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PLC Series: Inquiry Honors Student Thinking

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Welcome back to the Heinemann Professional Development Professional Learning Community (PLC) series. We are excited to present a new format for the 2017-2018 year! 

Each month, we'll share 2 posts designed to provoke thinking and discussion, through a simple framework, incorporating mini-collections of linked content into your professional development time. 

This month, our posts will invite us to welcome curiosity, inquiry, and action for our classrooms and school communities. 


“It's called "wayfinding"... it's not just sails and knots, it's seeing where you're going in your mind. Knowing where you are by knowing where you've been.”  

—Maui in Disney’s Moana (2016)

by Jaclyn Karabinas


To understand how to authentically bring the cycle of inquiry to your students, we need to reflect upon how this process looks in our adult lives. What types of questions do we ask? When? Where do we go for information? How do we deal with roadblocks? What does it look like to synthesize and share what we learned?

Jot down a memory you have where you wondered something specific and pursued an answer a question—could be a two-minute Google search or a longer-term experience. Be sure to list how you investigated (alone, with others, online, print material etc), how you determined which information was relevant, important, and valid, and then what did you do with it. Did you post on social media? Write about it? Call someone? Simply exhale and move on?


How can we embed the cycle of inquiry into classroom culture so we can invite children to engage in this process, whether our schedules support 5 minutes or 5 weeks?

Make a list of your questions (What if...How...When...) to hold on to as you move to the next step.



Listen to the podcast with Harvey “Smokey” Daniels as he talks about his latest book The Curious Classroom. Keep your questions from earlier nearby. Note ideas or phrases he says that linger in your thoughts, cause you to wonder and might require further thinking as you listen.



Take a close look at your notes from the podcast. When you try to mentally place these practices in your classroom, from sharing your own curious life to embarking on mini-inquiries about bees like the classroom Smokey described, What stops you? How could you begin with modeling your own curious life?



Read 10 Steps to Bring Inquiry into your Classroom, a short piece that shares his ladder of inquiry practices you can incorporate as you gain comfort with this approach. Choose one to try over a few days in your classroom. Not sure what to pick first? Revisit the list and see which one you envision making the most sense in your current setting. Still stuck? Begin with modeling your own curiosity.



Watch Smokey and his Upstanders co-author Sara Ahmed in this video blog as they talk about mini-inquiries and why this can be one of the best ways to begin in your classroom. 



Sara mentions that though inquiry can be daunting, you can still control the timeframe. By beginning the year modeling your own curiosity in addition to showing your genuine interest in student questions and ownership, you can invite students into respecting whatever structure and time limits you put in place.

In the earlier podcast, Smokey says that he believes collaboration is the “secret sauce” to school change.

Meet with colleagues and talk about what you tried from the Ladder of Inquiry. Refine your thinking by sharing your experiences, questions, and ideas for inquiry structures and see if you can find one think to make a regular, expected part of your classroom. It doesn’t have to be daily —look at your schedule and see where it fits.   



When describing classrooms that support inquiry cycles, Smokey explains, “It’s a tight ship, but it’s a different kind of ship.”

Set a reasonable, time-sensitive goal for yourself to redesign your “ship” and thus embark on your own inquiry to answer the guiding question in your own educational context: How can we embed the cycle of inquiry into classroom culture so we can invite children to engage in this process, whether our schedules support 5 minutes or 5 weeks?

Whether your goal is to include “soft starts” a few times each week for a month, to use each Monday morning as a time to model your curiosity for the rest of the year, or to engage in weekly, mini-inquiries based on student questions, dive in! 

Remember to use tools of reflection, student feedback, and collaboration with colleagues as touch points along the way. Use what you discover to set your next goals, keeping in mind the wisdom from Maui as you set sail: Know where you are by knowing where you’ve been.

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>>> For Further Reading:


Looking for more PD?

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Topics: Video, Heinemann, PLC Series, Podcast, The Curious Classroom, Collaboration, Differentiated Instruction, Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, Literacy, Sara Ahmed, Sara K. Ahmed

Date Published: 11/07/17

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