Making inquiry collaborative

In grade 11, I took a course called World Religions.  Our major assignment was to research a church of our choice and then to present our findings to the class.  We were encouraged to create our own field trips by visiting these churches, talking to the members and even bringing a guest speaker to class.  I chose the Church of Scientology and I visited a church service about an hour away.  I will never forget the excitement of summoning the courage to step into that building.  I learned that real inquiry takes a lot of personal commitment.

I completed my Bachelor of Arts with a focus on drama where I focused on the soft technologies of prop making and costuming.  One term we presented Blood Relations by Sharon Pollock, a play based on the story of Lizzie Borden.  Because of the minimalist set design and the historical setting, we came upon a problem: how to hide the murder weapon (an axe) before it was revealed just before the climax.  The costume department collaborated and we decided to design a historical pleated dress with an extra large pocket.  The inquiry continued as we discovered that we needed to find ways to reinforce the material because the axe was awkward and heavy.  The design changed many times before showtime. I learned that inquiry requires resiliency and creativity.

As a teacher-librarian one of my favourite courses that I work with is a senior social science which focuses on human growth and development.  We try to build independence through 3 different components.  The first we get each student to pick a question about human development (e.g. Why do babies suck their thumbs?) and try to answer it in one period.  We give them a template to complete that asks them to report their findings, their questions and finally a paragraph about their new opinion on the topic.  The second project leads to a larger inquiry question which focuses on the theory of nature vs. nurture.  Students can pick any aspect they want but must take a side, e.g. Alcoholism is more nurture than nature.  Lastly we don`t give a question, but the students must design and implement an inquiry project themselves. We approve the idea and support their work, but this is my favourite role as a facilitator.

In their book, Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action, Harvey and Daniels reinforce the collaborative aspect of inquiry and I seldom see this or try it in secondary school.  Even if we grouped students together at different phases of their projects to reflect and encourage, it would build a more collaborative atmosphere.  I really liked how much the book emphasised strategies for tweaking weak areas in a project.  I always struggle to get students to take their research to a deeper level, and the chart on pages 61 – 62 gives great suggestions for teachers and students to tweak each phase.  I have been working with our science department this year to develop an APA continuum.  I will definitely show them this chart to help us strengthen their assignments for inquiry.

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