The end of the Kindergarten day. The students are safely back with their parents, the classroom is a mess and I’m probably covered in some form of art medium, tidying blocks, cleaning paint brushes, organizing toys and most importantly, reflecting – reflecting on the deep thinking, problem solving, exploration and discoveries that my students made in just one day. Sometimes this meaningful learning took place as a result of a simple question or observation made by a child that exploded into a day full of inquiry. One morning, a group of students were chasing each other’s shadows, which led to the entire class exploring the concept of light, an inquiry that captured their full attention for three days. Another day, two students noticed a sprout growing in the cracks of the pavement outside which turned into a nearly month-long exploration of life and natural life cycles. Another time, a large truck came by the school to pick up a garbage dumpster, and after witnessing this the entire class spent days researching heavy trucks and vehicles, relating them to simple machines. This eventually stemmed into a second inquiry about recycling and caring for our environment. In every case, the learning spanned into their writing, their demonstration of mathematical concepts, their dramatic play, their art creations and their building projects. What was my role in all of this? To question them, support them and observe them. This is what I love about Kindergarten. It is the perfect environment for inquiry-based learning.
Inquiry is probably one of those buzz words that you are hearing left and right – and rightfully so. To prepare students for life in the 21st century, we need to change the way we are teaching them to think. In other words, we need to teach them to think. It’s not just about teaching facts and information, but teaching our kids how to come across, process and communicate that information. The process of inquiry is not just about delivering the curriculum in a new way, but equipping our students to apply critical thinking, research and exploration skills to all areas of their life.
A colleague of mine implements Genius Hour in his grade five class. For one hour each week, his students are given time to research and explore any topic that is of interest to them. His students are working in a variety of areas – researching dogs, writing skits, creating a new sport, making presentations about the Eiffel Tower. Are they necessarily working on curriculum concepts? No. Are they learning? Yes! Are they engaged, intrinsically motivated and excited about their learning? Yes, and this is the key.
When our students are engaged in an authentic inquiry process, guiding their own learning, being autonomous in their decisions and problem solving on their own, they are engaged in much higher learning. We need our kids to take ownership of their learning. We need our kids to be excited to explore the world around them. We need them to wonder. When we accomplish this through immersing them in inquiry based learning, we are creating 21st century learners. It’s not always about what our students learn, but how they learn it.
Many classrooms that I have been in are using the inquiry model of learning in at least one or two subject areas – most often in science and social studies. Think of how valuable the learning could become if one inquiry could span into all curriculum areas, much like it does so naturally in the Kindergarten classroom. Why not give it a try? As I’ve learned from teaching Kindergarten, when students are free to direct their own learning, amazing things can happen.
As a teacher, it is such a rewarding feeling to watch students go above and beyond in their learning when they are motivated and engaged. I think it’s important for us all to remember that sometimes we need to step back, stop teaching and start asking.