Below are some questions we are frequently asked. We did our best to respond to them here, but we realize that this is a complex process and many schools have unique circumstances that could alter the way the ILP works. If you have any additional questions, or if you would like any additional support, please comment below or contact us at email@example.com. We are happy to help!
How much control do you maintain, and how much control do you give your students?
It varies. In some classes, we have very specific texts, standards, and assessments we need to do with each unit, and so these are a little more restrictive for the students. In other courses, we have a set of standards to accomplish by the end of the course, and so the students really get to design their own learning. The key is examining your curricular requirements and your own comfort level in order to determine the level of control you allow for you and your students.
You can also scaffold this process by starting a course fairly teacher-directed and shifting, little-by-little, to a more student-directed class. For instance, in a sophomore class at our school, the units move like this:
- Unit 1: Teacher chooses the text(s), the standards, some activities, and the assessment, but the students develop essential and guiding questions and some activities for the whole class. All students move through the same activities, explore the same questions, and work on the same standards at the same time.
- Unit 2: Teacher chooses text(s), some standards, and the assessment. The students develop essential and guiding questions in small groups. They individually select some standards, and design activities with other students who selected the same standards.
- Unit 3: Students choose texts from a list of possibilities determined by the teacher, they select standards, and they develop essential and guiding questions, activities, and the assessment. Students move through types of activities simultaneously, but they might be working on different skills. For example, on a given day, all students might be working on reading skills, but the types of activities they’re doing might look different. In this model, teachers maintain control over the schedule of activities.
- Unit 4: Students choose texts and standards, and they develop essential and guiding questions, activities, and the assessment. They also determine their own schedule for activity completion.
What were some problems that you encountered the first time around?
Students are resistant because it’s something new and uncomfortable for them. We had some pushback initially, but we also had students who were really excited for the challenge. At times, it was difficult to persevere, especially in those few classes where the more vocal students were the ones who didn’t like the new system. We found that it helped to let students know that we weren’t simply going to return to a more traditional model and to explain why we felt this structure was more beneficial.
We used Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process to give students vocabulary for what they were experiencing, and we tried to help them identify where they were in the affective domain. Just acknowledging that they were going to hit roadblocks along the way to more meaningful learning gave them a little more confidence and perhaps helped them continue on.
We shared our educational philosophies (supported by research by Kuhlthau, Michael Smith, Wiggins and McTigue, etc.) to explain why we thought this was beneficial, and when they made progress, we celebrated that.
We provided opportunities for feedback on the process, and we shared the feedback we got with them. Then we made purposeful adjustments if needed, but we also explained why we didn’t make adjustments that would jeopardize the integrity of the inquiry structure or the student-driven experience.
We also found that it helps not to emphasize how “new” or “different” this might be. Instead, we explained that we were focusing on the same skills as everyone else (in the grade or the course), but that they were just going to determine a little more of how we went about it.
We also cheered each other on a lot when we were feeling doubtful…reminding ourselves of why we were doing this. This involved going back to theorists and being honest with each other about the difficult regarding the switch for everyone involved.
Parents have lots of questions because this looks nothing like the schooling they grew up with. Of course, most of the information they have about the class comes from the students who may or may not communicate the structure accurately. We found many parents, at least initially, thought that student-choice meant no structure, and so part of our outreach at Back-to-School Nights, in parent emails, in our course syllabi, and in first-day letters home focused on not only the purpose for and philosophy behind the shifting structure, but also about the Inquiry Learning Plan itself and the more regimented aspects of its implementation–when students would receive grades vs. feedback, how they would be scored, what kinds of requirements existed for each unit, etc.
Managing the influx of work might be another struggle–unfortunately, this process doesn’t lessen the amount of work, but it has changed our approach to assessing. Because students are creating unique activities, it can be harder to read through an entire class set at once–you need to switch your frame of mind with each assignment, since they’re tackling a different question, text, and standard (depending on how much freedom you’re giving!). We’ve worked out rotating due dates with students; we have also experimented with having students give each other feedback on the second round of activities–we will give detailed comments on the first round and then students will use that feedback to comment on a peer’s second round; we will then grade the third round summatively.
Does this approach work with all levels of students?
We have tried this approach with 9-12 grade students from honors to inclusion classes. We think that it’s flexible enough to work with students at any level, though as a team we have yet to try it. One of our colleagues, who teaches a pull-out English IV course has had a lot of success this year with the ILP, and we’d be happy to pass along any questions to her that you might have about that population of students. Additionally, we plan to study the ILP’s implementation in other grade levels and in other disciplines this fall. We will post our findings on this page and in posts on the blog. If you would like to be a part of this research, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is your time frame?
Our school runs on an 80 minute block schedule; classes meet for either 9 or 18 weeks. Historically we have most commonly done three week units, which allows time for a couple days of opening activities to help students choose texts and standards and develop essential questions. Then students will spend roughly two full weeks completing three rounds of three activities, for a total of nine activities. There is then approximately three days left for the So What? process. This may seem short; however, students begin thinking about possible So What? projects during the third round of activities. These three week units are roughly the same length as units completed in traditional classes, if that is any help.
We have also done mini-units when first introducing the ILP, where students develop one EQ, focus on only a few standards, and just complete one round of activities and reflections. This has helped them get comfortable with the language of standards and the process of designing their own activities.
Depending on the curriculum, you might do longer units. Meg’s sophomores sometimes do four week units since there is more mandated curriculum and test prep to cover–students still complete nine activities, but they are spread out over more days (which also makes it more approachable for the students).
How do you structure a typical class?
We usually spend about 15 minutes devoted primarily to SSR, which has been an initiative in our department. We might then spend some time completing a class activity–maybe dissecting a poem to get a better understanding of the unit’s central theme or time period or a doing a text talk, where students share what they’re reading and learning that day. The majority of the class time is spent in workshop, with the students working silently or in inquiry groups or conferencing with the teacher or a peer.
What resources would you suggest to help get me started?
The following resources are available for more information on guided inquiry and backwards-design lesson planning.