What is at the core of inquiry based learning? How do you get started?
Today on the Heinemann Podcast we’re discussing Inquiry Illuminated: Researcher’s Workshop Across the Curriculum, the new book from Anne Goudvis, Stephanie Harvey, and Brad Buhrow. Anne and Steph, along with the book’s contributor Karen Halverson, join us to provide a structure for inquiry that's predictable, proven, and—most importantly—authentic. Inquiry doesn’t just happen. It grows in a classroom community throughout the year.
We started our conversation with talking about how to create a culture of inquiry…
A full transcript will be available soon!
Anne: Well, I think the main thing is that you really have to have a vision for where kids are going independently and how you're thinking with the end in mind, that what you're really trying to do here is through all this work scaffolded by teachers initially. But you're really working towards kids becoming independent investigators and researchers. And so from the get-go, the whole thing has to be guided by their interests, by their curiosities, by their questions. So it really is about their ownership and then making decisions about their own learning. And we try to embody that in the classroom environment, but also in the air. It's how teachers talk to kids, how they give them responsibility every day for their own learning. And so the culture is big. It's both what the language, it's what happens in the classroom, and it's the environment.
Steph: To me, inquiry begins absolutely with curiosity. And if we want an inquiry-based learning classroom, we have to be modeling our own every day, asking questions ourselves, sincere questions, sharing them with the kids so that kids really get the message that that's something adults too. I think kids sometimes think that adults know everything as opposed to adults wonder everything. So I think curiosity is at the core of the work in this book, but basically of inquiry-based teaching and learning in general.
Brett: Karen, how do we maintain inquiry throughout the whole school year because it feels like we can always model beautifully at the start of the school year, but how do we keep the momentum going?
Karen: Well, I think one thing that Steph was saying about curiosity in bringing our own curiosities, first of all, not having all the questions figured out ahead of time, authentically bringing those questions as a human being, as a learner, as a teacher to everything that we do. And so whether that is a read aloud, whether that is something related to content that we are always ... it's a way of seeing, it's a way of thinking, it's way of being on a daily basis. And so we're laying that foundation of habitual seeing and being and thinking of it as just rooted in curiosity, and so that travels is its own momentum, its own wave of this is the way we rock and roll through the classroom all the time every day.
Brett: Yeah. I like that, how we rock and roll through the classrooms.
Steph: Yeah, it's cool, yeah.
Brett: Yeah, that's good.
Steph: One of the things that we tried to do here and Anne can probably talk to this a little more, but one of the things we've noticed is people like Karen just, they pick up a book like this and they just fly with it. They add to it, what they do amazes us. But often what happens to teachers is when they get involved in some inquiry-based learning or the teaching or learning environment, they start out with this idea that they're going to try it. And then they reign it in because it gets chaotic and it doesn't seem to work. And all of a sudden, they want to go back to the old blue whale report and the old state report because at least then they can guide it and really direct it.
Steph: And so after years of writing about inquiry and years of thinking about it, we began to think about what would be really a significant contribution. So one of the things that we tried to do in this book is differentiate between how we launch inquiry, how we guide it, and eventually how we have kids do it independently. So it's a little more accessible both for teachers and kids. I hope it works because I think it's one of the things that is a real contribution from this book.
Brett: Well, Anne you do that right from the very beginning. You outlined the differences between an inquiry approach and a coverage approach? What are those differences?
Anne: Well, I think that the whole coverage approach is the classic going through the textbook. We call it slogging through the textbook page by page for older kids. And probably with the younger kids, it's things like worksheets or getting Social Studies and Science and these wonderfully fascinating content areas in little bits and pieces. And so I think an inquiry approach really looks at bigger questions and bigger issues. And so you're starting off with these big ideas and that's what drives the inquiry. And part of it is the teacher's vision for it initially as you were saying, Karen, but then it also the kids get excited about it and so they take over driving that learning eventually. And I think that again, we can't just throw kids ... it's like throwing somebody into a swimming pool and say, “Swim.” And believe me, we've had our share of flops. Basically, I remember too many of them. But what we're trying to do is set up a situation where we can gradually release the responsibility for the inquiry to kids over time.
Karen: Sometimes it does get messy and as teachers we like to be prepared and planned and we have this vision and it's going to go A, B, C, all the way through to Z, where we have our big ideas and our essential questions definitely guide that, that we have to be ready for it guided by student engagement and questions. And I'll allow it to find its way rather than that A to Z. It's going to go off track a bit. It can be messy and yet there's an aliveliness in that and there is such deep engagement in that.
Anne: Well, and so there can be some serendipity in the whole thing. And I think teacher has to feel confident about where it's going, and she or he hasn't relinquished total control. So it's not the chaos that we're talking about. But I think teachers have to be really open to taking kids' suggestions, to listening to their questions, to genuinely respecting their ideas for learning and their decision. So I think if there's a paradigm switch, it's teachers relinquishing some of that.
Steph: I think we've known that. We've known for a long time that teachers, one of the challenges of inquiries is you've got to relinquish some control. That's what we're trying to address in this book. That's what we're trying to help people with. So if you're going to do that, here are some steps that might make you more comfortable launching looks a little different. And once you've dipped your toe and then the Karen's long time inquiry-based learning and teaching and learning teacher, but for a lot of teachers who aren't, so once you've launched one, next time release a little bit of that control, a little more as opposed to just putting it all out there the first time you do it because for some teachers that's overwhelming. And that's why I think we've had so many pullback. So that's I think this idea of gradually releasing the inquiry process is really helpful for particularly those teachers for whom this is a new, unfamiliar way to teach.
Brett: Well, and you mentioned the framework, and Karen, you mentioned the essential question. So I actually want to come back to the essential questions. And you're right that as we're designing queries, we should rethink our approach to content and curricular topics. How should we do that?
Anne: Well, I think Karen should give an example in a minute. But here's an example from primary. In the curriculum, teachers are supposed to teach in the standards. They're supposed to teach weather in Science. So as opposed to simply just studying different kinds of weather, there's a bigger question, which is how does weather affect people? And with older kids, you should give the example from your weather and climate change, which is a perfect.
Karen: This fall we begin the year in fifth grade studying weather and more about how the different heating and cooling of the planet affects weather. And I could go about that again the same way I've done it the last couple of years. As much inquiry-based teaching I've done, this one was the way it's always been. I thought that there is such a glaring bigger issue here around weather and the heating and cooling of our planet. And so the idea of bringing in the climate change conversation seemed unavoidable. I could not leave that out and feel good about what we were learning.
So to bring that conversation in a very powerful, engaging, relevant way, the kids were moved, they were affected, they wanted to be involved in finding out more, they wanted to take action. So it fired them up to really dive into their learning in a way that was I just covering it and going through the motions of our science experiments and just sticking to the topic of weather. We expanded it to a big idea that had a timeless, boundaryless and forever impact. The significance of the question that guided us had to do with every human being on this planet.
Steph: So I think we're evolving. We continue to evolve, and Karen just gave a great example of that. Donald Graves says teachers need to be the chief learners in the classroom and Karen demonstrates that. So if you think back to your own experience with weather, you probably had to memorize the different types of clouds: cumulus, cumulonimbus, nimbus, stratus, cirrus. But we had no clue. If you grew up 20, 30 years ago, anything about them, except some are darker or lighter or whatever. And that was where we were with weather then. Then we moved to this idea of how weather might affect people. That becomes even we're evolving even further to understand. And then we go to this point where climate change is a significant factor that weather relates to that in a significant way. So what we're continuing to do hopefully is expand our thinking to bigger ideas always. And you can really see it when you think about your own experience 20, 30 years ago versus the kind of experiences kids are getting now.
Brett: The important thing that's coming out of this is it's not just one content area, and I think that's something you very specifically note in this book. You're introducing queries through the Researcher's Workshop. And I'd like to know more about the Researcher's Workshop, but you can apply to any content area.
Steph: Yes, and we do apply it to any content area. And one of the things that we want people to understand about this book, probably to me one of them was critical points is we don't expect that teachers are going to pick up and do voice and voting. That would be great if they did or that they're going to do study bats or adaptations. It would be great if that happened. What we really want for them to do is to see how engaged kids, getting the content when it's taught through an inquiry framework. And that will engage kids. So we liked the civil war, can be slotted in. It doesn't matter. Anything can be slotted into this framework.
And I noticed Karen does something really interesting, which is she uses this form for responding and for thinking called Gist and Thinking and she has it throughout, where kids are pulling together the big ideas and then what they think about them. And she can use that in any content area and does. And people can choose what it is that they want, what sort of form will help them to format to move forward. But the real contribution of this book is teaching the inquiry process and showing what can happen and how ... it's the content that's seductive. It's the content that pulls kids in, but it's the process we really need from them to learn. And when they learn the process, they also will understand the content far better than they would in a more conventional approach.
Anne: And that gets away from the whole coverage thing, which ends up being facts and details and bits and pieces. So it's really very issues-oriented and very big ideas and enduring understandings oriented.
Brett: Let's talk a little bit about the Researcher's Workshop and how you bring inquiry into that. Can you just explain the thinking there?
Anne: Well, I think that we love Reader's and Writer's Workshop and we have for years. And so the obvious question is why not Researcher's Workshops. So all those aspects of Reader's and Writer's Workshop, choice, access, kids feeling ownership of the topic-
Steph: Extensive reading, writing, and thinking-
Anne: Right, authenticity, so that kids are really doing the work as it were. So we bring all that into content instruction. And I think that again, we use the gradual release approach in every workshop. So we'll often model or have some ... sometimes it's a longer lesson and mini lesson, then we guide kids a little bit, and then they go off and practice. And they spend most of the time practicing and working independently or in partners or maybe small groups, and then they come back and share. So that process of lesson guiding, independent practice, sharing and taking public is fundamental to researchers workshop, just like it is other kinds of workshops.
Brett: And you know six cornerstones of inquiry?
Anne: We do.
Brett: Can you-
Steph: I'm glad she can because I have no idea.
Anne: I don't know if I can remember them.
Brett: Helps to have the book.
Steph: You better remember your cornerstones. I know curiosity, collaboration. There are a lot of C's. Yeah, that's ... yeah.
Anne: We're going to call it four C's, but it didn't quite pan out. Well, I'll talk about one of them which is comprehension. Well, so their curiosity, this idea of workshop, which we just talked about, content, curiosity, collaboration, and finally this idea of the classroom culture or the environment. And I think comprehension is really foundational to this work. It's been part of our work for more years than we want to remember, but we really do infuse and embed comprehension and thinking strategy instruction into Researcher's Workshop. And so we're using many of those lessons that we worked on in the toolkit and other resources we've written. And those really are foundational to kids acquiring an actively using knowledge because as the gist and thinking example illustrates, we teach kids these comprehension and thinking strategies, but then they become tools. And so the kids begin to use them independently. And it's those tools that allow them to acquire information and then use it.
Steph: That too is a major contribution is the focus on comprehension for our work ends in mind. And Karen's been an incredibly avid participant in this work. We have a phrase, we talk about comprehension at the core. And that really is at the core of everything that we do. And that's when I was very lucky because Anne came to a nonprofit, the PEBC, where I worked early on. And she came from having just gotten her PhD under David Pearson. And the work that David did with his graduate students around comprehension reshaped all of the thinking that I did from that point on. And then we've spent most of our lives really looking in depth at this work. And one of the things that differentiates our looking at inquiry and others looking at inquiry is it's comprehensive at the core. We laid down this foundation of thinking. So teachers in this book will see we owe a great debt in this book to Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe's Understanding by Design, Backwards Planning, Beginning With the End in Mind, Enduring Understandings, Essential Questions, and we cite them throughout, and we also are grateful for the work they did.
An addition we've made to our inquiry work is the comprehension piece. And then we are grateful to someone like Smokey Daniels, who helped us think through the idea of how powerful collaboration is when it comes to inquiry. And if you walked into Karen's room, everybody's talking to everybody and everyone's working together. And it doesn't happen just random. It happens because Karen teaches that and teaches it. So it's another cornerstone, and that we're very grateful to Smokey, for instance, who really helped us think that through. So really this book is like another step and work we've been thinking about for a long time and an amalgamation of a large number of theorists and practitioners who have helped us move this forward.
Brett: How's it? That's really how it felt reading the book because have you read your other work? It does feel like it brings [crosstalk 00:15:48] everything together under one book, which is really great as a reader.
Steph: Yes, this whole idea of ... you said it earlier, the idea that the content is seductive. And we are really concerned. I think that Science is definitely taught regularly and well often in schools today. But we are really concerned about Social Studies and History that they've fallen off the radar screen. And so we have made a really big push in this book that content ... we call it content literacy. It's all about literacy. We don't want to silo these disciplines or these content areas. We don't want reading here and writing here and Social Studies here and Science here and math here. And don't ask us about math. We know that.
But, so again, we don't want this silo approach to all this work because it needs to really be interwoven, it needs to be integrated. And we really tried to show how that can happen in a classroom in a reasonable amount of time because people have lots going on. They've got lots of things that they need to do and they're being asked to do. And so part of our work is that when we bring these topics and content areas together, it's all about literacy all the time, 24-7. So it's not like literacy sitting over here and content is something that we have to add in for 20 minutes, three times a week.
Karen: And coming from a school where integrated is part of our school name, we found that because everything is so full and we have so much, it's by the integration of everything that you actually save time. You have to do that to be able to do all that you want to do with kids. Well, there are times my Reader's Workshop or my Writer's Workshop might dip back into skills or the developing of certain genres or ways of thinking that are independent for a moment from our content. We jumped right back in then to that weaving that integration.
Brett: Well, Karen, Anne referenced time being such a vital factor in every classroom. How do you think about time with inquiry? How do you plan with the time and everything?
Karen: That's one of the biggest challenges I think of teaching, especially now. It just seems so full all the time. And I do that, dance back and forth between in any given unit thinking what skills as readers, as writers, as researchers, as thinkers do I want to bring in through the content, and then we've got this our enduring understanding and our essential questions that are the umbrella, really the guide. And bringing all those together ultimately saves time in any given part of the day. There's a fluidity, a flexibility, and it's ever changing really. It's ever changing depending on, again, the skills, the content, the particular inquiry, the kids and their engagement, and then what comes up within that and directions we want to take.
So it is ever a master weaving of pieces. The other piece of time that comes to mind for me is when you take these practices, these ways of thinking. And there was a time we were initially introducing these, these skills, these practices, ways of thinking, but over time they became just the way of things. And that saves so much time because we dive into any content in a different place because we have these skills so deeply embedded in everything that we do, and we approach everything that we learn with these as our tools.
Brett: When you're thinking about that, when you're building your essential questions and you're thinking about the time, you're thinking about the school year, do you build those essential questions before the school year is starting or when do you really get into those essential questions?
Karen: So I approached each unit, even if I've taught it before fresh and I ask myself, “Is this relevant, current, engaging? Now is this true now?” I do find when you create powerful enduring understandings and essential questions, they are timeless and that saves time too as teachers because that next year you've got that everlasting truth that you are bringing in to guide you're learning that year. But even with our weather unit this fall, it was new, how I wanted to approach it was new. And so I had to think about that. And so I will pull up my resources and start to craft. Now what's the big picture here? What is timeless? What is essential? And see what emerges and try to craft from them?
Brett: As you go through the school year with your essential questions and you're going to the different stages of inquiry in the framework, are there points where you find you need to change an essential question or do you find that the essential questions stay with you through the year?
Karen: We have enduring understandings and essential questions with each unit and we're doing many units throughout the year. I think flexibility is a great quality to bring to all our learning, all our thinking as teachers. And so there is an ever changing nature to that. And I try to bring, make my questions and enduring understandings so big that with everything changing in our lives from year-to-year, they stand big and broad enough to hold it all. And I would say as we are learning, kids bring questions that go up with our essential questions. So we had a unit on voice and vote that was moving into the American revolution and the kids came up with a whole nother page of powerful questions. And so there is a foundational enduring piece of that and there is an everchanging flexible nature to all that.
Anne: Well, in the primary example or additional author, Brad Buhrow, who's not in this interview, they do animal adaptations and survival in seventh grade. It's part of the curriculum and it's really the foundation of what some of the inquiries in the book. But as they studied animals and how they survive and adapt to these various habitats, the kids became very concerned because many of the animals they were reading about were in danger. So that became an additional essential question. What happens when animals are endangered or what happens when their habitats are threatened? So it's what you were saying and this happens with young children as well as older ones, for instance, the kids Karen has. But we want kids to feel that their curiosity and their thoughts have great input into these questions. And so they do evolve and change over time.
Steph: Well, in these questions, these essential questions as we have learned from particularly Wiggins and McTighe, they're transferable. So there's a number of things that engage kids etc., but they're transferable. So if you're studying the rain forest, the universal essential questions include something like how are habitats threatened, how do animals survive in threatened habitats or those kinds of things. And then what happens, and this is what Wiggins and McTighe teaches so much about you, and this is a universal question and then it becomes more specific. So then it's how is the rain forest threatened? And then you might get into how are animals threatened, and kids might then study what, how is the rain forest threatened? And then guess what? Next year is deserts, same essential questions. So what you're teaching is this spiraling curriculum of concepts.
So you're not just teaching content, you're teaching this giant idea of habitats and threat and survival. And kids by third grade, we don't have to put the essential question because they're on the oceans and guess what? They're wondering how do humpbacks survive in a plasticized ocean or whatever. So that's really this notion of a spiraling curriculum, this concept-oriented learning that we're teaching as well.
Brett: And throughout it, you're embedding curiosity?
Steph: Yeah, and underneath it, kids are asking all these questions in part of thousands of questions. And I think part of our role is to help them perhaps tie them to this larger, more essential question. Doesn't have to happen every time, they can have lots of questions that might not relate at all. You also want them see the through line to a much larger question
Anne: Because then the whole curriculum feels coherent. It doesn't feel like, “Oh well, it's January, we have to do weather. And then it's April when we study insects.” So again, these ideas are recurring and recycling and being revisited throughout the whole year and over a number of years.
Steph: It's basically concept-oriented content instruction so that we're teaching both this large concept as well as the content.
Brett: Before we wrap up, I want to mention video is a huge part of this book. And Anne, I know you've been working very hard on this.
Karen: I should be the video master.
Steph: So go over and get on your Wi-Fi.
Brett: Yeah, so I'd like to ask you maybe, Karen a little bit for you as well, how do you invite the user, the reader, to take advantage of the video as they read the book?
Anne: Links are going to be put in at the appropriate points in the text so that the reader can go and watch a snippet of, for example, Brad doing a lesson that deals with the concepts of adaptation and survival which underlie the inquiry. They can click on a link and see Karen teaching an amazing History lesson with primary sources where they can find a snippet of kids having a Socratic discussion again in Social Studies and History. So we're going to try to make this really easy for people to Click and go to, and hopefully there'll be able then to see these practices come to life and in real classrooms.
And we have many more examples. We even have a lesson on design techniques for a poster so that kids can create interactive posters with sliders and popups. And we have a short lesson on how a small group of kids learned to do that. So the video I think really runs the gamut from some of the big ideas and content to these practices and lessons that we use again and again so that people can see those in action, and they can apply them to their own content and their own curriculum.
Steph: This book came out of this great desire of ads in particular, to present content in a way that was far more engaging than is conventionally done. But at the very foundation, the comprehension toolkit is at the foundation of this book, not the toolkit itself. But when Karen talks about practices, just in thinking these are ... I mean she has her own of course, but many of the things that we have written about before are foundational to what's here, so that the strategies that we write about, the ways that we respond. And they aren't lessons, toolkit lessons, we probably misnamed them.
They're not really lessons. They are practices to be done again and again till kids internalize them. And so that's why comprehension is so foundational here because these lessons that they're doing need to eventually become their own. They internalize them and pretty soon kids are on their own, are putting gist and thinking in their notebooks, or whatever they choose, whatever their teacher's modeled so that they can get the most out of the content. So I think it's really important piece of this book is this foundational comprehension work really has made a difference I think for us, for Karen, for all the teachers who have adapted this inquiry approach.
Karen: Absolutely. Those skills and strategies are not tied to a specific content. They are brought to all contents.
Karen: Yeah, absolutely. I found that term.
Brett: I would love to get your advice for teachers on how they should use this book.
Karen: Definitely not a step-by-step. This is exactly what you need to go to do, but to get the idea of these practices in this way of thinking and this approach to researching an inquiry as a foundation to everything that you do. And that you can take any content that you need or want to do in your classroom and bring this to that. And it's not about following step-by-step any particular specific content, but rather just really let it be an inspiration of what is possible in the inquiry and researching a hub of your classroom. Yeah, what is possible, inspiration, I think is what I would say.
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Anne Goudvis has taught students in grades K-6 over the years, beginning her teaching career in urban schools on the south side of Chicago. She spent many years as a staff developer in the Denver area, working in culturally and linguistically diverse schools. Currently, Anne works with schools and districts around the country to implement progressive literacy practices and comprehension across the curriculum.
She is the coauthor with Stephanie Harvey of Strategies That Work and The Comprehension Toolkit series, along with resources including Scaffolding the Comprehension Toolkits for English Language Learners. A history buff, she and Stephanie also coauthored the Short Nonfiction for Teaching American History series, which includes strategies for teaching historical literacy and student articles about often overlooked voices and people in history. With Inquiry Illuminated, Anne, Steph, and Brad Burhow show how curiosity and student agency thrive as kids engage in Researcher's Workshop across the curriculum.
Follow Anne on Twitter @annegoudvis
Stephanie Harvey has spent her career teaching and learning about reading and writing. After fifteen years of public school teaching, both in regular education and special education classrooms, Stephanie worked for twelve years as a staff developer for the Denver based Public Education and Business Coalition (PEBC), a partnership of leaders from education and business, who support innovation in public schools.
Insatiably curious about student thinking, she is a teacher first and foremost and currently serves as a private literacy consultant to schools and school districts. In that role, she conducts keynote speeches, presentations, workshops, demonstration lessons, coaching sessions and ongoing consultation to teachers, reading specialists, literacy coaches, principals and district administrators. With a focus on K-12 literacy, her specialties include comprehension instruction, inquiry-based learning, content area reading and writing, nonfiction literacy, and the role of passion, wonder and engagement in teaching and learning.
Stephanie has written many articles, books and resources; her Heinemann publications include the title Comprehension and Collaboration which she co-authored with Smokey Daniels, and The Comprehension Toolkit series which is an in-depth Curricular Resource for comprehension instruction co-authored with Anne Goudvis.
Connect with Steph at @StephHarvey49
Brad Buhrow is coauthor of the Heinemann title Comprehension Going Forward.
For the past twelve years he has worked with culturally and linguistically diverse learners teaching fourth, second, and first grade. He believes that “to be a teacher it takes thinking, imagination, creativity, curiosity and a lot of energy. That's why I became a teacher—I love that challenge. I've learned from critical theory that establishing a solid knowledge base and being conscious of my practices is the first step toward action and positive change.”
Brad is also coauthor of Ladybugs, Tornadoes and Swirling Galaxies and was a teacher participant in the professional development videos included in Reading The World and The Primary Toolkit.
Follow Brad on Twitter @bradbuhrow