Friday, August 28, 2015

Why Inquiry? Part II

From Stephanie: The Art and Science of Inquiry

Did you grow up in a frugal family? Consider this childhood checklist:
  • Did you ever eat your morning cereal out of a recycled Cool Whip bowl?
  • Could you distinguish a Phillips from a flat head before you could write your name?
  • Did dad put tape over light switches so you wouldn’t turn on too many lights?
  • Did mom cut your hair? Or worse yet…give an at-home spiral perm?
  • Do Capri pants offer a nostalgic feeling of hand-me-down floods?

The Breakfast Bowl of Champions
When I began to formally study inquiry, I found myself reflecting on the penny-pinching ways which shaped my experiences as a learner. Today, I think we’d affectionately call my parents DIYers.
I am grateful for the impact they have had on my overall disposition toward learning. We were taught to seek challenges, ask questions, and work toward unconventional solutions.

These dispositions are found in Pillar One of the “Two Pillars of Inquiry,” which provide foundational support to HSE21.
The Two Pillars of Inquiry
In my formal review of the literature about Inquiry, I found over 40 different structures for inquiry models. Each structure moved quickly from pedagogy to the "how-to"—perhaps too quickly. As teachers, we often appreciate the how-to, but there is a danger in moving to action before we examine our “way of being” or the constructivist habits of our daily classroom lives.

In an attempt to live in a worlds of both the art and science of teaching, I had to develop a framework for inquiry that would honor both.

Pillar 1
Pillar 2
The Essence: The Art of Teaching

·         My Image of the Child
·         My Beliefs About Grit
·         A Way of Being that Happens Daily
·         My Questioning Practices
·         Our Classroom Culture

If Pillar 1 classroom culture is not in place our project work in Pillar 2 will fall flat.

The Action: The Science of Teaching

·         Our Curriculum
·         The Structure We Use for Project Work
·         Planned Events and Efforts
·         Structured Questions that Move Us Along Through the Phases of Project Work

Pillar 2 work supports the demonstration of learned skills and content. We evaluate the students’ new found confidence and gauge the shift in dispositions toward learning.

From Meg Strnat: Teaching Students to Create More Beautiful Questions

Just as essential questions help teachers build a framework for teaching, questions are also a tool for students to drive their own learning. 

You can start simply.  For example, questions needed to drive student learning can be simple restatements of learning outcome statements posted by teachers for the day’s lessons, framed in the form of questions.  Early in the year, students can learn to rewrite the goal into a “big” question that is the focus of a lesson or series of activities.  Student or student groups can share their learning outcome questions, evaluate which questions are the most meaningful, and determine how to rewrite other questions to become more meaningful. 

Instead of simply stating daily goals, try having students turn
daily goals into questions.  This activity involves higher order thinking.  Having
students analyze which questions are most meaningful, tell why,
and rewrite others moves it even higher.

 The process is more complicated when students are choosing their own topics of study (such as in Genius Hour) or are choosing topics within a topic (as in PBL).  Students tend to start with a question that is open-ended but often predictable and not necessarily deep. A simple way to help students dig deeper with their questions is to have them consider multiple perspectives of a topic using categories.  
The Torrance Institute of Creativity uses categories such as these for creating questions: Arts, Basic Needs, Business, Defense, Environment, Ethics/Religion, Social Relationships, etc.  Using categories to create questions pushes students to think across disciplines, look at problems and questions through different “lenses,” choose from multiple possibilities, and thereby think more deeply and create much more useful questions. 

Try it for yourself.  Pick a topic you will be teaching and examine the topic through different lenses.  For example:
  • What would a business person ask about your topic?
  • What about an artist?
  • What might an environmentalist ask?

Can you see how using this approach could help your students create more interesting, more thought-provoking, and more beautiful questions?

From Tom: Inquiry as Differentiation

Ponder this question: Isn’t inquiry-based learning differentiated instruction in its purest form? 

We all understand the necessity of differentiation in order to
meet the individual needs of our students.  However, it can be
difficult to plan units and lessons that do this well. 
Tom argues that inquiry can help.
All of our students have diverse factors that impact them within the educational setting, but when we use inquiry-based learning instead of traditional teaching models, we shift the focus from potential weaknesses to each student’s strengths, opening the opportunity for each student to learn and grow. 

When we provide our students with a project or a task and our goal is inquiry-based learning, the learning is naturally differentiated.  Each student begins the inquiry process and develops his or her driving question and strategies for reaching the end goal from his or her individual perspective and individual knowledge base.  This knowledge base may be limited or vast, depending on the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and previous learning experiences.  Whether high or low, the inquiry-based project begins at each student’s starting point and proceeds individually.  The learning outcomes stay consistent, but the journey is naturally differentiated for each student through the inquiry process.

When we use inquiry-based learning, we no longer are teaching to the middle of our student population, but we are creating equal opportunities for all students to learn, regardless of their prior experiences.  Inquiry provides students with a structure that pushes them and guides them instead of corrects them, and it results in a differentiated experience for all of the students participating in the classroom. 

We hope you have found these various perspectives on inquiry helpful.  What can you do to add more inquiry to your lessons and units?

Now that’s a question worth pondering.  Have a great week, HSE.

HSE Teaching and Learning Team

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Inquiry? Part I

There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.
--Chinese proverb

From Jeff: Technology and Inquiry for a Purpose

Technology is at our fingertips and at our students’ fingertips these days and can aide us in the most basic forms of inquiry all the way to the more complex.

For example, we have a 15 year old dryer that had done an excellent job, up until a few months ago, when the heating element burned out. We searched for a few repair places and found the cost to replace the heating element to be expensive. So I did a few more searches and found several DIY sites that gave videos on how to take the dryer apart replace the element myself.

A quick call to a parts store for the $30 heating element and I was back in the laundry room with YouTube open on my phone and the dryer schematic on my iPad. About an hour later, the dryer was back in working order.  Better yet, I spent 20 minutes learning how not to take the dryer apart should there be a next time.

Do you remember this advertisement?
Jeff added to this guy's woes.
I was able to celebrate my success by sharing out on social media and then a few weeks later had a friend in the same boat where I was able to offer guidance as they needed to do the same task. 

I had an important question to answer, I was fully engaged in the process of answering the question, and I had technology to assist me in my inquiry.  The result was that I learned well and was even able to help others.

The question: How will you provide opportunities for students to use technology to fully engage in answering questions that are important to them?

From Jan: Speaking in Questions, Rather Than Statements

I had the amazing opportunity to study in Reggio Emilia, Italy several years ago.  I spent a week listening to the wise educators who helped craft what became known as the World’s Best Early Childhood Program (Newsweek, 1991).  I scripted what they said as they spoke eloquently about how they challenge themselves and their own thinking.  (If you read carefully, you will notice that I wrote it reflecting their heavy Italian accent!J
  • Here are a few of their comments:
  • It’s about being open to possibilities
  • Maybe you create new possibilities
  • We welcome criticism, challenges and other ways of thinking
  • We don’t feel ourselves satisfied – when we say “we are done” there is always someone round us saying “are you sure?  Have you tried this?”
  • Sometimes I act by instinct – sometimes I pause and breathe…I find it better when I pause and breathe – follow the rhythm of the work…
  • We welcome a sort of attitude about feeling unsettled…and maybe we talk more with question marks and less statements.

Photo of students in Reggio Emilia, where the
questions are more important than the answers.
How wise!  Isn’t that truly what inquiry is?  Being open, creating new possibilities, welcoming challenges and other ways of thinking, a willingness to be unsettled, and—most importantly—talking more with question marks and less with statements. 

I will echo their final statement from that long ago day: This is our journey together….

From Phil: Understanding by Design--Why Essential Questions?

In Stage 1 of the Understanding by Design framework, developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, call for using backward planning and list the “Desired Results” first.  The desired results include “Understandings” that students will be able to independently use.  In fact, a student doesn’t really understand, say Wiggins and McTighe, unless they can transfer the learning to new situations.

A key component of the backward planning is to develop “Essential Questions.”  These questions provide the student doorway into the desired learning.  Essential questions engage students, focus the learning, and prioritize teaching, but they also establish a culture of inquiry in a classroom.

From Grant Wiggins: 

We want students to consider more challenging and interesting questions.  We want students to engage in higher order thinking.  We want them to engage in sustained inquiry.  That is the point of an essential question.  The question signals that we want inquiry.  That we want in-depth, not superficial answers.  That there isn’t one way to look at it.  That it is worth asking and re-asking, because that is how in-depth learning and genuine understanding work.

These are characteristics of essential questions:
  • Open-ended; will not have a single, final, correct answer
  • Thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
  • Calls for Higher Order Thinking; cannot be answered by recall alone
  • Points toward transferable ideas and often across disciplines
  • Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry
  • Requires support and justification, not just an answer
  • Recurs over time; can be revisited again and again.

Here is one: What one question will you ask your students repeatedly
this week that will spark discussions and engage students
in inquiry?

If you want many examples, more information, and lots of free resources about Essential Questions and UbD, hit this link: Jay McTighe or read: Essential Questions: Opening Doors for Student Understanding, by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.

Next week you will hear from others on the Teaching and Learning Team.  We hope your week is great, one filled with curiosity, laughter, and learning.

HSE Teaching and Learning Team

Friday, August 14, 2015

More of This....

If you have been in the district the past few years, you have seen and heard lots about “HSE21.” For those of you new to HSE, below is a graphic you can find on the district website that may help you understand the journey we are on together.

Notice right at the top of the document is the statement “Best Practices Model for Hamilton Southeastern.”  This term “best practices” gets thrown around in all sorts of ways. Some uses of this term are helpful, but others, not so much.

In this entry, I would like to clarify a common misconception that I have heard about HSE21 Best Practices Model and then leave us with a challenge for the coming year.

Misconception: HSE21 Best Practices are a checklist of activities and strategies.

If you’ve been around in education for as long as I have, you get to see some things come and go, and you get to see the staying power of certain concepts.  I first came across the “best practice” terminology way back in the early 90s, when Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde published the first edition of their groundbreaking Best Practice: Today’s Standard for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools. 

The old and the new: My copy is the third edition and
was published in 2005.  I would argue it is still a valuable resource!
When I was teaching, the most helpful parts of the best practice books were the charts at the end of each chapter, where the authors made recommendations about what to increase and what to decrease

For Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde, best practice was not about using any one specific strategy or approach.  Rather, these educators encouraged teachers to learn to know their students well, to study current instructional research, and to build a robust “toolbox” of instructional strategies. 

The research is clear, they argued.  Some approaches have a higher probability of leading to increased student engagement and learning than others.  Armed with knowledge of multiple high probability strategies and with knowledge of the students, you can choose the most effective tools from the toolbox to use with your students.

More of this…  Less of this….

Best Practice, said Zemelmen, Daniels, and Hyde is all about increasing the use of high probability strategies and decreasing the use of lower probability strategies.  The science of teaching is knowing the high probability approaches; the art of teaching is knowing when and how to use them. 

The HSE21 graphic at the beginning of this entry illustrates current research-based best practice activities and strategies that we are working to increase over time in HSE classrooms.  You may not have noticed it before, but the footer on the graphic above acknowledges the contributions of Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde to our efforts in Hamilton Southeastern.

Using their methodology, best practice in HSE looks like this:

Items on the right lend themselves to compliance.
Those on the left lead to engagement.
Which do you want for your students?
Notice that there are times when all of the items in the right-hand column are necessary and appropriate.  The problems arise if we don’t give opportunities for our students to experience the left-hand column as well.  The activities on the left engage students in high levels of learning.  They move beyond simple compliance to real student engagement.  In the terms of Understanding by Design, they lead to understanding, application, and transfer of knowledge and skills.

The Challenge: Walking the Walk

Look one more time at the graphic at the top of this entry and consider whether or not more of these types of activities and strategies would improve student learning.  Then, think of your own child or of a child you love.  Would you want that child in a classroom that skillfully implements the HSE21 Best-Practices Model?

And this is our challenge: We must find ways to take the words from the pages of our document and bring them to life in the classroom.  We can’t just talk the talk; we must also walk the walk.  Fortunately, we don’t have to do it all at once.  Best practice means we work over time to increase high probability/high engagement activities and strategies while decreasing their less productive counterparts. Our students deserve nothing less.

Have a great week, HSE.  Enjoy the journey we are on together.


HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education