We were discussing data at an EC-12 meeting this week when one of my colleagues posed a question I had never really considered before:
Would you rather have a culture of learning or a culture of inquiry in your building?
He had recently gone to a training for a grant he was a part of and the trainer had focused part of the day on this question. The discussion that evolved from this question ended up being the most meaningful part of the day.
This got me thinking about how I might answer that question and its implications for education. I’d say traditionally most schools have focused on the former. Mission statements of educational institutions across the country frequently include phrases like, “to create lifelong learners” or “develop a love of learning.” Since we want learning to continue way past students’ school days this focus makes sense to me.
But what if we instead focused on building a culture of inquiry in both our staff and students? What might that look like? What would the benefits be?
In their new book, Inquiry Illuminated, Goodvis, Harvey & Buhrow spend their first chapter making a case for an inquiry-based culture in classrooms. They postulate that students who are supported by teachers in inquiry:
- Live a life full of wonder and curiosity
- Explore ideas and topics and issues that are central to their interests and concerns, linking these to the wider world
- Read and respond inquisitively with an inquisitive mind and a skeptical stance
- Think creatively to express and share new learning
To me, this means that in an inquiry-based culture, learners (both staff and students) are encouraged to ponder & discover problems or issues, ask deep questions about their cause, and spend time researching and exploring a variety of possible solutions.
From an educator stance, an inquiry-based culture would mean that we would take the time to ponder the why first before jumping into solutions. For example, my kindergarten team was recently meeting in a PLC discussing how many of their students have been struggling to formulate questions about basically anything in class. Instead of jumping right to, “let’s give them questions stems and organizers to help them to better formulate questions,” they spent the first part of the meeting talking about the root causes of the issue. A variety of ideas were offered, but what they realized was that students were lacking in curiosity, not the ability to produce questions themselves.
From this realization, they designed a variety of activities to be done at home and at school including a Wonder Wall, “See, Think, Wonder, Talk” activity with pictures, question cards and more. After the meeting one of the teachers even sent out a link to this article from ASCD about cultivating curiosity in students to further spark ideas.
Professional learning opportunities for staff could also look different from a culture of inquiry stance. Instead of starting with outcomes for the day, participants might be asked to first think about a problem of practice. They would then be given time to talk about its root causes with peers and finally have time to develop solutions to be implemented in the school or classroom. At the next professional learning opportunity, staff members could talk about the results of their work in teams and then either problem-solve another issue they were pondering or go more deeply into the first issue.
In education, many times we are quick to jump to solutions before thinking about what might actually be causing the issue in the first place. Sometimes this fixes the problem, but other times it makes us appear like we are a “squirrel-based” culture, jumping from one new best practice to another. This results in frustration from many parties, and in many cases does not actually fix the issue.
I do not think that we should go full forward into developing a “Culture of Inquiry” over a “Culture of Learning,” but rather the two seem to be intertwined and necessary for success in our schools. If educators and students are going to be able to come up with plausible viable solutions for the problems they find then they have to be skilled at learning. Having a voracious desire for knowledge can only lead to curiosity and asking questions.
I am definitely interested in exploring this topic further. I plan on creating a bulletin board in the staff lounge or by the copy machine with the questions,
“What does a culture of inquiry mean to you?”
“What does a culture of learning mean to you?”
“Which do you think is more important in our school? Why?”
Their answers will determine the next steps we take as a staff, but at a bare minimum, I hope to spark the curiosity that these questions evoked in me.
If you are interested in developing more inquiry in your classroom or school I highly recommend reading Inquiry Illuminated by Anne Goudvis, Stephanie Harvey & Brad Buhrow or Comprehension & Collaboration by Stephanie Harvey & Harvey “Smokey” Daniels. They give a great framework as well as a multitude of examples and strategies that can be applied to any grade. I have to give a huge shout out to my EL teacher, Kory Curcio for recommending the latter.
I would love to hear any other ideas or resources you have enjoyed related to this topic! Christina