“Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem at first hand, seeking and finding his own way out, does he think.”
John Dewey (1914)
I’ve often heard Kathy Swan use this quote when she has talked to teachers or students about the inquiry process. If you peruse the C3 Teachers site for more than ten seconds, you’ll notice that we value the inquiry process as a means to have students wrestle with problems.
A colleague of mine, Ryan New, took it one step further with his students. In the time I’ve worked with Ryan, he has always been a strong supporter of integrating inquiry into his classroom. Him and I have had several conversations about ways in which he has done this—how he has seen it transform his classroom into one that is both dynamic, but also student-driven.
Recently, he gave his students an option. After having them complete several inquiries together, for a culminating project, students could create their own inquiry. Though not all students took him up on this challenge, several did.
I may have been a student of history for several years before I was a classroom teacher, but teaching the content was where I feel I truly wrestled with it: deepening my understanding of the disciplinary skills, as well as the intricacies of the material. Inquiry-writing was a step further, forcing me to grapple with the topic in deeper ways than I had to before.
Writing an inquiry forces you to think very intentionally about how to craft the important questions, the larger concepts/themes at play, the desired skills to foster, the necessary sources to help propel the inquiry, and of course, to determine the different possible arguments. Writing an inquiry, using the IDM, is forcing us to “wrestl[e] with the conditions of the problem” more so than much of my previous curricular writing.
By allowing students to create their own inquiry, Ryan created a structure for his students to intentionally consider the questions, disciplinary tools, and sources that experts address when conducting their own research.
For the last couple months, I had the pleasure of working with one of his students as he finished his inquiry on the LGBTQ+ movement. When I say we were working together, I can’t emphasize enough that my work was quite minimal when it came to the inquiry blueprint. If you want proof, read Wesley’s blog post where he shares his experience about the inquiry-writing process.
As I told him, I believe his work is not only quite impressive, but hope it will encourage teachers to allow their students to do the same.