Student Led Inquiry

Erm Sir What am I Learning today?

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You know that moment when you’re sitting in class and you’re thinking “what exactly am I supposed to be learning today and why am I here?”  Think of the feelings that brings up.  Frustration?  Annoyance?  At that moment, are you ready for learning? This must happen daily to most children, but by utilising the research of Hattie we can change the way learning happens.

My main aim in tutoring is to explore topics using learning enquiries, keeping a clear focus on an exam question with older students or a directed part of a syllabus with younger students. In the past, this is something that the teachers did to direct their teaching.  However, this time, we had the kids discover the standards themselves and they develop their own learning targets. The students therefore develop their own learning pathway, based on a clear understanding of the process and the direction of travel.

Here’s an example of how the process could be developed.

1. I posted an enquiry question and simply allowed the student to tell us what they thought it meant.  Bringing in several different sources of information we were able together to scaffold some information leading us towards the enquiry, shaping towards able an answer. For example “to what extent did rats and rebels shape England?”.

2. It is essential to link this basic knowledge to something tangible like an exam or essay question. It surprised me that the students had never broken down a standard before so we modelled how to do it with the first learning target.  The students decided that even before they started integrating the text, they had to annotate the first set of sources to understand it at a deeper level. Thus, our first learning target: I can take notes while reading to get a deeper understanding of the text. Cornell note taking is a really key ingredient here as it helps to organise information and develop deeper understanding.

3. Based on the feedback from the first exercise, they decided what the next learning targets were.  This was where the ownership in learning began.  This is when the path of learning was revealed.

Some of the discussions the students initiated at this point were:

  • How do I comprehend a text?  Will I need to determine importance?
  • What graphic organizer should I use?  Is there more than one I could use?
  • What about the text structure of the passage?
  • How do I effectively take notes?
  • How do I show that I really know something well?
  • How exactly do you integrate two or more texts? Find a theme, a topic, etc?

4.  A Student having ownership over the success criteria and being able to analyse this is very powerful in laying out the direction of learning.  I always use model answers to questions as the most powerful learning tool, these aren’t necessarily perfect answers either as it is important that students see weak responses too. Same process though reviewing their own or their partners work, with highlighters or the highlighting function on the computer they take ownership of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each answer.

Highly effective teaching is tough.  Deep learning is even tougher.   What we have to do in education is work smarter, not harder so that our students can be self-directed learners.   Having kids unwrap the standard and develop the learning targets opened the doors to learning. These students now know where they’re going and they are guiding themselves.  They’re on the path to learning, not just sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher.

The most amazing parts of this process was the deep discussions students led and took part in and the fact that they can very specifically describe where their learning is about to go.

Running this process by a PGCSE student in school, the question that he posed is a valid one: How do I make time for this when I have so much to teach?  The answer is “How can you not?”  This process will make the teaching and learning more productive because the students developed the path for learning and they know what they’re working towards.   As opposed to that frustrated and annoyance feeling we’ve all felt when we have no idea what we’re supposed to be learning. If you doubt this, refer to number 9 and 10 on this site of John Hattie’s work, which is a meta-analysis of over 50,000 studies.  It works.

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