Friday, July 28, 2017

Ask Don't Tell.

I hear a lot of questions from teachers about how they can develop learner agency and also how to foster an inquiry disposition in students. On the flipside, and surprisingly sometimes from the same teachers, I hear questions along the lines of:
What should I call my reading groups?
Our big topic next term is change. What should I do around this?
We're doing inquiry next term, what are some topic ideas?

I find myself saying 3 words: "Ask the kids." and those who know me won't be surprised to hear that this is quickly followed (or sometimes preceded) by "What's your purpose?"

Before going further I'd like to say something about the teachers who are asking questions such as these. These teachers are learners (as are we all), they are asking questions that show they have a need to further develop their skills and understandings around learner agency and student inquiry and we should be supporting them on that journey.

Now let's look at those examples:

What should I call my reading groups?
Why are you giving them a name? How about supporting them to come up with something meaningful to them? How about having them get together and negotiate a name for themselves? Sure it will take a bit more class time but isn't 'Managing Self' a Key Competency you are trying to develop? Aren't things like being able to negotiate, make decisions and compromise, important skills that are best learned in authentic contexts? We won't develop agentic learners if we make all the decisions for them.



Our big topic next term is change. What should I do around this?
What's your purpose for having them learn about change?  Which aspect (s) of change are you wanting them to learn about? E.g. 'Change can be permanent or temporary' is quite different to 'living things change over time' or "coping with changes in our lives', 'changes to the environment can be be caused by inanimate things like wind and water or animate things like people, plants and animals' or 'we can change our minds based on new evidence'.  Does it matter what the context is so long as it meets the purpose? Why not share that purpose with them and ask them for some contexts that have meaning and relevance to them? How about giving them some provocations to stimulate their curiosity and seeing what questions arise?

We're doing inquiry next term, what are some topic ideas?
First up, you don't "do" inquiry. You use an inquiry approach or you inquire into a question, problem etc. I'd be asking what the purpose of the inquiry was? Once that is clear, Iook for some authentic contexts that you know are relevant to your learners. You could share some provocations to stimulate questions, then follow their lead into areas that meet the purpose but are relevant to them. Or straight out share the purpose with them and ask them to suggest some contexts.

So next time a teacher asks what they should name their maths group or what their inquiry topic should be, let's not jump in with an answer but instead support them to grow in their understanding of developing agentic learners with inquiring dispositions.

I'll just finish with this great sketchnote from the marvellous @sylviaduckworth.




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