A teacher new to PYP asked me recently, “How do you do inquiry in a specialist class?”
I remember how confused and overwhelmed I was when I first landed in a PYP school. I was the only music teacher there, and no one seemed to have concrete ideas to help guide me through inquiry-based music teaching. (And the program that preceded me was 100% not inquiry-based music teaching.)
I could talk endlessly about teaching music through inquiry and concepts, but she needed an actionable starting point. A good place to start your thought process is with the questions, since that’s where the students need to start. Choose a context, and think about the following questions that you can discuss with the students.
- What do you already know about this?
- What else do you see/hear?
- What are you wondering about it? / What do you want to find out?
- Is it similar to anything you have encountered before?
- How could we look for some answers?
- Where should we start?
- What do we need to know before we can start?
- Why does it matter? Why are we learning this?
Once students are in the process, they should reflect upon some new questions to help propel them forward in their inquiry.
- What else do we need to complete this?
- What are your most important questions?
- What goals will you set for your learning?
And finally, as they are approaching their goals, posit some metacognitive questions for them to reflect on their learning process.
- How can you support your conclusion? What evidence do you have?
- How has your thinking changed?
- What problems did you run into?
- How does this compare to what you had expected?
- Are there other possibilities you should have considered?
- How will you apply this learning to another experience?
- Why is it important for you to understand this?
- How can you explain this to someone else?
- What was your biggest challenge in the process?
It’s important to go through the whole process as you plan an inquiry for your students. Sometimes you’ll find that you hit a dead end, and it’s much better to do that in your office than after four weeks of pushing through with your class! Also, if you can’t answer the question about why you are doing this, then it’s time to stop and rethink your focus. Fortunately, sometimes that just means tweaking the angle or the context of the content that you are trying to teach.
What is your process when you plan an inquiry?
How do you adapt a classroom teacher’s approach to benefit your specialist subject?