Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Once students have a genuine, rich, researchable question, investigating is the logical next step. As with each phase of the inquiry process, the way in which the teacher structures the investigation will depend on the scope of the inquiry and the needs of the students. Regardless of the structure, however, teachers should focus on two important processes during this phase: researching information, and discussing and refining that information.
Research: Many teachers begin the research phase of an inquiry by taking their students to a library or Internet computer lab. Here, students immerse themselves in the topics they have chosen, gathering information to sift through later. At first, the research may be rather unfocused. Soon, however, students begin excitedly pulling up information of all kinds that is pertinent to their topic. The more they learn, the more deeply they engage with the topic. At this point, a great deal of refining of the original questions should take place. As students learn about their topics, they see that their questions are perhaps too broad, too narrow, too simple, or too complex.
During this phase, students learn concrete research skills. For both library and Internet searches, teachers might choose to take time out for mini-lessons on such issues as determining the reliability of a source, citing the use of information from a source, and using research tools more effectively.
While students are investigating, the teacher should inform them that research does not have to be limited to libraries, written texts, and the Internet. As mentioned above, Jorge Arredondo's students begin their inquiry into a book by looking at a mural and making observations and predictions. Teachers can also introduce students to the idea of "multiple literacies," the use of many kinds of texts to make meaning of a culture or topic. For example, Bo Wu shows her students how important music was to James Baldwin, who was born during the Harlem Renaissance, and suggests they search for similar affinities among the actual artists of the Harlem Renaissance, such as Jacob Lawrence. As Harste comments: "One of the big breakthroughs in literacy education is our understanding that there's not just one literacy, there are multiple literacies. Different cultures have different ways of knowing, and while we might all use art, music, dance, drama, [and] language [to convey meaning], that configuration is different in different cultures." Students might find connections to their topic in newspapers, artwork, music, video games, movies, advertising, the Internet, television shows, sports, dance, or almost any other form of expression.
Similarly, in their book Inquiry-Based English Instruction, educators Richard Beach and Jamie Myers describe a type of inquiry wherein students look at different "social worlds." The authors, lamenting the fact that so much classroom instruction focuses only on written material, make the point that social worlds are "constructed through a range of multiple literacies, including signs, images, icons, music, and oral discourse." When the curriculum is broadened in this inquiry, "the variety of texts and symbolic activity experienced in the classroom broadens as students and teachers inquire into how worlds are constructed through the whole range of different literacies."
Discussing and Refining Information: Once students have gathered a great deal of information, the teacher can do a number of things to further the inquiry. Educator Jerome Harste recommends the "schema dump": Students come back from their research and give as many facts as they can about a topic while the teacher lists them on the board. The students then ask themselves as a class where else they can go with this information. This is to disabuse students of the common notion that an inquiry is "just about collecting a whole bunch of facts and putting them together in some sort of innovative way," as Harste puts it. Facts are just the starting point.
Throughout the inquiry, but especially during this phase, students need to be given time for sharing what they have found. They need to reflect with one another on what they've learned, and share ideas and approaches. This is a community-building experience, and it helps the investigation take on greater relevance because everyone becomes involved, comparing notes, discussing conclusions, and refining questions together. When students are doing an inquiry using a common text (as they are in all of the videos), the teacher must encourage students to "linger" with the text longer than they might on their own. This can be done by giving structured response exercises to peer discussion groups in order to encourage them to explore more deeply the patterns, questions, and ideas they see in the text.
The investigation stage is where an inquiry begins to cohere. It can also, however, be the messiest phase, as students go in multiple directions and use various tools and texts at once. But because the process is grounded in the practices good readers, writers, and researchers use to gather information and make sense of it, it helps students hone their abilities and teaches them to use these tools in the "real world" outside of school, and in future school settings. It is a challenging phase for teachers because students pursuing individual questions might be at very different points in their work. One solution for managing this phase is to establish daily structures, similar to the way a reading or writing workshop might operate. For example, teachers might hold daily mini-lessons on the use of research tools, or they might institute a daily roundtable discussion with the class about how the work is progressing. Another solution is to have students keep a daily log or journal on their progress to which the teacher can respond. Teachers must also, of course, circulate around the room, checking in with students and small groups each day as the work proceeds.