Lindsay Bruggeman is a high school English teacher and volleyball coach at Loveland High School. She is currently working toward her Masters of Arts in Teaching with the Ohio Writing Project at Miami University. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @MrsBruggemanLHS.
What are the chances it rains this Saturday? Where is the closest Target with 10 clear umbrellas in stock? Should I defer my undergrad loans during grad school? What is growing on my German Shepherd’s ear? How did John Mulaney and Pete Davidson become friends?
Some of my personal research inquiries over the past week might be abandoned relatively quickly. For example, I discovered that it is highly likely that it rains on Saturday, and the Target 12 miles away has 10 clear umbrellas. I immediately texted my friend who is getting married Saturday and told her I would pick up the umbrellas and closed my umbrella inquiry for the day. Other inquiries might require the help of an expert like a veterinarian. Some inquiries might result in no “correct” answer just more questions and some confusion (looking at you student loans).
This summer, I read Inquiry Illuminated: Researcher’s Workshop Across the Curriculum by Anne Goudvis, Stephanie Harvey, and Brad Buhrow, and I began to wonder…we workshop for reading and writing, so why not for research?
What NEEDS to happen in order to give students the space, flexibility, and freedom to pursue authentic inquiry? Here are my top takeaways from Illuminated Inquiry.
Ask Yourself: Who is doing the work?
Whenever I begin to create something for one of my classes, I am typically running around my room like I’m in the middle of a HIIT cardio class. I rush over to the cabinet to grab a binder, plop down at my desktop to print, run to the copy room to grab guided notes, run back to my classroom to get a pen to write additional directions at the top…And I wonder why my Apple watch thinks I’ve gotten 45 exercise minutes today while teaching…
In order to provide students more opportunities to immerse themselves in inquiry as Inquiry Illuminated suggests, I must constantly ask myself: is this something students can create on their own? For example, instead of creating a PowerPoint, Google Slides, Prezi, etc. with background information about our next unit, why don’t I provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a mini-inquiry activity? This doesn’t mean that I ignore the inquiry that I need to do in order to support my students in this work, but it does means that my work during my plan bell shifts. Instead of creating a presentation, I am creating a list of subtopics within the unit so I can guide research and help students if they need a bit more direction. I am finding websites and videos to show as a quick mentor source before setting students free. I am creating or finding mentor text infographics, doodle notes, and podcasts to show students as an example of what they can create to take their inquiry public. Students should be in the driver’s seat, but I will provide the car, gas, car snacks, and radio tunes to keep them going.
Teach Like a Coach
I am a high school volleyball coach, and my girls lift weights three times a week year-round. This isn’t easy. It isn’t always fun. However, the work they put in during lifting allows for them to have more fun on the court. It prevents injuries. It helps them excel in other sports. It teaches them how to exercise and stay healthy after high school.
Students need to lift weights in the classroom. Students have to be immersed in inquiry and research constantly rather than viewing research a research project completed during 3rd quarter every year. Asking a student to complete a research project before immersing them in inquiry would be like asking my players to show up for the state tournament without lifting, practicing, or playing a game beforehand. By immersing students in inquiry, they will become stronger researchers. It will help them in other classes and areas of life. It will teach them how to research information they are interested in outside of school… forever! There are many quick ways to immerse students in inquiry including:
- Create a “Wonder Wall” in your room for students to post interesting topics, questions, or random things they are curious about. This idea originally comes from Curious Classroom written by Smokey Daniels.
- Consider a central theme, question, or topic from an upcoming novel and give students time in class to find related information through inquiry (some examples: the American Dream, the Middle Passage, the Scottsboro Boys, Is technology helping or our hurting our society as a whole?)
- Pass out random, interesting images and ask students to do some (low-stakes) research related to their image. Practice asking questions and allow students to collaborate. I might also use some images from Humans of New York or ask students to submit images for this task.
It might be easier for my players to skip lifting. It might be easier for my students (and to be honest… me) to complete guided notes while watching me present rather than engage in their own inquiry. True inquiry grows the researcher as a person and thinker, and easier doesn’t equal growth. Easier doesn’t equal stamina both in and out of the classroom. Students need to do more low-stakes ‘lifting” aka inquiry practice in the classroom.
Be flexible with expectations
During a summer Ohio Writing Project course, we spent several days completing personal inquiry about topics of our choice. I had some days that felt like “bad inquiry” days. I researched for a while and felt I had nothing to show for it. I wasted time. I felt frustrated. #TheStruggleIsReal sometimes! So, how do I encourage students to continue through this beautiful mess of curiosity, inquiry, and creativity? Spoiler alert: I don’t have a one-size-fits-all-answer for this question. I do have some ideas though:
- Due dates do not need to rigid. I can provide a range of time when students can submit inquiry projects.
- What students submit can vary greatly. Podcasts, infographics, top ten lists, feature articles, a collection of six word memoirs…
- I can encourage students to include a dumping ground for interesting/related resources without commentary within their projects. These can be related articles, videos, etc. This might help validate those “bad inquiry” days.
- Students need breaks. At random and sometimes frequently. There were days during my personal inquiry that I closed the computer, grabbed my dog, and went for a hike. I returned to my inquiry feeling refreshed and ready to go. A well-timed break can be the fuel a researcher needs to keep going.
Students need to have conversations with their peers, teachers, and whoever else will listen about their inquiry!
Inquiry doesn’t happen in isolation. Conversations and collaborations can help us question and solidify our own thinking. In order to encourage students to be curious and engage in authentic inquiry, I will be conferencing with my students constantly, but students also need opportunities to talk to each other. This cannot only happen during a peer review of a final draft of a project. In order for peers to truly collaborate and help each other, they have to engage in conversations about their inquiry from the beginning. These conversations can be as simple as Post-its on the board with the most interesting discoveries students made that day!
Students need to take their work public in meaningful way.
It is important for students to see that their writing has a broader audience than just their teacher. This week I had the joy of listening to Ralph Fletcher talk about some of his recent work. He spoke about helping students find their audience by asking a simple question: who do you think needs to see this? It might be a friend, their peers in class, a parent, or an even larger audience.
In order to help students broaden their audience, a class Google Site can be a central location for students to share and publish their work. Students can submit their work via Flipgrid and comment on each other’s work. Additionally, inviting other classes, teachers, parents, and administration to view student work during gallery walks, encouraging students to submit their work to be published in student publications, and encouraging students to create their own online writing portfolio to showcase their work can all help students expand their audience.
Our students’ voices matter. English teachers are voice coaches. We have to encourage, push, coach, help, calm, and applaud them as they fuel their inner fires and voices. Researcher’s workshop provides the means to do just that.
What were your takeaways from Illuminated Inquiry? How are you adapting or scaffolding this work for a secondary classroom? How do you connect inquiry and writing instruction? Leave a comment below!