Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Educator Jerome Harste cautions teachers that a final presentation isn't where inquiry should truly end. Instead, he says, "Where inquiry ought to end is on reflection and thinking about what kinds of social action we might take -- that is, now that we have this understanding, what does that mean for how we position ourselves in the world? I don't want inquiry to just be sort of an academic study. I want it to actually interact and affect the world, and I want students who can do that too." Educators Richard Beach and Jamie Myers also see an inquiry's natural end as "transformation," or "revising meanings, changing action, constructing more desirable identities, relationships, and values."
Reflection on the inquiry, which should take place throughout the process as well as at the end, is an essential step in making an inquiry more than just an academic exercise. When students are taught to reflect frequently as a matter of course on the learning they are engaged in, they begin to have more control over their own learning processes. They begin to develop sophisticated thought patterns and are better able to apply what they have learned in new situations. Reflecting helps them see what they did in a particular inquiry not as an isolated event, but as a way of thinking that is helpful in any problem-solving or information-gathering situation.
One way to ensure that reflection happens regularly is to have students keep journals throughout the process. In these journals, they can reflect, perhaps at the end of each day, on what they have done, why they did it, what worked and what didn't, and what the experience was like for them in general. Harste calls this kind of journal an "auditor of how your thinking has evolved." It is a metacognitive step that is essential if students are to apply what they have learned elsewhere. Students should also be encouraged to share this kind of reflection with one another.
The hope is that reflection will help transform and empower students, and spur them to further action. Some students may decide to take an active stance for change in the outside world, initiating social action against or in favor of some proposed change in their community or school. For other students, the transformation may be more internal, perhaps resulting in a formerly quiet or passive student becoming an active, vital member of the class.
The act of reflection can lead to great self-discovery for students, but it is an aspect of the learning process that is often given short shrift by teachers pressed for time or pressured by standardized tests. While an inquiry can take weeks to complete, student engagement is often so deep and intense that although the teacher might not be able to cover a vast range of material, students are sill transformed by the experience. Many students, when doing inquiry learning for the first time, have enthusiastically reflected that "school has never been like this before." Many see, for the first time, how school might be relevant to their real lives.
Teachers considering embarking on an inquiry often wonder how the work of such a project addresses the demands of the ELA standards and standardized testing. One answer to this is that an inquiry can be so rich, and demand so much of students, that they naturally address every standard as they go through the process. They must read a great number and variety of texts; write in a variety of forms, often for a variety of audiences; practice speaking and listening in the context of peer- and large-group discussions that take place daily; and address standards of research and media literacy through Internet and other types of research. A glance at the standards included at the end of this section should reassure teachers how thoroughly a well-structured inquiry can address them.