There are a few eyebrow-raising emails/messages I receive on a fairly regular basis. One is a request from undergraduate students to help them with assignments (‘just wondering how you would answer this question about inquiry...thanks!’), another is an offer to write a post on my blog...except that the post has nothing to do with education(!) And the third is a request for information about where to purchase ‘the posters’ about the inquiry cycle...
For years, I have been asked to create posters outlining the phases of the inquiry cycle for people to put on their classroom walls. And for years I have resisted doing so. Here is why:
1. We should all acknowledge that the cycle itself is a problematic creature. It is useful– but it is so much more complex, messy and nuanced than it appears on paper. I have always shared it tentatively – as a scaffold for thinking, as a prompt for designing and as a way of providing some common but not fixed language. Publishing books, articles and blog posts about it helps me address some of those complexities whereas a poster/sign/worksheet doesn’t. Most of the posters created about the inquiry cycle present it as a simplistic, linear process, as if each phase is dealt with prior to the next. When teachers and kids work together to visually represent their journey they quickly discover that the process is far from the neat, linear process that a poster often (mis)represents. I have seen some better representations of it but they are usually co-constructed with a community to meet their particular context/purpose.
2. In what feels like an increasingly pinterest-centric world, the last thing I want to do is add more shiny, glossy STUFF to put on classroom walls. I have no problem with making the language of the cycle visible to learners – in fact, I recommend it. However there is something troublingly inauthentic about simply downloading, printing and displaying posters without doing the deeper work of sourcing, reading, thinking about, and creating your own (with acknowledgment of course).
3. How much stronger would it be if we invited our students to inquire into the way a cycle of inquiry might work and then co construct a way of making that process visible in the learning space? This is a much better way to help them understand what it might mean to journey through an inquiry than simply popping posters on the wall (and rarely referring to them). Who owns the classroom space?
4. While I have chosen and published particular words and phrases to communicate purposes and processes in a cycle of inquiry, the general concept of a ‘cycle’ is not mine - nor is the idea that inquirers often move through phases as they investigate a question/problem/issue. I am always at pains to explain to people that there are numerous models and ways of describing the process and each has its own emphases. It is not ‘THE’ inquiry cycle … it is AN inquiry cycle. Doing the work of investigating a range of interpretations can help teachers and kids devise one that works best for them.
5. The ‘cycle’ is only part of the bigger picture the inquiry classroom. It IS very helpful. I use it all the time for planning/designing and it offers teachers and kids a shared language to talk about how they might proceed through an investigation. Inquiry is more than this though. It is a culture, a stance and a way of being. So I worry that slapping a poster on the wall makes us feel like we are ‘doing it’. When it fact, it can be just that. A poster on a wall.
So….why am I sharing this? It has recently come to my attention that while I am busy refusing to commercially publish and sell posters - others are doing it anyway.
Colourful posters of ‘the inquiry cycle’ - even ‘Kath Murdoch’s Inquiry cycle’ - are available not just to share with others but for sale. And it is not only my work. I notice people selling, for example, worksheets depicting Ron Ritchhart’s visible thinking routines without any acknowledgement and I suspect, without permission. That these materials are sold in the company of some truly dreadful items purporting to be ‘inquiry based’ makes it worse. There is an abundance of awful, low level activities (craptivities) presented as worksheets that should never see the light of day in a classroom - let alone be sold for profit (makes me feel the same as I feel when I walk past 'NAPLAN' preparation books in the supermarket!) To cap it off, there are several that include a © symbol with the creator's name and no acknowledgment of the original source. Now. I understand that this has always been the case – well before the online world made it more pervasive but it is easier than ever to cut and paste, lift and loot, read and repost.
As someone noted on my twitter feed – perhaps this is something we should be talking about as a staff?
OK. Rant over. Don't get me wrong. I embrace the opportunities provided by digital media to share and collaborate. I hope this doesn't come across as precious or mean spirited about people using work I have published. I willingly and regularly share ideas online. I have seen some beautiful representations of ideas I have shared and loved the interpretation. They always acknowledge the source and it feels delightfully collaborative - ideas sparking other ideas in an atmosphere of open, professional connectedness. And I should say that I get many considered requests to use/adapt more formally published work. I almost always grant permission and love sharing in this way. These requests allow me to, at times, address misinterpretation and misrepresentation so that the sharing has integrity. That's one of the reason the protocol exists.
Some people have suggested that the best way to manage this might be to relent and do what I have been avoiding all these years: create the posters and sell them as the ‘official’ versions. I won’t do that…for all the reasons I have shared above.
But what I am putting up on the website are the pages from my recent book ‘The Power of Inquiry’ that provide information about the way I think about the process – at least at this point in time. This might be a useful guide to developing your own, with your kids. You can have it and share it - for free. But hey, just take a moment to let people know where it comes from. That way, if they want to dive deeper - learn more about it or even raise questions about it, they can return to the source.
In the meantime, I see all of this as a valuable conversation to have as a staff. I guess two issues have emerged for me – one being the problem of posters/displays etc. and the other about the ethics of what we choose to share (and sell) online.
How do we model ethical use of materials to our students? How much does this matter to us anyway? How freely should materials be shared without consultation or permission? When is it OK to sell our work? What does 'original' mean? If the words are someone else's but we choose the font, colour and images - does that make it original? What responsibility do we have as producers AND consumers to acknowledge the work done by others? Who really owns what? What do we know/believe about the thorny issue of intellectual property? AND…. Why do we prefer a glossy, pretty poster over the children's own documentation on our walls? Do our learners USE the stuff we decorate the walls with? What should be on our walls anyway? Who is it for?
I don't claim to have the answers...and I am still pondering it all myself (this post has been simmering in my draft folder for a while...) but I think it is an important conversation to have, don't you?