacking the big idea in their projects. What made this project work was the fact that students had choice within a structure, and all I had to do was orchestrate the guidance, dialogue, and reflection they needed.
The learning experience students and I were a part of clearly exemplified a way in which roles determine the course of learning. I was not their teacher, and they were not my students: We were partners, which means we discussed, engaged in dialogue, and evaluate progress together. The decision was students’ all the way. I only needed to serve as the devil’s advocate.
An interesting nuance about the conversations I had with students was the fact that every time that I conferenced with them, I needed to go into conversation as a student, and not as a teacher. It was essential for me to enter in conversation by asking questions. Acting as an equal not only validated their work, but also reconfirmed the idea that they had full agency on how they wanted their project to progress. As for me, I basically needed to withhold my opinion, truly be an active listener, and learn from what students were doing. Once I became aware of this, I realized that genuinely being part of a student-led inquiry humanizes the learning process and enhances my humbleness as a teacher.
When I look back at the experience my students and I shared, I can use a music metaphor to describe its significance: they were all musicians making music within a set of boundaries, the final product was to be a product of their own intention, but the goal was to avoid that it sounded like noise.
Attempting to summarize the learning process in steps may dilute the depth and power of the experience, as students’ journeys were different at each stage. However, for the sake of sharing our learning pathways, the key stages in this experience are the following.
Initial research- students explored how their topic has been addressed in different disciplines.
Investigation and sources.
Checklist for persuasive essay.
Students’ Personal Learning Plans.
Planning of their outcome.
One of the students’ essay.
Some of their products (companions to their essay)
I would like to recognize the inspiration I have found in the work of Kath Murdoch and Trevor MacKenzie. I am happy to share that the approaches and frameworks they share for inquiry with young learner, also works in foreign language instruction in secondary.