Self Directed Professional Learning

Collaborative Inquiry

Guideline Expectation Focus:

The guidelines that I am focusing on are:

  • engaging in professional collaborative inquiry and planning processes (for example, “What’s the math behind the problem?”, anticipating student responses, developing probing questions, analyzing student responses, and reflecting upon and making changes to lessons) for teaching mathematics

    • understanding the importance of professional collaboration that supports student learning

  • exploring strategies for fostering a collaborative community of learners
  • Retell ~ Relate ~ Reflect

    The Collaborative Inquiry model is an effective tools used to foster critical thinking and creativity in the 21st century classroom. The most recent key details that have added to my professional learning include:

    Inquiry Circles

    "In small groups, we are smarter. In well-structured groups, we leverage each other's thinking. We learn more not just because we all bring different pieces of the puzzle, but because, through talk, we can actually make new and better meaning together."(Stephanie Harvey & Harvey "Smokey" Daniels)

    Collaborative Inquiry has become an important practice in classroom across North America.  Research says that when students understand what they are reading and doing in the classroom they engage in a more fulfilling experience when collaborating with peers.  To begin a collaborative inquiry project or "Inquiry Circle", an effective starting point is to show students an image or related images.  Then, model to the students how to notice information, infer, make connections and ask questions.  After that provide collaborative groups with a variety of non-fiction images to relate to.  Have students create a list of questions that they have about their image - these are the basis for a collaborative inquiry circle.  The teacher should select images based on a topic of study (e.g., Global Warming, Habitat Destruction).  Student will then select one questions that they agree would drive an inquiry circle discussion.  A good question is debatable and would need a certain amount of research to support.  Students are expected to work together to find the answers.  This process may require the team to revise or change their question as new information becomes apparent to them.  Some students feel discouraged when they must go back instead of forward, but this is what makes up an effective inquiry.  

    Prior to starting any inquiry circle, students should be instructed using the following lesson topics:

    • Turn and Talk,
    • Home Court Advantage - Showing Friendliness and Support
    • Creating Group Groups Rules
    • Making and Using a Work Plan
    • Practicing the Skills of Small Group Discussions
    • Written Conversations
    • Mid-course Corrections: Reflecting and Re planning
    • "I Bet to Differ": How to Disagree Agreeably.

    "The core premise of inquiry includes the requirement that learning should be based around student's questions requiring students to work together to solve problems rather than receive direct instruction on what to do from the teacher."  (Stephanie Harvey & Harvey "Smokey" Daniels)

    The Principles of Inquiry Circles + Differentiated Instruction

    The following principles of Inquiry Circles have a direct relation to the practices related to differentiated instruction, which is what makes collaborative inquiry such a effective way to teach students in today's classrooms.

    1. Select a topic of interest.
    2. Groupings should be flexible and heterogeneous.
    3. Student responsibility and leadership is required.
    4. Use of proficient reading, thinking and research skills.
    5. Going beyond fact building to build background knowledge.
    6. Go beyond classroom to share their learning publicly.
    7. Matching student learning to Curriculum Expectations.

    As I continue to research Inquiry Circles, I find that this practice is multi-faceted and cross curricular.  The inquiry approach has the following 3 main strands that support a 21st century approach to learning (Stephanie Harvey & Harvey "Smokey" Daniels):

    1. “framing school study around questions developed and shaped by kids” which means allowing students’ genuine curiosity about curriculum topics to form the center of teaching;
    2. “handing the brain work of learning back to the kids” meaning that instead of sitting quietly and receiving the information presented by a teacher, students actively work to construct their own learning experiences and take responsibility for the outcomes; and ultimately,
    3. “focusing on the development of kids’ thinking, first, foremost, and always.”

    Upon reflection, I have gathered that Inquiry Circles develop not only content related achievement in my classroom but they assist in developing a community of  students who share their ideas freely, build character and have a global perspective on what is needed to improve our community and beyond.  While students work through the lessons and strands related to Inquiry Circles, they develop skills using technology and can express themselves in a creative way.  

    The next question in my professional development is what would these Inquiry Circles look like and sound like among a group of educators?

    Critical Thinking (Literacy ) with a Global Perspective

    “Students today experience a constant stream of ideas and information – online, in print,and through electronic games and mass media. As they move into the junior grades, they encounter an ever-widening range of texts. They need skills to determine where to direct their attention and how to interpret messages and use them appropriately.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2004, p. 9)

    The two articles that I read in reference to Critical Thinking touch on critical literacy and math literacy.  The reason I chose to focus on the two together is because math literacy is a large component of critical thinking and a students ability to make deeper connections and understanding of math in different contexts.  In addition, math spans the curriculum, it is important for educators to show students how to have math conversations and understand how math connects the world around us.  Some key ideas from these articles include:

    • connecting math and literacy to real life contexts
    • developing math content knowledge
    • mathematical processes - knowing when math can help solve a problem or help to explain a certain situation

    I have recently taken an interest in the idea of critical thinking through literacy and math because as the world builds in complexity I feel that our future will need people who are able to look at the changes that are happening around us critically.  They need to be able to work with like minded individuals to tackle global problems, develop solutions and make changes that are meant to improve our future.  When I think about the future of our Earth, I worry about how our youth will deal with and repair the issues facing us today.  This is why I think that educators need to focus their attention of developing critical thinking problem solvers that are able to work with others.  The human race continues to innovate and push the boundaries, it is crucial to push our youth to aspire to their ancestors  and continue to innovate, inspire and create a peaceful world!

    Student Inquiry

    Inquiry allows students to make decisions about their learning and to take responsibility for it.

    Inquiry is about asking questions to expand understanding.

    Inquiry builds on children's natural curiosity and leads to the development of higher order thinking skills.  (Capacity Building Series, "Getting Started with Student Inquiry", October 2011)

    Greater engagement in classroom can lead to greater student achievement.  Students need to have a personal investment in the learning occurring around them.  They need to find enjoyment and interest in the topics.  One of the most difficult tasks for a teacher is finding activities and questions that excite their students.  It can be challenging for teachers to find ways to intrigue their students and move their thinking forward.  This is where student inquiry comes into play.  Similar to Inquiry Circles, student inquiry starts with providing the catalyst that moves a students to wonder, question and predict.  In many ways the teacher is the facilitator in inquiry, they provide students with the BIG IDEA and then guide them through purposeful sharing, talking, exploring and analysis.  Great questions that can start the inquiry process are:

    1. What do we want to understand more deeply?
    2. What big questions can we explore?
    3. What is important to know about this?

    In the past when I have delved into inquiry with my students, I have found that I have needed to stand back more often and allow the students to explore their thinking.  As educators we have a natural instinct to answer questions and direct our students in a certain way.  It is better for the students to ask probing questions that require them to think, rather that give them the answers.  

    In summation, throughout my professional learning I have determined that Inquiry Circles, Critical Thinking in Literacy and Math and Student Inquiry are closely related.  They can be intertwined is such as way as to develop a classroom culture of independent thinkers.  The time spent teaching students how to do inquiry and think critically is vast and may not develop as quickly for all students, however, each student will gain new skills and experience success in different ways.  I am looking forward to sharing the ideas that I have learned with my colleagues and watching the exciting classroom transformations and student growth.

    This is an amazing TED Talk about Critical Thinking.  If you have time to watch the video, it's worth it.

    Thanks for reading about my professional learning.


    Inquiry Circles

    Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels

    Critical Literacy

    Student Inquiry

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