At the end of the day, there are always more questions than answers and this is what keeps pushing forward to learn more. Guided Inquiry and Deign Thinking were never intended to work together, but they do have interesting similarities that can be leveraged to benefit each other. But what are the challenges that present themselves when using these models either together or individually?
The first that comes to my mind is in the process of helping students to find their Third Space. How do we better connect students with topics that are meaningful to them? I’ve spent significant time with students who just can’t seem to find that topic that has personal meaning within the curricular domain that we are studying. I’ve had students who flip flop between projects as they try to find that one design problem them that they really need to solve. Guided Inquiry certainly has some ideas that support this process through the Open, Immerse and Explore phases and these can be leveraged in or before an Empathy phase in Design Thinking but there always seems to be one or more students who are so connected to the game of school or disconnected from the subject matter that finding Third Space seems to be impossible. They just want to be told what to do and they will go off and do it. Give them a hoop, and they will jump through it. What can we do for them, hopefully without devoting so much time to one or two students that we neglect the rest of the class?
Creating and Prototyping require skills. There is a second domain of learning that is required for a student to be able to make anything. We spend years teaching students how to write an essay. When they are asked to write a paper on topic X, they know what to do, but what happens when we say, “OK, make whatever you want to demonstrate your learning.” Or if we say, “Here’s the problem. Make something that solves it.” We need to structure the Create/Prototype phase in a way that at least helps the student take inventory of what they know how to do so that they can apply the right skills to the problem at hand. I have had students jump into projects only to find out that they don’t have a clue how to go about what they’ve set out to do. I’ve also had students hell-bent on presenting something in a way that demonstrates their skills in making in a particular way but is completely ineffective in demonstrating their learning of the topic. What structures can we put in place or how do we otherwise support these students so they don’t get overwhelmed, lost, or simply default to an essay or powerpoint because that’s the only thing they know how to do?
Finally, where does an inquiry unit really end? The dream is that a student will become so connected with a topic that there are more questions that come from their research or the product that they build is simply version 1 of a long line of constantly improving versions. Our assignments turn into their life’s work. But we don’t have time for that. We need to move to the next chapter in the textbook or next unit in the curriculum. How do we support the students when they do get it right in a transformative way? What can we do to build that next unit so there are opportunities to reflect on their work in different ways and continue to follow their passion? I know that this is highly situationally dependent and one jurisdiction will be more tightly prescribed in how they move through the content of the course than the next, but isn’t this the Holy Grail of teaching? Isn’t this what it’s all about? Once the student does make that meaningful connection, how do we continue to support them to follow their interests as far as they can take them?
I’ve enjoyed sharing my thinking here on the 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry blog. I know that I have clarified my thinking in some areas through the act of writing them down for you, and I truly hope that at least one person has got something out of it. I’d be curious to know what you thought of any or all of the last three posts and would love to continue the conversation here in the comments, via Twitter (@marc_crompton) or even through email (firstname.lastname@example.org). And if you’re ever in Vancouver, come by the school and we can show you what we’re up to!
Thanks for reading,
St George School