Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Once students have a genuine, rich, researchable question, investigating is the logical next step. As with each phase of the inquiry process, the way in which the teacher structures the investigation will depend on the scope of the inquiry and the needs of the students. Regardless of the structure, however, teachers should focus on two important processes during this phase: researching information, and discussing and refining that information.
Research: In their book Inquiry-Based English Instruction, educators Richard Beach and Jamie Myers detail an inquiry into "social worlds" -- an inquiry which draws on students' real lives as family members, dwellers in a community, students in school, etc. Beach and Myers recommend that students choose one social world to investigate, whether a "lived" one that they can actually visit, or one represented by literature or the media; students might choose anything from a medieval world described in a novel to the real world of snowboarding culture. They learn about the context of such worlds by exploring their history, culture, purposes, and beliefs, and the roles and rules within each one. They then look at the "tools" -- such as language, clothes, and possessions -- that those within each world use to construct their social identity. To do this, they observe, take notes, draw maps, interview residents of that particular world, and analyze their own reactions to what they have found.
Teacher Bo Wu's students engage in a version of this activity when they start making connections between the book they have read and their own lives. Part of their research on a question raised by Esmeralda Santiago's memoir, When I Was Puerto Rican, involves making timelines of their own lives. From these connections come deeper, more refined questions.
Teacher Jorge Arredondo's students conduct research in a variety of ways. He begins by having them use the Internet. At first, the research is unfocused; students might need to be taught, as Wu's are when they study James Baldwin, how to use a basic search engine; but soon, as they gather around each other's computers and begin to share what they have found, the work becomes much more focused, and the conversations lively. Arredondo also introduces his students to the idea that research does not always have to be done in the library or computer lab. His students also meet translator Evangelina Vigil-Piñón and hear her perspective on rendering Tomás Rivera's novel into English. They also interview custodial workers in the community as part of their inquiry into the lives of Mexican laborers. Jerome Harste expresses the importance of making "first hand" experiences available in an inquiry classroom: "I really think there are two kinds of experts that an inquiry teacher needs to think about incorporating in their classroom. One is an academic expert, and we see that with the translator of the work ... And then I think local experts, that is, people who have actually lived that experience."
Inquiry and the Literary Text, edited by educators James Holden and John S. Schmit, shows how to construct discussions in the classroom. Focusing in particular on the seminar method of literary discussion, the contributors suggest ways to have students explore texts constructively together, with the balance tipping neither toward "oppressive" teacher-dominated discussions, nor toward "chaotic" student free-for-alls. Many of the book's essays focus on student questioning: How can every student have a genuine voice in the conversation and also bring a thoughtful question to the table? Some suggestions include having students write questions and give reasons for their questions' importance. Students might also rank their questions in terms of importance. Others suggest giving students a form for questioning. One form might outline a set of literary elements around which to create questions (plot, character, theme, etc.). Another form might require students to consider the three types of responses that some educators believe all literary response takes: responses about the text itself, responses about the reader's experience with/reaction to the text, and responses about the text's connection to the world at large.
Bo Wu introduces a common version of this last technique in her class on Santiago. The students use graphic organizers – based on chronological or schematic timelines -- to help them structure their thinking and organize events in their memoirs. Wu demonstrates this when she begins to create a simple "web" with Santiago's words "American Invasion" at the center. As students propose ideas and information relevant to this topic, she lists their ideas around the words in the center, creating a web.
As Bo Wu comments, most standardized tests ask students to read and respond to information by synthesizing it. That, she says, is exactly what inquiry asks students to do. Students in this phase of the inquiry process are very much engaged in making meaning from real-world texts and other sources.