Getting Inside Out: Making Inquiry-Based Learning Visible

One of my student teaching mentors told me his secret. He said that as long as the question is framed right, the lesson will go well. Even though he was right about the importance of framing the question, he didn't succeed at giving every student an audience to develop their voice.

Over the last five years, I've tried to solve this problem by using high-yield strategies, digital tools, and regular feedback. These are important parts of any lesson, but it wasn't until I started using inquiry-based learning that noticeable results were showing up in my students' essays.

Getting Inside Out

It doesn't matter which high-yield strategy I try, questioning and making thinking visible always works for my students. The hard part is coaching them to become more aware of their own thought process. It helps when I remind them to not take any questions for granted.

Last week, I used the trailer to the new Disney movie "Inside Out." This worked better than anything I've tried in the past. Our discussion about the movie trailer was based on a simple question: What did you see?

Inquiry-Based Activities 

To solve the problem my mentor failed to address, students need time to write their questions individually without interruption from others. Digital technology can help with the process of managing so many responses, but both smart and dumb tools need to be used strategically.

The following activity includes a balance of paper and devices, as well as individual and group contributions.
  1. Teacher poses a question or prompt that could assess the learning target(s) through constructed response (essay). 
  2. Students think about the given question and write their thought-process questions, each on a separate slip of paper, to be collected by the teacher and placed into one of 6-8 baskets. I call them the "Ask-It Basket." It's worth the chuckle, and laughing is learning. 
  3. Groups of three or four each take a basket of anonymous questions to sort before deciding which three the group wants to report to the class via Google Forms. 
  4. Discussion is based on the group responses. 

A Closing Note on Technology 

I've tried this lesson with everyone using Google Forms and 1:1 devices. It actually took longer than the steps I explained above. This paper-digital hybrid balances the use of technology and allows group members who are more confident with digital tools to model for their peers. 

I like having a Chromebook for every student, but unless the course is designed to let learners work at their own pace, it's not faster or better than pacing the class together. Sure, some students benefit from working alone and at their own pace, but most of my students learn better when they have the opportunity to work on their own and with others in the same lesson. 

Here's some of my other posts about inquiry-based learning.   

Digging Deeper with Technology Published on Smarter Schools Project Blog.

5 Digital Tools for Inquiry-Based Learning Published on Instructional Fluency.