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Empowering Through Education by Judianne Jayme

Inquiry-based learning

A student-focused approach to education

by Judianne Jayme

Walk into my classroom certain weeks anytime from 2:20 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. and you may be overwhelmed. My classroom is a disaster. The floors have drops of paint. Depending where you step, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with bits of clay under your shoes. Depending what you lean against, there’s a chance you’ll have some tempra paint left on your clothing. You can barely hear your own thoughts as they’re drowned out by the conversations of sixth graders.

We just finished creating inquiry-based projects on the world wars, global conflicts and resolutions, and Canada’s position in these events. It began with lessons about the wars and Canada’s role. We heard soldiers’ first-hand accounts of their war experiences. We watched news stories and visited interactive sites. At the end of teacher-led lessons, we opened up the floor to questions, a process that took about 20 minutes to go through. We started seeing trends, as a class, grouping questions together about what we still wondered about, regarding the same topic.

Soon, groups of students worked towards topics of their choice. Some students looked at the history behind Remembrance Day; we had students researching life at army bases in WWI and WWII. Students were interested in WWII aircrafts, as well as identifying Aboriginal and/or Canadian veterans who participated in the war.

In these classes, I rarely have behaviour management issues. Students are engaged. They are answering questions they genuinely have and are teaching their peers about what they’re learning. So how are we able to hit curriculum goals if all the kids are learning different things? We meet with groups regularly, asking specific questions to hear their ideas. We bring them in if they’re getting too off-topic or away from curriculum goals. If a group is missing a big idea, we frame our questions to bring them back to curriculum and the essential understandings for their grade level.

Education has developed in almost unrecognizable ways. We use less of the “sage on the stage” model as the primary form of instruction. Students are taking ownership of their learning. They engage with subject matter and explore these ideas in a way that will make the most sense for them. This is how we make significant growth in classrooms. Learning needs to make sense for learners, and learners definitely do not learn in only one way. We are not telling kids the answers; we are meeting their questions with challenges. If a student asks me a question about content in their research, I ask, “well, how can we find out?”

I am in no way faulting teaching styles of the past. In context of research at that time, this was the best method to teach. Did all teachers teach in teacher-centred models instead of giving opportunities for student-centred learning? Absolutely not. Generally speaking, however, that was the more conventional way of teaching at that time, and a common educational experience for many generations.

For educators in the present, or those doing their practicum, do not be afraid to challenge students to think! The inquiry-based model is definitely not the only way to engage students with content, but it opens the doors for many opportunities to do so.

Parent tip: challenge accepted

I cannot stress how important it is to challenge children instead of feeding them answers. Obviously, there will be busy days and questions that need direct answers, but for the most part, many tasks and questions can be followed up by asking more of our children. If we truly, genuinely, want a generation of out-of-the-box thinkers, who face challenges with authentic problem solving and critical thinking, we need to push them out of their comfort zone. We don’t wait until they’re young adults in university. We don’t wait to challenge them when they’re in high school. We begin challenging them to improve, think, and learn at the primary level. Guide your child to the truth, lead by example, and watch their growth!

Judianne Jayme is an educator teaching sixth grade in the Winnipeg School Division.

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