Over the many years I have been involved in the field of inquiry based learning, there are a few ‘tried and true’ strategies that have stood the test of time. I’m not sure where the idea of a class ‘inquiry diary’ came from. Perhaps it goes back to my early teaching days and what I learned about the power of language experience for teaching beginning readers. This approach was then in its ‘hey day’ and taught me a lot about the need to give young language learners opportunities to connect the abstract world of print to the concrete world of lived experience. The resulting texts would be returned to over and over again by the children. Books, wall stories, other shared texts created about our walk to the park, about the day the chick escaped and ended up in the dress up box, about the helicopter that landed on the oval were always the hottest items on the shelf when it came time to choose something to read! Capturing our shared experiences in writing also gave me a constant source of rich yet familiar language I could harvest for literacy instruction. We would comb our shared texts for spelling patterns, frequently used words and interesting linguistic structures and features (I only wish I knew then what I know now about word inquiry). Our shared authorship helped us make meaning of experience AND gave us much fodder for inquiry into language itself.
As I became more enamoured with the inquiry approach, it seemed only natural to document our journeys of inquiry in a similar, narrative form. Many inquiries follow the arc of a narrative – we begin in wonder, not knowing how it will evolve and gradually our understanding widens and deepens as we find out more. Our perceptions about what we are investigating may shift dramatically through the inquiry – just as a good story often lands us a surprise or two! Inquiries include both the predictable and the unpredictable moment - again, perfect seeds for narrative documentation.*
What is an inquiry diary?
Essentially, it is a large book (or digital equivalent – but more on that later) into which the inquiry is recorded as it unfolds - one of those big, spiral bound sketch books is ideal. Some teachers construct a diary for each inquiry while others use a single diary for the whole year. Some teachers reserve the diary for documentation of the unplanned, ‘spontaneous’ investigations that occur throughout the year (such as the sad death of the preying mantis at St. Fidelis Primary early this year!). Entries can be made at various times throughout the process - daily, weekly, sporadic or regular. The teacher often scribes students’ suggestions or invites a small group to work on an entry. Importantly, the diary gives us an opportunity to reinforce the language of inquiry and the transferable skills and strategies that are being used within it. They can be as simple or as detailed as suits.
Key features include:
Documentation of the 'essence' of what the inquiry is about - the big question, understands goals and skills.
- Use of the meta language of inquiry. While the contexts themselves will change...children start to recognise similar processes through the repetition of language (eg: we began by tuning in to our thinking….we wondered….we needed to investigate so we….) Each time a new inquiry is documented – it is an opportunity to see both similarities and differences between different types of inquiry.
- Inclusion of photos and examples of what students are doing along the way. These photos help anchor children's thinking, provide a prompt for reflection, and are a practical way to hold onto the charts and other artefacts developed during the inquiry when they can't necessarily be kept on the wall.
- Naming of skills and strategies used to pursue the investigation
Inquiry diaries can also become a lovely way to invite parents into finding out more about this way of learning. Once it is up and running, the diary can be displayed (eg: on an easel or music stand) near or in the classroom to be look at during drop off or pick up time. Some teachers choose to send the diaries home with each child in turn (a great way to learn about care and responsibility!) so they can share it with their parents - including a comments/feedback page in the back of the diary is a useful addition.
Of course, this kind of documentation of an inquiry can also be done as a digital text. Blogging or the use of tools like Weebly or even a simple powerpoint developed over the course of the inquiry are great ways to share the journey and this also allows for the inclusion of sound and video. The key to a successful inquiry diary is accessibility. We need to be able to grab it, refer to it, dip in and out of it. Whether paper based or digital, the diary helps anchor learning and connect the learning moments from day to day.
How do you document and capture your shared inquiry journeys?
* Thanks to Michelle from Mother Teresa Primary School, Jenny and Annette from St Fidelis primary School and Karen Seaton from Castlemaine Nth Primary schools for the examples. And apologies for my less than crisp photography!