Inquiry is a Way of Being


Apparently my 14 year old daughter knows everything and I know next to nothing.  The older I get, the more I realize this has some truth to it (at least the latter part!).  I have a need to know more, learn more, and reflect more.  How to best go about it?  In my Inquiry and ICT class this week, I was struck by the realization that inquiry is a way of being.  Turns out my thoughts are not original.  Our very first reading included the quote, “…teachers develop the understanding that inquiry is much more than a teaching method—it is a way of being in the classroom, as well as in the world.”,  Clifford and Marinucci (1993, p. 676). Reflect back to your favourite teachers over the years.  Did they have a way of being?

In my searches, I came across an article by Andrea Garcia (2011) about Kathy G. Short, winner of NCTE’s Outstanding Educator in the Language Arts in 2011.  Kathy is quoted as saying, “For me teaching is inquiry.  The reason I teach is because it allows me to engage collaboratively in inquiry with others.”   Inquiry then is more that wanting to know more and find answers to questions.  It is collaboration, working with others to take us deeper and farther than any of us would have gone alone.

I discovered the document, Focus of Inquiry (Alberta Education, 2004) this year.  This compelling document clearly states the value of inquiry.  If it’s so valuable to student learning, then why I am discovering it 8 years later?  Why is it not common practice?  Why is it not a way of living for teachers and students?  Compared to the rate of transformation in the technological world, education is a snail.   This document is an excellent reference for purposefully incorporating inquiry-based learning into their classrooms.  It includes building a culture of inquiry to teaching all components, including assessment of the inquiry process.  Let’s all pursue our questions and see where they take us (keeping our end goals in mind of course)!

Alberta Education, (2004). Focus of Inquiry:  A Teacher’s Guide to Implementing Inquiry-based Learning,   Alberta Education.  Retrieved from

Clifford, P., & Marinucci, J. (2008). Testing the waters: Three elements of classroom inquiry. Harvard Educational Review, 78(4), 675-688. Retrieved from   

Garcia, A. (2011).  Inquiry as a Way of Life:  Kathy G. Short, 2011 Outstanding Educator in the Language Arts.  Language Arts, 89 (2), (p. 125-135).  Retrieved from


Digital Literacy in Grade One?

I’m a Grade One teacher and it’s July.  Traditionally, I’m at the cottage with an armful of books that can only be called “summer reading” and taking the kids to the beach.  Not this summer.  This summer I am pursuing a personal inquiry into a ‘new’ literacy – digital literacy. What is the potential for Grade One?  How best to use technology with such young learners?  How do I ensure my students are benefiting from an effective use of technology?  How to design and evaluate lessons that integrate technology in such a way that the task would be impossible without it?  How do I ensure my students are working harder than I am?  Can technology be used to augment student learning, including the three R’s?  With all these questions rumbling around in my head, you will understand why I’m having trouble sleeping.

One thing I have learned about inquiry is that it is easy to get side tracked (just look at my list of questions!).  For today, let’s touch on the question:  What is the potential for Grade One?  In the article, “Connected Kids?  K-2 Children’s Use and Understanding of the Internet” (Dodge, Husain, & Duke, 20­­11), most K-2 students could access the Internet on their own. Based on the children’s ability to access the Internet and navigate websites such as Webkinz and Funbrain (online games), they suggest, “Many K-2 students demonstrate visual literacy in the context of the Internet” (p. 96).  How can primary teachers build onto this prior experience?

Finding appropriate tools for primary students to use that students can use independently and focus on the concept, not the technology is a challenge.  In my experience, a tool such as Voicethread with grade one students works well.  A teacher can open one account.  An entire class can work within that account.  There are literacy, writing and math examples to stimulate your creative ideas.  In our Inquiry and ICT class on Friday, one of the tools shared was Symbaloo (a bookmarking tool).  I was immediately taken with the possibilities for primary students.  The advantage of this tool is being able to scaffold Internet use for young students in a simple, visual format.  Here is a tool that teachers can use to get their students using the Internet safely and efficiently.

Young children are already using technology outside school.  Although primary teachers are not expected to assess digital literacy beyond caring for the materials, we nonetheless have an obligation to teach and model digital literacy with a high degree of scaffolding and awareness.

Dodge, A. M., Husain, N., & Duke, N. (2011).  Connected Kids?  K-2 Children’s Use and Understanding of the Internet, Computers in the Schools, 89 (2), (p. 86-98).  Retrieved from

Wentworth, Nancy & Monroe, Eula E. (2011).  Inquiry-Based Lessons That Integrate Technology:  Their Development and Evaluation in Elementary Mathematics Teacher Education, Computers in the Schools, 28 (4), (pp. 263-277).  Retrieved from

Tech Tools and TPACK

I asked my daughter to please phone her friend Jess to make arrangements for carpooling the following day.  Without a pause, she responded, “I’ll just text her.”  How did she instantaneously determine which version of technology was to best communicate with her friend?  How do we guide students towards choosing the technology best suited for the task?  For that matter, which technology will I choose for my presentation next week?  Powerpoint?  Wordle?  Tagxedo?  Sigh.  In my Inquiry and ICT class today, our guest lecturer Brenda Dyck invited us to explore a myriad of Web 2.0 tools available for students to use in a learning environment.  I was completely ignorant to the extensive array of tools currently accessible on the web.  I left class excited and awed by the possibilities. A whole new world beyond Microsoft Office had been revealed.

How best to use them as teaching tools?  Enter TPACK (Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge, Harris, Mishra & Koehler, 2009).  TPACK is a framework to think about effective technology integration.  It is a common sense filter for assessing the quality of what we ask of students.  Teaching is always about TPACK; it’s the integration of all accessible tools with the curriculum.  The flexible use of tools becomes particularly important because most popular software tools are not designed for educational purposes (Harris, Mishra & Koehler, 2009, p. 399).  My ‘ah ha’ moment was reading between the lines.  This means we, as educators, must be creative, know our curriculum, and have a sufficient skill set to use the tool effectively in a learning environment.

Could TPACK help me determine the tool best suited to presenting my research paper? Delving deeper into the new tools from yesterday, I realized I needed some guidelines.  In “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture:  Media Education for the 21st Century” (Jenkins, 2006), eleven core skills for media literacy are presented.  The primary skill I need at this moment? Judgment.  Jenkins (2006) defines judgment as:  “The ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources” (p. 43).  Critical thinking skills come into play. I’ve started to think about which tool will be visually interesting, has a minimal learning curve, and is complementary to the content.

“Adults are often led by fears and anxieties about new forms of media that were not part of their own childhood, and which they do not fully understand.” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 60).  Many of us can relate!  Brenda’s introduction modeled an effective approach to teaching students to use judgment.  She had us work in teams to explore a small number of Web 2.0 tools and present.  We were encouraged to use our judgement.  The class played a role by asking questions and pushing us to further evaluate the tools depending on developmental appropriateness, ease of use, and pedagogical uses.  We were using our judgment, thinking critically about the tools, analyzing and summarizing.

According to Harris, Mishra & Koehler (2009), “Technological Knowledge is always in a state of flux.  This makes acquiring and defining it notoriously difficult.”  Tell me about it.  As an educator and parent of teens, it’s a steep learning curve keeping up with the times.   Helping with homework has taken on a whole new meaning!

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from

Harris, J., Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge and learning activity types: Curriculum-based technology integration reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(4), 393-416. Retrieved from

What Kind of Teacher are You?

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.

Academic Rigor

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

Clifford, P., & Marinucci, S. (2008).  Testing the waters:  Three elements of classroom inquiry.  Harvard Educational Review, 78 (4), 675-678.  Retrieved from

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).