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Embedded Inquiry

Why hadn't I thought of it like that before?
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You know how when you have an epiphany and then wonder how you could have ever not known that thing you just realized? That happened to me today while I was speaking with Chris Pedersen, a colleague at Rockridge. He had just told me about his lesson when it hit me: embedded inquiry – that’s what works.

Dylan Wiliam published a book recently called Embedded Formative Assessment. As made obvious in the title, the premise is that assessment should permeate a lesson: love that. Why wouldn’t the same be true with inquiry?

Let’s review:

  • Inquiry means to ask questions and investigate those questions.
  • Learning happens when students ask questions that they care about answering.
  • Engagement means thinking or connecting to the learning… questioning is active and requires thinking.

All of this good stuff happened in Chris’ Social Studies 8 class today. When Chris stood up in front of his fresh-faced grade 8s he was all ready to tell them the definition of civilization - but then he didn’t. On an impulse, Chris pushed aside his carefully planned lesson and, instead of a definition wrote, “What is a civilization?” on the board.

“I just suddenly decided what I wanted the year to be about and telling them the answer would have been boring,” he told me. By the end of class the learners had revised and rethought their words until they had composed the following definitions. “We’ll use these throughout the year – revisiting them as their understanding develops.”

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In Math 8, Kelly Spearman and Daphne Lambie’s students were outside using their phones to take pictures in response to the questions, “Where do I see math?”

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These are two examples in a wealth of inquiry-minded work happening in my colleagues’ classrooms every single day.

The danger of the hype around inquiry is that we will focus too much on it as a showy strategy or “thing”, thereby relegating it to the diminished status of a trend. If it is embedded, it will simply be the way things are done around here. There is an elegance to that subtlety.