This reminds me of John MacBeath’s observation that one of the most important lessons to come out of more than forty years of literature on school failure is that “teachers must recognize the limitations of teaching and become much more sophisticated in their understanding of learning”. MacBeath – Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge – made this observation in 1993, and one could argue that we have become much more sophisticated in our understanding of learning, and arguably we have. However, for this to make any actual difference to learning, one would also have to argue that we have become much more sophisticated in our teaching for learning, especially independence of learning through inquiry, which is arguable.
There are no doubt many and complex reasons that combine to make “moving students as well as their teachers toward grasping the principles of inquiry an extremely formidable task” (see first post above). While these need to be addressed, perhaps we first need to take step back and ask why the effort required for this extremely formidable task is both worthwhile and an urgent necessity. What is at stake if we don’t make the effort, or make the effort but do not succeed?
I happen to be reading Neil Postman’s The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, in which he writes (pp. x-xi):
Without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it the better. With such a purpose, schooling becomes the central institution through which the young may find reasons for continuing to educate themselves.
Might these be connected?
MacBeath, J. (1993). Learning for Your Self: Supported Study in Strathclyde Schools. Strathclyde : Strathclyde Regional Council.
Postman, N. (1999). The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School. New York: Vintage Books.
The Individual Project essentially asks students to identify and investigate a topic of intellectual interest that can be viewed and discussed from different perspectives (see below, which may be found in the Inquiry Journal – Part A).
The PPT presentation that accompanied Tutor Training may be downloaded from here.
Lesson plans for the three Tutorial sessions may be downloaded from here.
The PPT presentation that accompanied the Writing Day may be downloaded from here.
The LibGuide that accompanied the Writing Day may be accessed from here (see below).
Schools closed due to the pandemic on 20/03/2020, so students completed the Individual Project under very challenging conditions. Lucy, who read all of the essays, commented on the winning essay that the student “has done exactly what she was asked to do, her essay is really well structured and reads without too much effort on the part of the reader, she has written about something she is clearly very interested in, and satisfies all of the criteria too”.
The need to structure the process, which I now recognize as being an inquiry process, seems like it ought to have been obvious, but it clearly wasn’t.
The clearest way to illustrate this is with our Extended Essay timeline for Year 12 (Grade 11) IB Diploma students, which similarly structures the inquiry process, but also, crucially, includes a number of targeted interventions to support students at key points during the inquiry process (see below).
Even with this additional structured support in place, the Extended Essay (or EPQ) remains a substantial and challenging undertaking students who are only 16, and it is difficult to see how students who are 3 years younger could conceivably manage with any less structured support when we were expecting essentially the same undertaking of them, only on a smaller scale.
While the evolution of the Individual Project would be both interesting and instructive, it would also be overly time-consuming now. It is, however, worth noting that Barbara Stripling’s model of the inquiry process, which is what FOSIL is based on, is supported by a continuum of “the literacy, inquiry, critical thinking, and technology skills that students must develop at each phase of inquiry over their years of school and in the context of content area learning” (2017, p. 52). Not only did this mean that students in Year 9 and Year 12 who were undertaking work that was essentially the same in nature were doing so using the same process, but the underlying continuum of skills enabled us to develop these skills systematically and progressively from Year 9 up to Year 12 and 13, and from Year 9 down to Year 7 and 6.
By 2020, the Individual Project had evolved to include greater support for the inquiry process through an Inquiry Journal rather than only an Investigative Journal, as well as through their Tutorial Programme (see below).
The full Inquiry Journals may be downloaded from the Resources page (see below).
I will detail the Individual Project more fully later.
Stripling, B. (2017). Empowering Students to Inquire in a Digital Environment. In S. W. Alman (Ed.), School librarianship: past, present, and future (pp. 51-63). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
What amazes me, especially under these particularly challenging circumstances, is that all students have still emerged from this with a shared, more or less stable, foundation of knowledge of the inquiry process and key inquiry skills, in addition to what they learned from the article (and for some of them, from the short story). And as you touch on, it would have been interesting to see what difference actually having had the chance to read the article and, possibly, short story over the summer holiday would have made.
All students, then, managed to format their academic writing document and think their way through the inquiry process, and just over a third comfortably managed within the time constraints of the lesson to go on and respond to the question in writing (see below).
It would be helpful to identify where this foundation is likely to built on over the course of the year.
Having now started to work my way through this inquiry, it is a remarkable achievement on the part of our colleagues in History and their pupils. I am hopeful that Susanna, who took the lead on this, might be able to find some time to reflect briefly on the design and inquiry process. I am also hopeful that we might soon be able to share the fantastic resources that Susanna created to support this inquiry.
Having spent some time working with Barbara Stripling on her Epistemology & Learning Memo – Learning to know and understand through inquiry – Seymour Papert’s assertion that the kind of knowledge that children most need is knowledge that will help them get more knowledge is fresh in my mind. Barbara picked up on this in her reflection on the foundational influence of John Dewey’s educational philosophy on her approach to learning through inquiry – from Dewey’s recognition of the need for both content and skills, she recognized that “skills must be integrated into the teaching of content to enable learners comprehend information and build knowledge”. This crucial balance – knowledge of the discipline’s content and knowledge of the inquiry process/ skills – is clear in the learning intentions statement for the first lesson in this inquiry (see below), and it will be highly instructive for us to consider the outworking of this more closely, for example, how this builds on existing knowledge of the FOSIL inquiry process and skills from the imminent Year 7 English Inquiry – Science Fictional Writing.
Thanks, Lucy, your post reminded me that I had not yet shared the lesson plans, resources and LibGuide.
The LibGuide contains all the resources that the pupils used, as well as the lesson plans (including a printable version) and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
I have also included the PowerPoint presentation that Lucy produced following Community Day, which reflects how the day was structured around FOSIL and includes samples of the work that pupils produced. Please note that the photographs of pupils themselves may only be viewed and not used. Looking at the photographs in the presentation brings to mind the second part of the Galileo Educational Network’s description of inquiry, and the part that I need to turn my/ our attention to more closely:
Inquiry is based on the belief that understanding is constructed in the process of people working and conversing together as they pose and solve the problems, make discoveries and rigorously testing the discoveries that arise in the course of shared activity.
This raises an important point, from two perspectives.
Firstly, the systematic and progressive development of inquiry skills, which, as Mary-Rose points out, includes dealing with different types of sources and the organization of information within those sources. If through design and/ or necessity children miss the opportunity to acquire specific developmentally-appropriate inquiry skills, their foundation becomes unstable and their progress is hampered. We either, then, need to compensate for this later, or differently (see below).
Secondly, facilitating access to the print collection. Although aimed at Upper School students, the following LibGuide is an example of how we have gone about facilitating access to our superb print collection for A-level Historians: Slavery (A-level History NEA).
We have used a similar approach, except with online PDF resource packs (see Resource pack in the Forum), with Years 6, 7, 8 and 9.
This can also serve a pedagogical purpose, in that we can teach about about different types of sources and the organization of information within those sources while also providing them with information from those sources. The following two Topics and associated LibGuides make this clearer:
The Year 9 Inquiry Skills Project faces a number of challenging design and delivery constraints this year, not least of which is the shift to Timetable B, which presents us with one 90-minute double lesson instead of five 50-minute single lessons. As outlined in the first post, the Project serves a number of complex purposes, which include introducing students who are new to the school in Year 9 (Grade 8) to the FOSIL inquiry process and equipping all Year 9 students with foundational and developmentally appropriate literacy, inquiry, critical thinking and technology skills that enable the stages of the process. The fact that a growing number of these skills are technology-dependent, either by definition or in use, necessitates the use of computers, which has practical and logistical implications. Finally, the lesson needs to cater for both in-person and online learning.
The lesson, which will be recorded, will be introduced through a PPT presentation (see LibGuide below, but without external access to the embedded video for copyright reasons). The remainder of the Lesson will be supported by a LibGuide, which will also include the content of the PPT presentation for the benefit of students who may miss the lesson for various reasons.
The lessons consists of 3 parts.
Firstly, an introduction to/ explanation of the FOSIL inquiry process. New this year is an explanation of what inquiry is and why inquiry matters using the excellent description of inquiry from the Galileo Educational Network’s website:
This is important because inquiry, understood this way, is a fundamental human endeavour, and the heart of our task is to help our children to find their place in it. This sense is captured beautifully by Julian Astle and Laura Partridge in their RSA piece, Education for Enlightenment:
If we are to create a 21st century enlightenment, we need to educate our children for that task. That means inducting our children into the great conversation of mankind – the unending dialogue between the living, the dead and the yet-to-be-born; that this means introducing them to the best that has been thought, said and done, and equipping them to appreciate it, interrogate it, apply it and build on it.
Secondly, skills, which are focussed on being able to use our Academic Writing Template (see LibGuide), which includes citing and referencing in Word using APA style.
Thirdly, an opportunity to thoughtfully work their way through the stages of the inquiry process (see below) and write a personal response to their background reading, which asks whether we will come to value human contact more during these “interesting times” (see LibGuide)?
Achieving the above in 90 minutes will require a brisk pace, and I will post an initial reflection following our first two lessons on Thursday and Friday.
The Year 9 Inquiry Skills Project starts next week.
Due to COVID-related timetable constraints the Project will be delivered this year in one 90-minute double English lesson rather than five 50-minute single lessons drawn from English, Geography, History, Physical Education, and Religion & Philosophy. The choice of English is deliberate, because roughly half of Year 9 will have experienced the Year 7 English Inquiry – Science Fictional Writing and it will be interesting to see whether they have a greater appreciation of the value of science fiction in helping us to make sense of our increasingly science fictional present.
I will post the lesson outline and rationale later this week.
I have included below the letter that introduced this year’s Project to Year 9 pupils and their parents.
Chris and Jenny met recently to discuss developing support for the EPQ at Oakham School, specifically through a LibGuide. Although this will be focussed on the EPQ, it will, obviously, draw on much that is already in the Extended Essay LibGuide, both structure and content. You and your colleagues at Blanchelande College may find this useful as a place to start, if you have not already done so, because it makes both the process (tabs across the top) and the support for the process (content in each tab) explicit.
While LibGuides is ideally suited to something like this, it is not the only way to do so.
Chris and/ or Jenny will be updating on recent EPQ-related developments to the Forum in due course.