When it comes to being an inquiry teacher and an IB PYP teacher, there are a bazillion articles and blog posts and podcasts and books telling us what we can do: become an effective facilitator, research new curriculum,changes to practices, to assessment etc. etc. and on and on, all while making sure we follow through with the latest buzz words -this is all well and good and no doubt valuable. But sometimes it becomes, and I'm speaking from personal experience, totally and utterly overwhelming. Well, to add a variation to the theme, I'm here today to tell you what you DONT have to do! :) Ready? Here goes. You DON'T HAVE TO.......
But how will I know if they are meeting the objectives? How will I know they understood the concepts? What if they are falling behind? These are a few of the questions that I used to ask myself back in the days when I was rushing around in a stressed out state, trying to ensure that I had enough evidence of learning and that I was giving feedback to every child. But here's the thing. Fact. Your kiddos don't need assessed every single day. They don't need feedback for every single learning experience. Even those who are struggling a bit don't need a daily check-in.
Instead, teach them how to become reflective thinkers. Build this notion of evaluating their own learning and their progress. Build those discussions into your daily or weekly routines. And plan to meet with the children a few times a week. This can be as small group conferences or one-to-one. Every single week, I would meet with my small groups for maths, reading or writing. We would reflect on our learning, our skills and concepts. We would evaluate recent assessments or recent learning experiences. We would chat about what we wanted to learn next. I listened. They talked. I could then give feedback based on my observations throughout the inquiry and they could ask for support. The rest of the week, I encouraged them to work through their challenges, attempt to seek solutions to a skill or strategy that they struggle with, ask for help with peers or myself and to do their best. It's okay to struggle first. And it's even better when they find that they have found the solution for themselves, if not by themselves. What happens is that the children learn to rely upon themselves and what they bring to their learning. They learn that they don't have to be perfect and that failure is a step closer to learning. They learn that they are a partnership of their learning and that their on-tap support comes from within. The rest of the support is second to their own critical and creative thinking. When I began to embed reflection into our daily routine through a reflection journal, the difference was astounding! The children became far more verbal about their own progress in a meaningful way rather than the standard, rote reflection responses. My colleagues noticed this difference too and they wanted in on the secret and so I ended up creating reflection journals for their kids also. You can read more about developing inclusive assessment and reflection into your day in this article.
I know that you DO need to gather evidence of learning on a regular basis. However, it doesn't have to be an encyclopedia-sized portfolio. Believe me when I say that I have seen this occur. Think about what it is we are looking for:
Stick to gathering those pieces of work and, where possible, involve the children in selecting their evidence. I like to create a reflection board where we keep a bank of guiding questions to help us to develop our reflective thinking skills. It begins with teacher-guided questions and gradually the children begin to add their own ideas. You can make your own. But, if you'd like an easy route, I have a collection of guiding questions already made for you. These are digital files and can be printed or used on your digital platform for distance learning. They are a collection of many of my student-led reflection prompts.
I know, I know....I can hear the collective gasp. Inquiry cycles/steps/stages have been around for longer than we have been alive! Nothing new. They are tools that we can use to guide us to the process that takes place as we inquire, within any inquiry. But let's not lose sight of the fact that regardless of which inquiry cycle you use, it is a tool rather than a rule. Things to consider:
I go into this in more depth with our live chat on Instagram. And bringing other educators in to share their solutions is such a powerful way to bring our community together.
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Wait, what? Don't stick to the plan? Am I mad? Let's not forget that we are inspiring student-led inquiry. This means that the children's curiosity will drive the direction of the plan. This is where so many of us struggle in the beginning, as we make the shift from traditional classroom teacher to teacher-facilitator. Allow the children the chance to add their own voice to the plans. Be flexible. Yes, you will get the stuff you need to cover completed. But the real value comes when the kids' voice leads the way.
Don't get caught up in the plans and lose sight of the process.
This is student-led inquiry. The children's curiosity will direct the inquiry. Yes, we plan our units of inquiry. But these are simply outlines that guide the direction. My team and I would plan our units together but that is where the similarity would often stop. Our students would take quite different directions based on their curiosity. For example: Who We Are: Beliefs and values influence behaviour. My class took our unit in the direction of world religions and cultural traditions and my teammate's class headed off into how the media can influence our beliefs and values and thus our behaviour. Same planned unit; totally different results. Teachers always go above and beyond. We are some of the hardest workers. When you cut these tasks from your to-do list, you are giving yourself ( and the kids) some grace to enjoy the process without the pressure. Trust the process. It works. You are still a fabulous teacher when you do less!
P.S If you would like more ideas for planning and provoking inquiry, you can find our amazing community of Instagram where we are sharing ideas from all around the world. Come and introduce yourself. I'd love to meet you! You can find me @pypteaching