Is this a habitat in which inquiry can thrive? Questions and warning bells for the inquiry classroom

I was reading an interesting post from @langwitches in which she refers to @brholland’s slideshow from a recent ASCD conference. In true domino style, Beth's post got Sylvia thinking and blogging and Sylivia’s post got me thinking and blogging! The issue being explored by these two educators was around what we are ‘looking for’ when we walk into a learning space/classroom. Beth raised a number of key questions that we can ask to help reflect more closely on the effective use of technologies. The post and slideshow are great…as is Sylvia’s sketched response to it.  You can find them here: As readers of this blog know, I pretty much obsess over all things inquiry. So of course, this got me thinking about the questions that roll around in my head when I enter a classroom. Most of the time, I am looking through an inquiry lens … looking for connections between what I see (and hear) going on and inquiry learning/ teaching.   I am lucky. I get to walk into many, many different classrooms in many different places and I am often intrigued by the things that signal 'inquiry' to me and, equally, by the things that, well...don't.  So I am wondering: what questions do I ask?

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First impressions and the inquiry classroom…

Plato once said “The beginning is the most important part of the work”.  For teachers in Australia and New Zealand, the school year is now into its third week – or thereabouts.  Over the last three weeks I have worked in many of these schools and enjoyed the opportunity to sit with teams of teachers to consider how we might best ‘set the scene’ for a great year of inquiry. We are acutely aware that our students are forming impressions about how their year is going to unfold based on the way their teachers interact with them in these first vital weeks (I hear this discourse first hand at my own kitchen table!)  First impressions count. I wonder what impression we are making? In this blog post, I share some of the questions we have asked ourselves.  Although our colleagues in other countries are now well into their school year – these questions are likely to remain relevant throughout and may still be useful for a moment’s reflection.  This list can be read as questions to ask yourself or – if you replace the ‘I’ with ‘we’ questions to reflect on as a collaborative team of inquiry teachers.  What questions would you add?

1.  Have I asked my students about what they want to learn about / to do this year?  Do I know what they hope to inquire into?  Are they sharing their passions and interests? What have the students revealed about themselves?

2. Am I learning about how my students see themselves as learners? Have I asked them to share the skills, qualities, strengths and needs they believe they have as a learner? Have I shared mine?

3. Have I invited my students to participate in decisions made about how the learning space is organised? Have we discussed the connection between the physical environment and effective learning? Have I helped them to own and care for our learning space? Is there  flexibility for learners in this space? Choice? Movement?

4. Have I considered how I will use the visual space to support inquiry this year?  And how will the students be involved in this? Have I started to use my walls as 'second teacher' ?  Have we begun to share:

- our big inquiry question/s

- the learning asset/ transdisciplinary skills signs and specific learning intentions

- a cycle/language for/ processes of inquiry as a common reference for the students

5. Have we started to build some menus/ anchor charts to assist students in selecting learning tools ( eg for thinking skills, team work, self management, research, communication)

6. Does this learning space nurture curiosity? Am I offering provocations such as visuals, objects, clips, wonderful this a place that I invites 'awe and wonderment' about the world?

7. Have I deliberately focussed on building an 'inquiry community' in which it is safe to take risks, share ideas, ask questions. Have we discussed protocols and ways of learning together that are respectful and communicative?  Are my students helping build a community for learning?

8. Am I staying open to possibilities of spontaneous inquiries linked to current issues/problems/events/ interests? Am I planning in response to student interest and need as well as curriculum demands?

9. Am I being a model inquirer to my students?  Do they see me as a wondering, curious, questioning person who is eager to find out about the world? Do they see/hear me reflecting on my learning? Am I thinking out loud?

10. Have I set myself an inquiry challenge? Am I working on or inquiring into something new at the moment?  Am I being an inquirer too?

11. Is this going to be a true inquiry classroom? Am I being an inquiry teacher...not just a teacher who 'does' inquiry sometimes....

12. Am I learning? Am I wondering? Growing? Reflecting? Am I enjoying the journey so far..?