Friday, 13 March 2015

3 reasons to allow your students to plan the unit of inquiry

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Teachers spend many hours planning units of inquiry in order to help their students learn new knowledge and to develop new skills and attitudes. Some teachers collaboratively develop the unit before ascertaining student prior knowledge. Some teachers develop a skeleton unit plan and finish the rest of the unit plan informed by student prior knowledge, questions and interests. A few teachers carry out a true form of democratic inquiry and co-construct the unit with their students.

What is your practice? Does your unit planning start from what the students know and build from there? Do your students have a clear and strong voice in planning the activities, visits and action to be taken in the unit? Or do you ‘do’ the inquiry unit as planned with little revision to suit the learners?
Fraser (2000, p.35) comments:

…teachers are in fact planning the units in advance, and consulting with the students only on a few minor details. The core elements, activities and direction of the units, as decided by the teacher, remain unchanged.
  1. We know the power of incorporating student voice at all levels of learning.
  2. We know gathering prior knowledge is a very important first step.
  3. We know student choice is a powerful engagement tool. 

So, prior knowledge step number one is:
1.            Start with what they know.
I have worked with groups of students for many years facilitating the planning of units of inquiry using the same steps and approach as teachers use. Teachers are astonished when they receive the planning and often choose to use the plan with minor modifications. Why? Because the planning is authentic, starts from “what the students know” and engagement is instant.

2.             Students know how they like to learn best.
Students have the capability to design the learning activities and are very aware which skills they need to develop. Senior students have had many years of learning through exposure to many different types of inquiry learning activities and they know best which ones engage and suit the learning need. Planning assessment activities and an understanding of the learning journey leads to self-direction and metacognition.

3.             Students feel empowered when they carry out the planning and engagement is assured.
Students I have worked with feel proud that they have developed the unit and are very excited to begin learning. Incorporating student voice and choice to such a degree encourages student agency and ownership of their learning.

The following link is a unit of inquiry planned entirely by a group of Year 8 girls at Selwyn House.
I am sure they would love you to trial the unit.

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