Are you Teacher A, B, or C? In How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, pp.13), Teacher A focuses on products and activities. Teacher B is concerned with what students are learning along the way, in addition to products and activities. Teacher C takes learning into account, but goes beyond. She is also concerned with student metacognition and engagement. So how do we, as educators, achieve the expertise of Teacher C?
According to the article, “Testing the Waters” (Clifford, P. & Marinucci, S., 2008), there are three key components of inquiry. The key ingredient to the success of Teacher C is fostering the “Why?”. The springboard to inquiry is often current issues arising in our world. Asking “Why?” invokes wonder and engagement. Students are given opportunities to think metacognitively. They recognize the limitations of their knowledge, and ask relevant questions. Students learn to self-assess, asking themselves what worked and what they need to work on. Teacher C provides instruction across the curriculum to develop that internal dialogue that is vital to metacognition. The magic comes when one student’s thinking pushes the others in their thinking.
Questions invoke the need for outside expertise. Students access resources beyond the school. Admittedly, this means we teachers do not have all the answers. Rather, a growth mindset is fostered (Dweck, 2008). Asking questions and making mistakes are integral to the learning process. Problems are organized around big ideas. Many of us grapple with the authenticity of the big idea. A big idea can stem from any inquisitive question. This year, my students wondered why there were so many silent letters at the end of French words. Asking good questions are key to the success of inquiry.
The second component of inquiry is academic rigor (Clifford, P. & Marinucci, S., 2008 pp. 682-684). This leads us to the question: does Teacher C cover the curriculum? Where do the questions fit into the curriculum? In striving to create a school filled with engaged learners, Sir Robert Borden Junior High School, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in conjunction with the Canadian Education Association (CEA), participated in a research project, “What did you do in School Today?” (Friesen, 2009). The result was a two week, school-wide project called, “Learning to Inquire – Innovations for Deeper Teaching and Learning”. Interestingly, the project ran for the final two weeks in June. Attendance went UP. Students were engaged! Thought provoking questions were displayed on the walls. Teachers and students worked collaboratively. Did all teachers strive for the Teacher C prototype? No, some did not want to budge from the familiar, but many did incorporate their learning from the project into their teaching. Overall, teachers endeavored to include relevancy and rigor into their teaching. They aimed for depth of learning, not just covering curricular topics. Students learned where to begin. Students in “Testing the waters” (Clifford, P. & Marinucci, S., 2008, pp. 683-684), have evidently been trained in the habits of inquiry. They asked key questions to ensure their thinking was on the right track. Rigor is not getting the right answer or humouring all questions. It is about quality of thinking and clarifying misconceptions at the very beginning Clifford, P. & Marinucci, S., 2008, pp.683).
Inquiry and the Curriculum
Alberta Education has clearly laid out the outcomes for each grade. We often get caught up in our perceived boundaries of these outcomes, limiting the depth of learning. The third key component is a solid understanding of the curriculum. Teacher C is able to “orchestrate Curriculum maps” (Clifford, P. & Marinucci, S., 2008, pp.685). The result can be learning far deeper than expected by the curriculum.
In How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School (Bransford, J., Brown, A. & Cocking, R., 2000), Chapter 2 addresses the question: How to move from novice to expert? As a teacher striving to be an expert such as Teacher C, I have to come understand the importance of understanding a problem and identifying relevant information. It is not a question of speed, but of depth of understanding. Expert teachers clearly identify the outcomes. The ‘How’ to meet those outcomes is the fun part!
In the classroom, I need to know what to look for in order to improve instruction. Recognizing those teachable moments capitalizes on the opportunities to engage students. It also is integral to avoiding the primary pitfall of inquiry – getting sidetracked. Good questions will lead to more questions. Expert teachers keep the end in mind. Key points to consider when planning are:
- Providing students with access to a broad knowledge base
- Developing their understanding of the subject matter
- Learning when, where, why to use information
- Fostering metacognition: thinking about their learning to assess their own progress and teach themselves.
Asking (or recognizing) good questions and thoughtful design of instruction are what makes Teacher C an expert. Expertise in a teacher enables students to move towards being experts themselves. Formative assessments such as self-assessment, peer-assessment, observations, and questioning support an authentic inquiry-based classroom. Next steps are to look at summative assessments for inquiry-based learning. How to assess what kind of teacher we are? To determine which category (A, B, or C) a teacher falls into, one only has to listen to her students.
Bransford, J., Brown, A. & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school (pp. 3-78). Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press (Chapters 1-3). Retrieved from
Canadian Education Association (2012). “Learning to Inquire – Innovations for Deeper Teaching and Learning”. Retrieved from www.cea-ace.ca/video
Clifford, P., & Marinucci, S. (2008). Testing the waters: Three elements of classroom inquiry. Harvard Educational Review, 78 (4), 675-678. Retrieved from http://library1.ucalgary.ca/u.php?id=3209
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House (pp. 3-15).
Friesen, S. (2009). What did you do in school today? Teaching Effectiveness: A Framework and Rubric. Toronto: Canadian Education Association (pp. 26-27).