“Tell me and I [will] forget. Show me and I [will] remember. Involve me and I [will] understand.”—Xunzi (Chinese Philosopher)
I have often heard this quote presented to me in many professional development teacher trainings to encourage me to involve my scholars in the learning process. Like any other teacher who wishes to make the learning fun and inclusive to all of their scholars, I have tried many ways to bring meaningful learning to them. When I was asked two years ago to be a part of the Inquiry Design Model training sessions being held at AETN (PBS) in Conway, Arkansas, I was excited to learn a new method to bring the learning to all of my own young scholars at Forrest City High School and make that learning relevant and important to all of them.
While I use as much primary document analysis and interpretive inquiry in the classroom as possible, it has always been my experience as a social science educator that many of my scholars expect to be passive learners: a whole lot of lecturing, taking notes from a smartboard/chalkboard, do some reading and “busy work” in the form of worksheets or answering questions from a textbook. When I introduced my first IDM to my scholars, there seemed to be a lot of initial resistance, because it went against what they were used to the previous years from other teachers.
“Why are we doing this?”, “Why can’t you just give us a lecture and give us a worksheet to fill out like our teacher did last year?”, “This looks hard. Can’t we just do the vocabulary, answer the reading checks, and do the section assessments from the book?”, and “Is this for a grade? This looks like we will have to do a bunch of reading. Will we get a participation grade for this too?” were just but some of the questions I immediately got hammered with, almost before I even began the instruction! I mistakenly thought, that my scholars already understood that they would be challenged to try something new in my classroom–that I was not a “traditional” or “old school” teacher. It didn’t take long for them to realize that they would be challenged all year long and they would be doing something they had never been a part of before in the classroom…IDM.
I began the introduction of the IDM using one of the New York IDM’s from C3Teachers. I showed the scholars the completed chart lesson plans from the website so that they could see the whole process from beginning to end and what would be expected of them throughout the process. Upon later reflection and use of several IDMs in the classroom, I would highly recommend doing this for your scholars and giving them a copy of it to keep for their records, as it certainly helps them and their parents to see where we are going day by day: the process and the expectations. After discussion of the lesson plan format with the scholars, they complained some, but generally saw that this would be new and interesting and fun. It certainly was a change of pace from what they had been used to in previous years and they also seemed eager to try something new.
The next day, I began the lesson and was quickly excited to see the transformation of my scholars. They weren’t wanting to be passive learners, but rather were excited about what new documents they would be looking at today and the rest of the week. At the end of the first day, the scholars seemed to be leaving the classroom happier, seemed to be excited about the next day, and excited to see how the next day’s new information would be handled by me as the teacher. I was very excited about doing the IDMs and was eager for my principal to see it happening in the classroom.
My principal happened to come by the very next day in a random classroom “walk-through” for an impromptu instruction check that he and other administrative staff do every week. He sat down for a few minutes and did a “mini-evaluation” of what was happening in the classroom. The scholars were debating in a small group situation activity centered on some primary documents that I had provided to them from the IDM. I was moving from group to group, assisting them with the documents. I was excited in that my principal was able to see what we were doing. I was sure the feedback that I would get from him would be something to be proud of!
The feedback that I got the next day wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. While highly positive, there were some “grows” in there that, after further reflection, I began to see how I could have done a much better job. The only thing I could think of that would explain my “grows” from my principal stemmed from my own lack of confidence in rolling the IDM out. The biggest issue was not doing a very good job at meshing the IDM lesson plan format provided by C3Teachers and the required lesson plan format that my principal mandates for our high school. It was only the second day of teaching through IDM and I was still in the learning curve. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my own abilities in rolling it out due to inexperience, but I firmly believed (and still do) that the IDM method is one that makes a huge impact in the classroom for young scholars. What I needed to work on next was fixing the lesson plan so that my principal could easily see what it was we were doing in the classroom with IDM. We would have a small conference about what IDM is supposed to look like in the classroom and how rigorous the lessons are.
After finishing that particular IDM, I had gotten into teaching some historical content knowledge material before I was able to start another IDM. I got the opportunity to sit down with my principal in a reflective discussion about what he had seen during his classroom walk-through observation. I brought the lesson plan that I had used during the IDM and also brought my laptop computer so that he could see C3Teachers. Once he saw the overall lesson plan and its format, he was excited to see this being done in my classroom at a later date and offered up some helpful hints on how to mesh that lesson plan format to his required one for all of our teachers. He was further excited that I was working on a lesson plan for the Arkansas Hub for C3Teachers and gave me a lot of support for that endeavor. I explained to him that what he had seen in the classroom was my inexperience in rolling it out, but that I was very pleased by the performance of the scholars on their formative and summative performance tasks. They had proven to me they were more than capable to use IDM and had benefitted from the experience. I told him that I would be doing another one fairly soon and hoped that he would come by to see it again in the classroom.
A few weeks later after I had started the IDM on the French Revolution, my principal once again happened to come by in another informal classroom walk-through. He quickly realized that I was doing another IDM and with now knowing what it was, was seeing it in action in the classroom. By this time, I was much more comfortable using it and more confident in my own abilities at presenting it. My scholars were really enjoying debating whether the French Revolution was successful or not. What he saw this time was everyone clicking on all cylinders and tremendous positive, rigorous learning going on in the classroom. He stated that to me in his feedback. He encouraged me to share it with the rest of the social studies department at the high school, and of course I did. I also shared my experience at a professional development across the district. He was excited about that and once again gave me a lot of support. He came back to my classroom some weeks later, when I was doing a different lesson. Again, he expressed his support for IDM and even discussed what I was doing in a general faculty meeting with the rest of the faculty. I am so glad I gained his support for IDM and of course, I am lucky to have a principal who is always trying to push his faculty to bring in new and exciting ways to involve our scholars in the classroom. He is willing to give us the support we need to see new things be successful.
In reflection, when it comes to IDM, I can see three basic obstacles:
The first obstacle is centered on principals and other evaluators not being aware of IDM and its use in a social studies classroom. The obvious solution to this problem is to have state mandated professional developments from the respective State Departments of Education in each State where IDM will be used. With this professional development, principals/evaluators will see what IDM is, the academic rigor involved, and most importantly, what that looks like in the classroom. My principal wasn’t previously aware of IDM, but when given an opportunity to learn about it, he was all in favor of the faculty using it in the classroom.
Another obstacle is a little more difficult but can be solved with a little ingenuity from the Performance Coach/teacher and/or some direction by their principal. That obstacle is the one which involves the lesson plan development. Without doubt, I am a firm believer in the lesson plans that are developed by the writers of the IDMs, and as the author of two of them on the Arkansas Hub at the present time, it is sometimes difficult to merge that into something that your principal and/or school evaluators are expecting within their own lesson plan format. Now of course, if you belong to a school that doesn’t have a required “format” and are given some freedom in lesson plan design, then they are very easy to just copy and turn in, because they meet all of what could and should be in a lesson plan in my opinion. The only thing that the pre-prepared IDM lesson plans might need is reference to Common Core State Standards (if your State is using them) or certainly your own State Frameworks that cover that particular subject.
The last obstacle certainly coincides with preparation and self-confidence. I know in my heart that I have received the best training in IDMs that I could possibly get from Dr. Lee and Dr. Swan. How that looks in the classroom is as different as the number of Performance Coaches/teachers in education and the different scholars in all our classrooms. I can tell you that the first time you try one, there may be some glitches, but that’s ok. As you try more of them and adjust them to meet the needs of your particular scholars, you will become quite the “expert” at doing them. You may even feel inspired (as I did) to begin to write your own IDM to share with C3Teachers to help other teachers. My experience so far with IDM has been somewhat challenging, but certainly worth the work and effort to make the content rigorous, relevant, important, and have the positive impact we want for our scholars in the coming years in our classrooms.