A couple weeks ago, I sat down with one of my seniors to conference with her about her reading activities. I started by asking, “What are you learning?” She dove right in, talking about how the author had introduced the main character and explaining what she thought the theme might be. The ideas spilled out quickly, until she started to question why he included certain details. She grew frustrated, saying, “Well, have you read this book?” I knew she wanted the answer to be “yes,” so that I could come to her rescue and guide her to some understanding about the author’s choices. But I hadn’t the read the book, so I couldn’t ask her the exact guiding question to get her there. I had to think broader, asking lots of “Why?” and “How do you know that?” questions. Eventually, our discussion led her to some resolution and she felt satisfied and prepared enough to move on to her next activity.
In reflecting on this experience, I’m so excited that my student even got to ask that question. When I first started the ILP and my students were venturing into independent reading, they had the expectation that I had somehow read every book; they were absolutely gobsmacked that I couldn’t tell them the answer. But now the culture at Hunterdon Central is shifting to the student as the expert on the text, not the teacher. This speaks to the comfort that my colleagues and our students are starting to feel about letting go of the traditional model that the teacher is all-knowing about the text. This shift started with student choice in terms of reading but is now a part of learning in general. My students are finding information about ideas I know nothing about— how cool is it that I get to learn as much as they do?
On Friday, November 15th, we presented the ILP to a group of educators at the AASL 16th National Conference & Exhibition in Hartford, CT. As part of our presentation, we shared video reflections from students who have experienced the Inquiry Learning Plan, which is one of our favorite parts of the presentation to share with others.
It always brings us joy to watch our students reflect on their learning through the ILP. The video we shared of students communicating their experiences in developing questions, confronting new information, and making decisions about what to study demonstrates just how mature they are in their thinking. On Thursday evening, we listened to Tony Wagner speak about the importance of critical thinking and adaptability, two of seven essential survival skills for today’s learners and workers. When re-watching this video of our students, we can’t help but see the connections between our students’ learning and the message Wagner so passionately articulates. Our students are unpacking language in standards to identify skills they need to address. They are choosing information sources responsibly and synthesizing these sources to address the divergent and convergent questions they are crafting. They are deciding which activities best allow them to practice and master the standards, and they are reflecting upon these activities, which ultimately leads to a final summative representation of their learning. Our students are charged with the responsibility, the curiosity, and the perseverance to undertake this learning process. This is the core of critical thinking. This is the core of rigor. And we—the teachers and librarians—provide feedback, ask them questions, connect them with texts and information, and suggest methods for piloting each stage of the ILP. We help them learn not just the content of the curriculum, but how to navigate the landscape of learning and research, with all of its twists, turns, and bumps in the road. This is the spirit of adaptability, and such experiences help students build confidence and skill as researchers. Continue reading