When I first started in the PYP, I was overwhelmed by all the new terminology, the documentation, the structure…everything! But what made sense—conceptually—was the idea that students should be inquiring and experimenting instead of listening to a teacher lecture.
So how do we help students to take charge of their learning?
The first thing we have to do is to get out of their way! Picture this: You ask the class a question. No one raises their hands, so you just go ahead and give the answer so you can move on. But what happens if you don’t? What happens if you wait? Once the students know you aren’t just going to hand them the answer, they will start offering their thoughts, even if they are unsure about them; it’s magical! So in order to really get kids inquiring, we simply have to resist the urge to hand them information. Children are naturally curious, have lots of great questions, and will excitedly try to find the answers to their questions if given the chance.
Once you’ve gotten the ball rolling, there is a crucial second step: Give them time, and trust that they will get there. Wonder alongside them. Show them that their thoughts, their questions, their experiments are as valid as yours, if not more! Support and guide their ideas without creating an environment where they need a teacher to confirm they’ve found the “right” answer. With this kind of atmosphere, the students will continue through the cycle of inquiry, and your job will just be to offer guidance here and there when they get stuck. (Of course, you have prepared them for this by teaching how to ask good questions, establishing good research skills and thinking skills, providing resources, etc. And if you haven’t, this is the perfect way to build in and expand that kind of learning.)
Inquiry isn’t a step-by-step method; it is a culture. And getting started with inquiry is a process, not an overnight shift. As you model—and teach—higher level thinking skills, questioning skills, and research skills, you will be establishing and strengthening the foundation for your students to take the driver’s seat in their own learning process.
What have been your “a-ha moments” in learning about inquiry?