Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
There are many ways to approach questioning - the starting point for any inquiry lesson. Depending on the scope of the inquiry and how skilled the students are, formulating initial questions might last anywhere from one day to a week, or even longer. Some teachers have students begin listing questions right away, from the initial introduction of the topic. Others first immerse their students in a brief study of the topic and allow questions to "percolate" before being formally asked.
Educator Jerome Harste recommends spending an extended period of time having students "wander and wonder" before coming up with definitive topics or questions to explore:
I want them to gather questions they might have, itches they find bothering them, things they keep thinking about, and to jot those down. I think so often we give kids five minutes to come up with an inquiry question and they have to live with that inquiry question. And in reality, research doesn't really work like that. It takes us often quite awhile to find an inquiry question, the right kind of inquiry question, and to frame it in an appropriate sort of way.Harste recommends that teachers start a broad inquiry by asking students, "What's on your mind?" as they read, study, or research.
The teachers in this series provide several different models for this first step. Jorge Arredondo has his students spend two days considering the issues in Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima before formulating a question. He has them first find quotes in the literature that they might "want answers from." Next, he has them look at a mural painted in the same era by Mexican American artists to generate still more questions. They take notes, talk, and generally immerse themselves in the topic. "I wanted my students to go, see, experience, go into this inquiry where they're constantly questioning constantly predicting," says Arredondo. He uses this initial questioning to move them to higher levels of questioning before they choose an inquiry topic.
In their study of James Baldwin, teacher Bo Wu's students immediately begin questioning. Before beginning Baldwin's books or knowing anything about the author, Wu asks them what they might want to know. "Raising questions is a way of starting inquiry," Wu says. "More sophisticated questions come to mind after researching." After beginning the text, she draws students out further by asking them to give her a question they'd like to research and their reasons for choosing that particular question. By requiring a rationale, the teacher encourages students to think deeply about the issues their questions involve. They will then refine the questions as their research progresses. As they work, students should keep in mind the final goal of their research (in this case, the creation of a Web site on Baldwin).
Harste cautions teachers against giving their students questions or leading them too much. He also urges teachers not to be too judgmental about where students start an inquiry since it's of great importance that their questions are inherently interesting to them. Because the entire process works to help students refine their original questions, there will be many opportunities to make a poor question richer.
A good inquiry starts with a good question, a question the learner is genuinely interested in pursuing. Without this first step, nothing can follow. If this first stage of the inquiry process is done successfully, the momentum of student interest will drive the rest of the process. Though inquiry can be messy, the process formalizes in the classroom the steps by which people think and solve problems in the "real world." Just making students aware that their own questions are always the best starting point for learning sets the tone for the whole venture. As Jorge Arredondo puts it: "The best situation a teacher can be in is when the students are asking you, rather than you trying to tell them, 'Look, look, pay attention to this this is really cool.' Because [learning] is never going to happen passively. The student has to be actively participating."