Every teacher needs a teaching tool kit. A bunch of go to teaching strategies that they can use to carry out their amazing lessons. If you are beginning with inquiry you may need to refill your teacher bag of tricks with some new ideas.
Because sometimes we get stuck in a rut and forget that there is more than the think-pair-share strategy that will help us teach.
Remember back to a time when you were a fresh-faced university student just entering teachers college with hopes, dreams, a mountain of debt and this naive notion that you could change the world one read aloud at a time?
Then you start teacher’s college and you are suddenly hit with ‘NO FREE TIME’ the work overload, and you are hit with all of these ideas for teaching strategies but with no real idea how or why they would be used.
but the only one you do remember is that easy think-pair-share activity.
So you take that and for the last few years have relied on that one strategy more than any others.
or all of that could just be me ?!?!
There are so many great teaching strategies that help support inquiry-based learning in the classroom.
This is what we talked about during EP31 on Teaching with Inquiry Live
Watch It – Listen To It – Read the Transcript here
Here are some strategies that you may want to incorporate into your daily instruction.
This is a three stage questioning activity. First, you pose a question to your classYou give them time to process and think in silence. Then you have them share and work out their ideas with a partner. Finally, students share their thinking with the whole group
A great idea from Visible Thinking is think-puzzle-explore. This is an activity to help students identify background knowledge, begin to question, then make a plan to find answers. It is perfect to use as a provocation during the engage stage of inquiry.
This is a teaching strategy that I use with my students to help them dig deeper and ask more meaningful questions, arrive at deeper conclusions, make connections with what they are learning. After students share you ask them to explain their thinking with phrases like ‘why might it be that way’ ‘why do you think that’. Asking them to share-clarify-share-clarify 3-5 times helps students to come to much more meaningful conclusions and go beyond the surface.
Question Sort Matrix
If you are looking for a ‘now what’ after you have finished your wonder wall. This strategy will help you and your students to sort through those questions and evaluate which ones are worth exploring. In a graph you first evaluate the type of question on a horizontal line then you evaluate the questions on how interesting and appropriate they are to dig deeper with.
Connect – Extend – Challenge
When students are in the midst of learning sometimes you need them to focus on what it all means. Using this teaching strategy will help your students to connect new ideas to old ideas. Students connect what they are learning to previous learning, identify how their understanding has changed and explore ideas they still have questions about.
2 Stars and a Wish
Providing students with feedback is important but keeping it focused and manageable is important. Using this teaching strategy has helped me to frame how I provide either oral or written feedback for students. Presented in a compliment sandwich students can learn what they did well and what one next step they need to focus on next.
This is a strategy that I talked about in EP26 of Teaching with inquiry live (Watch It – Listen To It – Read The Transcript). Students need to be explicitly taught how to contribute to a discussion and IDEAS is a strategy that you can use to help them remember the ways they can contribute.
Sometimes you just don’t want to see another sticky note. I get it!! So sometimes I use a graffiti write instead. Students write their ideas all over the paper to answer a question, share their thoughts, or engage in a new concept. When students are done you have a paper that is full of student ideas going any direction possible.
This is one of those popular teaching strategies from teachers college. It is a great way to cover a lot of information in a shorter amount of time. This is especially important when you want students exposed to lots of different ideas but perhaps they don’t need expert knowledge in all areas. I often use this strategy when looking at habitats, energy sources, or physical regions. This activity requires a high degree of accountability on all students. Sometimes this isn’t always possible and some students need more support. Hear about how I handle this issue in ep31 of Teaching With Inquiry Live.
This is a great teaching strategy tool that was popularized by this great resource and amazing teacher Jennifer Runde. She uses learning journals in her interactive math journal resource on TPT. This idea of getting students to reflect on their learning is an important task that I include in my student conferences as well as my science and social studies units. Students identify the learning goal, and what they know about it before learning. After some new knowledge has been gained students reflect on what they have learned and show that they have learned it through this journal.
Do you want more details on the teaching strategies listed here? These slides and more are in my inquiry teaching library.
So sometimes inquiry doesn’t work!
In fact in the research by John Hattie, inquiry based learning and project based learning fall below the line. The rate in which something is deemed to have an average effect on student achievement.
Well that’s not good news….
But then you hear Hattie explaining why this might be it makes more sense. Watch Hattie explain this here.
Now I will acknowledge that Hattie’s critics state that his meta analysis of research is based on research dating back to the 1960’s which indeed could be problematic if applied to today’s classrooms. You can read more here and here
So what do we do with this?…..Well the way I see it.
- Hattie’s scale of effectiveness ranks inquiry based teaching just below the average score of 0.4. This still means there is a positive effect
- Inquiry is an umbrella term that involves many important teaching practices that rank much higher on Hattie’s list including:
- Piagetian Programs (using developmentally appropriate reasoning and higher order thinking skills. This means no complex analysis for junior students)
- micro teaching
- classroom discussions
- reciprocal teaching
- self questioning
- problem solving teaching
- As Hattie states in the video above inquiry is better for deeper level learning and surface level learning
- There are three phases of inquiry
- beginning – engaging learning
- middle – learning knowledge and understanding
- end – digging deeper application and communication
so if you have seen failure with inquiry there might be some clues why
Is it developmentally appropriate?
Are we asking our students to develop these deep questions before they have the context to dig deeper.
If you are in construction before you dig a hole you learn about the soil conditions and the environment you set up your equipment then you dig deeper.
Inquiry based learning is the same way. They start with curiosity and questions but they may not be able to answer these questions right away and some of those questions might not be that great deep questions that is okay.
These questions at the beginning give you an insight into your students interests, ideas, misconceptions, gaps, etc. They are a goal and an opportunity to assess what they know and where you can go with it.
Have we set the stage?
Before they start digging deeper to find the answers to their questions independently they need to first learn more about the content.
No this does not mean that we move away from a student centered approach and begin to have our students passively acquire knowledge but that we use their surface knowledge and understand questions to help us guide them in gaining a better understanding of the content.
We use a guided inquiry approach. To help them lay the foundation to dig a bit deeper.
Are we integrating it with other best practices?
Using questions as your guide for inquiry and letting students discover things all on their own without guidance isn’t going to work either
When students find information we need to help them make sense of it. We need to walk them through the thinking that is needed that allows them to integrate new knowledge with previous understandings.
We need to have opportunities to
- make meaningful connections
- Share our learning ask more questions
- make it all make sense
- get feedback
- collaborate with others
Inquiry is not about students doing it on their own but it is about building a learning community where we all have a voice and learn along side one another.
Have we picked the right content to inquire about?
Well sometimes our hands are tied but we need to make sure we are not asking our students to do more than they are capable
We need to get our students prepare to inquire about the bigger issues. The real life issues that affect people.
We also need to make sure inquiry projects are about applying what they learned and making connections and communicating their results.
Our inquiry projects are less effective when we are asking them to just regurgitate facts.
Are we doing “inquiry” too soon?
so most of the time we use inquiry to mean the student defined question that is being researched and answered. That we start with this big idea then let them have at it. Just start researching away.
This level of autonomy is too soon for most 10 year olds.
Plus in the context of learning new unfamiliar content they can’t dig deep into learning before they learn a bit about the subject.
There is an important middle step that needs to be put into place before students can answer those big ideas.
So what can you do about it? How can you fix it?
Well here in this freebie I have outlined my three phases for inquiry.
Inquiry has a beginning, middle, and end.
Beginning: Inspiring Curiosity
This is where you gather information, ask questions, encourage students to be curious. They ask questions, tell you what they know and you set the stage with clearly defined learning goals and success criteria.
Middle: Building the foundation
This is where we need to look at those surface level ideas and plan opportunities for students to build their background knowledge.
We can set them up with questions, lead them in the direction of quality research and engage them with meaningful experiences.
We talk and conference and help them make meaning of the new learning they are discovering.
Classroom discussions, reflections, conferences, and small group instruction, even direct teaching when necessary is all important here.
This can even be a place for assessment
The End: Digging deeper
This is the part that everyone thinks about.
Chasing the big idea, digging deeper.
This part is much easier when the background knowledge is there.
They choose an area of interest they ask a big question, they find some answers
- They start with the question
- Look for some answers through research
- Summarize and analyze
- Make a plan or a solution
- communicate their results.
Have you ever had a chatty class?
Umm yeah!! who doesn’t
So I assume that because I have a chatty class that they we are going to have these great discussions when we sit down to learn.
Nada, zip, zilch
There is no talking when I ask a question. These kids who wouldn’t be quiet and took forever to get focused because they were so chatty are now all staring at me with blank faces….saying nothing.
Here is what I realized
Working Memory Problems
-I have had students in my class with working memory difficulty. These kids struggle with on demand tasks like academic conversations on the fly. These kids need supports to help them participate in class. Giving them thinking time and the ability to write things down is important. Scaffold the discussion with a prompt page or simply let them take some notes during the conversation.
The Awkward Pause
So people are naturally inclined to fill in silence, my students were doing this to me. If they waited I would just keep talking. I would inevitably answer my own question and they would just get to passively take a break while I just gave them all the answers.
Boy was I talking too much
So it was time to flip the script and sit and wait give them the awkward pause and see if they took the cue to start talking.
Sure enough some of them did. It worked!!
Sound easy? It totally wasn’t it was the hardest thing ever. As my voice was screaming “let me out” but I had to keep that cage door shut!!! 😳
So slowly but surely a few of them started to talk. Now I just needed more of them talking instead of just a few.
Engaging the Sidelines
Normally it is a few students in the class that do the majority of the talking.
This was something I wanted to improve my goal was to have rich discussions with everyone in my class not just a select few.
So I could have done the old method of just calling out random kids off my class list. But….that is terrifying for many kids so I rarely do it.
Planned sharing… as my students would work on their differentiated math pages I would walk around the room occasionally and see students who were doing well or better yet a student that had struggled previously and had just had a breakthrough. I would ask if they would be willing to share their learning. We would look at their failure and they would then share their breakthrough.
Adding their voice in a strategic way increased their confidence in talking in front of the group. They could share their learning from their place on the carpet.
Student to Student
In many classrooms if you map the conversation patterns it would look like a bouncing ball between you and a student. If I really wanted a student centered classroom then I needed to get out of the center of the conversation. So I explicitly talked to students about how to talk to one another. We talked about how to ask questions of each other, how to build on to conversations and how to disagree with respect, Use the acronym IDEAS to help your students learn how to add to a class conversationI – inquire: ask questions of the speaker to build on the discussionD- Disagree: part of having a conversation is hearing different view points. Teach students to disagree respectfully with each other. E- Expand: get students to extend the conversation by digging deeper and asking why. Go bigger or deeper with these questions. A- Agree and Add On: show your support and add on by offering additional evidence S- Summarize and Clarify: sometimes saying it in a different way to clarify a point is an important part of conversations Brainstorm different sentence stems and slowly introduce and model these for students.
Listening for Speaking
If you have ever had an argument with someone….like maybe your spouse. You will know that sometimes you listen to understand their point and other times you are just waiting for your next chance to jump in and say something. So instead of listening you are planning what you are going to say next. Students quickly learn who to listen to and often it is not each other. So this is an area that we should try to change. Because it is important that students not only listen to us, their teacher but they should also listen to each other Using the accountable talk IDEAS strategy mentioned above is one way to increase listening since they have to listen in order to understand. Another is to explicitly teach them what good listening looks like. Eyes on the speaker, body still, mouth closed, hands free. So get them talking byIdentifying and gaps is memoryUsing the awkward pauseEngaging the sidelinesIncreasing student to student conversations.
As I think about teachers going back into the classroom this is one of my most favourite times. Getting my classroom ready.
It is often the cleanest that it will ever be and the most photo ready.
Classrooms today look different so as we are getting ready to go back to school, perhaps we have to think differently about how our rooms are designed.
If we are using a student-centered inquiry approach in our classroom then responsive design can be translated into our classroom too. Below are the three must have design elements that are essential for inquiry.
With inquiry you need to consider that there is going to be a few different learning styles that you will ask students to participate in. I feel there are three different types of spaces you need to have.
First you need a large gathering space.
- a carpet area for students to sit on
- an area to move chairs to sit together
- the ability to move tables surrounding a large gathering space.
What you don’t want is students sitting apart. Group them close together instead.
This also means that your desk/table placement does not need every student to ‘face the board’ if their learning space is reserved for independent work then they do not need to be able to face the board. Get them moving and changing locations throughout the day. This is easily accomplished if you have a gathering space.
Small Group Learning
In inquiry, students should be grouped together so that they have opportunities to learn from one another. Grouping desks or tables together so that students can learn from one another will help to foster more inquiry and better conversations in your classroom.
This does take a bit of work to teach students to work in groups but with enough practice and routine students can do this.
You also need a space for independent work.
provide some spaces where your students can work independently in your classroom. Think about different levels and not just sitting in a chair at their desk.
If your goal is work completion then does it really matter where this happens? I think it doesn’t.
So think creatively about where students can and want to work in your classroom during independent times. Kids like to stand, sit, lie down, hide, and move and adjust. Some like silence while others like music. If it works for them and work gets done can we be more flexible about how and where they sit in our rooms?
There are a few things that could be considered essential materials for all inquiry classrooms.
- chart paper is great for recording learning goals, student ideas, brainstorming and a whole lot more.
- markers cannot be erased so it helps students share their thinking in a permanent way. It is also easy for others to see and great for your chart paper.
- scrap books or duo-tangs are an alternative to binders. For me binders just take up too much space and there is so much loose paper. (I can’t take it really). Duo-tangs are easily portable for me but I honestly prefer scrapbooks or books of lined paper that easily fit an 8.5x 11 paper.
- clip boards are an essential tool needed if you want students to be working with flexible seating.
- technology – it is inevitable that in today’s inquiry classrooms tech tools are becoming more and more prevalent. This means that you should work towards getting more tech in your room. Lobby your admin or apply for grants if necessary to get more tech tools. Bring your own device is another option to supplement when you don’t have enough tech to start with.
Colour choice is important for making or breaking the feel and energy in our room.
Here is what I have learned. Pick a colour and repeat it…everywhere.
My first year in my classroom the boards were a dull army green, not the atmosphere that I was trying to convey.
Then I painted. I picked three colours for my boards. Blue, green, and yellow. I liked it at first but it always looked messy and cluttered to me and I was forever trying to organize it. It seemed busy and I didn’t know why.
I then read a blog post? or podcast? from School Girl Style!!
She has an amazing design sense and if you ever need to see a Pinterest worthy classroom she is amazing.
However, her tip was that all the boards should be the same base colour. This was because when you walk in the room with multiple colours yours eyes don’t know where to focus. However, if every board is one colour then you don’t focus on that and they don’t steal the focus.
It makes a difference.
So here is my tip for you.
- Pick a border that you love perhaps one that has a few colours in it.
- Choose a solid colour border for layering either plain or patterned (dots, stripes, chevron)
- Choose one colour for the board background. For all the board space.
Some colours are better for certain age groups. Primary colours for primary like an 8 pack crayon box, secondary colours for junior, more sophisticated colour combinations for intermediate and high school. Check out this blog post for great colour combinations.
What goes on the walls?
In my opinion nothing right away. Leave them blank.
When designing your classroom for inquiry you have to know that your room should be a reflection of the learning that your students are doing.
That means save your money on all of those posters, cutesy quote boards, or any other boards that you put up. If the information doesn’t reflect the learning of your students then take it down, or don’t put it up in the first place. Ask yourself if a large birthday board really a great use of space? Save those Pinterest worthy boards for outside in the hallway.
This means that really you can save yourself some time by not putting much up at the beginning of the year.
Let your walls grow with your students. Make them living learning walls.
My goal is that when a stranger walks into my room they should be able to tell what has been happening in my room and what we are learning.
I generally try to have one board area for the core subjects taught in my room. Language, Math, Science/Social Studies all have a dedicated space in my room. I am lucky to have great board space in my room. If you don’t then get creative and use any available vertical space that you have access too.
Use the back of shelves, or file cabinets, windows, doors, or trifold boards as additional board space if you need it.
As for art or other types of classroom decor – put that outside in the hallway or on your door. Keep the inside of your classroom for learning and set this as a priority.
How do you plan to design your classroom to get ready for inquiry? Join the discussion about this topic here
Then grab your free checklist to help you plan out the design for your own classroom.
Keep reading about classroom design on these other blog posts below
Want to learn a bit more about why I use tables instead of desks? Read the blog post about this here!
To learn more about how design is important for language you can read more here.
Research is one of the many tasks that students need to develop especially in today’s classroom with many inquiry projects, google and student led activities. Building student research skills is so important, and how to sort through too much research to find what they need, especially at their reading level is important.
By grade 4 students are finally ready to conduct some simple independent research. However, up until this point, they often have very little experience with doing this. This is one of the many tasks that needs to be explicitly taught.
Here are some tips to help your students research
Teach Them How to Skim and Scan
This skill will help them to determine if the text they are reading is a good fit for what they are looking for.
Skimming is a skill that involved students determining if the article is appropriate for what they need so that they don’t waste time reading a whole article that isn’t relevant. They will skim through the not fiction text features to find out if they need to read more or skip it.
This skill is best modeled for students by the teacher. Show them exactly what you want them to do and talk through your process to doing it. This can be repeated as necessary for students in guided sessions if they need additional support.
Scanning goes a little deeper to determine if what they read answers their question.
Once they have skimmed the text to determine that it is a good fit then they need to skim the sections of the text for the facts that answer their questions.
This is also easily modeled to students and this skill can be practiced. Use this anchor chart to help your students to follow along with key steps to help them skim and scan.
Skimming and Scanning are best taught in conjunction with summarizing. This skill is essential to help students to get the GIST of the article that they are reading to make sure that they pulling out key details. Summarizing and research are two skills that work very well together.
Get your skimming and scanning anchor chart here now.
Teach them How to Google
When I was in school I was taught how to use the Dewey Decimal System. Today as teachers it is important to teach them how to Google. (is it just me or do you hear the song “Teach them how to Dougie”)
I use the analogy with my students that they wouldn’t walk into a library and yell “How many years does a bear live?” and expect a book to fly off the shelf and hit them in the head. They would also not expect to see a book titled “How long a Bear Lives”
They would look simply for a book on bears.
Google works the same way.
They cannot ask Google a question and automatically get the information they are looking for. We need to teach them how to google. Here is a helpful page to use to help you learn how to google more effectively.
Learning how to Google is an important skill and this lesson can also touch on many cross-curricular expectations to make these lessons a good bang for your buck.
Once your students know how to skim and scan a text. They understand how to summarize a text and they can google effectively it is now important that they learn to sort the good, the bad, and the ugly (fake news)
To build student research skills there are things that students can look for to help them determine if a website is a good quality site that may be reliable.
Sites like National Geographic, Scholastic, Encyclopedias, PBS, BBC and other news agencies are reliable and recognizable websites that are good places to start with student research.
Look at the URL
The URL gives many clues about how credible the source. Web sites that have the domain of .edu, and .gov are restricted and can only be used by certain institutions. These are generally considered reliable. If you are looking for information from specific regions the country domains such as .ca will let students know what country the website is from.
If you are looking for information from specific regions the country domains such as .ca will let students know what country the website is from. This will support student research when they are looking for content that is region specific.
Complicated URL sources with long unrecognizable names or blogs that are not simple .coms may be someone’s personal site and the information should be validated on multiple sites.
About Me and Bias
Web sites for student research should be clear about who the author is and who is producing the content. The author should be identified on the article themselves with a bio. If this is not present there should be a detailed about me page that identifies who wrote the information.
Authors should be experts on the subject area. Are they credible? Sometimes many popular research sites are not curated by experts and some are even student created websites. This is fine to use as a source but again the information should be validated in multiple places.
Another factor is bias. On the web, anyone can post their opinion. It is important for students to understand bias and how to recognize this in what they are reading.
Whenever you talk about student research skills you inevitably talk about plagiarism. This is a great time to introduce your students to the concept of plagiarism. Today it is easy for students to simply just copy and paste what they read online into their notes then copy their notes into their own writing.
For me, this is a very simple concept. The original author owns the sentence. They have put the words together into a sentence. This is something that you cannot copy. However, at this age, they are not doing research into topics that may be unique or based on original research.
So this means that they can use the fact from the sentence but they cannot use the whole sentence.
Help your students to skim and scan a text to help them build their student research skills.
Again this is where the ability to teach your students how to do a GIST summary will help. Extracting the keywords from what they read. They assembling them into a summary is a very specific strategy that is similar to making research notes. They have to focus on the key ideas and ignore the fluff to write a summary. This is the same skill that students use when extracting information for researching too.
More information about the GIST strategy with summarizing can be found here.
Don’t forget to grab the Skim and Scan Anchor chart page that goes with this blog post.
Researching by using the web, is an important skill for student to master
Join Madly Learning in the Teaching with Inquiry Facebook group
Did you know that this post originally started off as a Facebook Live Video? This and many other things are talked about every week in my Teaching With Inquiry Facebook group. If you aren’t already a member click here to join us and learn more about how to start using inquiry in your classroom.
Technology in the classroom constantly changes and so are the classroom tech tools that we use every day with our students.
Sometimes it is just hard to stay with it when everything is changing right?
Putting these classroom tech tools to work in your classroom goes hand in hand with building a 21st-century learning environment.
So what tech do you need to use in your classroom today?
I compiled my top five classroom tech tools you need to try right now in your classroom. These are tools for my students and help me to streamline my teaching with digital resources.
I talked about these five tips and added 6 more just for you in this freebie that you can get by signing up here. This link will give you access to my Tech Tips for Inquiry freebie and access to many more free resources too from both my TPT store and my FB live session freebies.
So without further ado…here are my top five classroom tech tools to use in your classroom now.
Classroom Tech Tool #1: Google Classroom
This tech tool is number one for a reason. If you are doing anything digital you need a digital learning management system. (a term that really just means digital hand in bin). Google Classroom is my tool of choice. I have blogged about it here on my site here. This tool supports your ability to manage students digital work and helps to keep the work out of your inbox and in a highly organized system right in your google drive.
Google Classroom also helps you to manage and provide timely feedback which helps to support you through the cycle of assessment and learning (more about that here). I love being able to leave feedback that is easily accessible to both the student and I all the time.
Classroom Tech Tool #2
Ok this one is an oldie but a goodie and maybe a bit surprising. It is on my list because if you are going digital you need a way to create templates for students. Graphic organizers, templates, worksheets etc can all be created on…
Powerpoint or Keynote
If you like these pages to look familiar (and pretty) then this is your go to tool.
Make a page that you would normally make to print. Then export the slides as an image file. Once you have these saved as an image file they can be used as templates and backgrounds in other apps like google drive, google classroom, pic collage, and explain everything.
Classroom Tech Tool #3
If you are looking for an app that helps students do just about everything, then Explain Everything is your app. This app is like having an interactive smart board on every iPad. You can draw, annotate, record, write, film, and take photos all within the app.
To capture thinking students can take a picture or video of their work. Then they can record themselves telling you what they see and what they did. Their work can be easily exported into a variety places making it easy to share with you.
Classroom Tech Tool #4
QR code readers make accessing tech simple and easy for students. With the snap of a picture, students can quickly access a web resource that you want to send them too without the need for copying a complex URL into their browser.
Another tool that helps students access web resources quickly is “bit.ly“. If students are working with a desktop computer, a qr code isn’t your best option. So, shortening the complex URL to a short easy to use one is. Bit.ly is an easy way to shorten these links into easy to remember custom short links.
Use both of these tools in conjunction and you have a winning strategy for students to access web resources quickly and easily.
Classroom Tech Tool #5
Use a camera and take photos and videos of everything. You should be taking photos and so should your students.
There is no better way, in my opinion, to capture learning, save ideas, gather assessment data, record observations, save lessons, etc. Then a simple portable device with a camera (and backed up using google photos to save your storage space)
I have used the camera to share with parents what is happening in our classroom.
Students have used the camera to record what is happening in our classroom on Instagram as a student reporter. (here’s how)
I have recorded observations of student learning, filmed presentations, recorded lessons, share our learning with others, stored lesson ideas,and saved memories through the use of the camera.
It is simple and we may take it for granted but in our busy classrooms, we barely get a chance to pee in a day if a photo is worth 1000 words that photo sure saves me precious minutes of writing down that observation.
Don’t miss out on 6 more tools that I use in my classroom by getting access to my Tech Tools Resource in my Free Resource Library.
If you missed me talking about this live, then you need to join our private FB group “Teaching with Inquiry”. Join like minded people to talk teaching strategies and share your journey with others and get inspired to do more with inquiry in your classroom.