Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Questioning is the starting point for any inquiry lesson. Several techniques were detailed in the video program 3, in which the students of Jorge Arredondo and Bo Wu explored the work of Rudolfo Anaya and James Baldwin. When these same teachers present the work of Tomás Rivera and Esmeralda Santiago, however, they employ different methods. Bo Wu's students, for example, engage in a number of reader-response activities to begin an inquiry into Santiago's memoir When I Was Puerto Rican. They start with strategies like reader's theater, journal writing, and peer-group discussions of their writing, and they choose topics for inquiry only after they have immersed themselves in the issues.
In his class on Rivera and Mexican migrant labor, Jorge Arredondo spends less time in the immersion phase than he did with Anaya. He reminds students that they should not come up with inquiry topics to please him; rather, they should find topics that are interesting to them. His students ask a range of questions: What is the history of child labor laws? How did the Mexican government feel about people leaving to go to the United States? How did the U.S. government feel about the immigrants? What jobs were available to Mexican laborers? How have the laws changed?
For teachers accustomed to strict lesson plans, this approach -- simply having students begin questioning without much background -- can be daunting. But Arredondo has built structure into what might seem a completely open-ended process by outlining specific steps for the class to go through together. First, the novel's translator, Evangelina Vigil-Piñón, visits the class, and the students ask her questions about the book. Considering the translator's responses, the students brainstorm more questions together. They then research their questions in a computer lab and begin to interview the laborers in their own community (e.g., the school custodial workers). Arredondo sets aside time for the class to collectively discuss its progress through each of these steps.
Bo Wu says she consciously "structures the lesson in a way that allows students to ask more questions." Ultimately, they will write their own memoir based on the topic they choose. Her students ask provocative questions like "What does it mean to be an American?" that can sustain a rich, multifaceted inquiry.
In a sense, teachers who choose to use this approach may need to be more organized than teachers following a daily lesson plan. In an inquiry, the teacher sets the daily structure within which students will question and explore, and acts as facilitator by having resources at the ready for questions students are likely to ask.
Educators Richard Beach and Jamie Myers, in their book Inquiry-Based English Instruction, speak of the need for teachers to "build problem-solving activities around students' perceptions of their own concerns, issues, or dilemmas." They write: "If teachers assign concerns, issues, or dilemmas, students may simply perceive them as 'school' or 'teacher' issues. Having both teachers and students mutually identify their own concerns, issues, or dilemmas engages them in a 'problem-finding' process of discovering or unearthing matters they perceive as important to their own lives in social worlds." This is perhaps the most important goal of having students begin with their own questions.