In many ways the past year of study has been part of the immersion stage for me in this inquiry process. The immersion stage is characterised by grabbing attention and interest in an area for inquiry. My observations in the classroom while on placement, the curriculum classes I have taken, and the reading that I have done around different aspects of education have all contributed to my growing interest in the use of interactive technologies in the classroom.
In terms of immersion in this project, I have spent the past week trying to explore as many different avenues as possible in relation to the topic. I have spent a large part of the week looking at what is available online in terms of discussions relating to the use of blogs in the classroom. I have found using this medium very helpful as a large number of sites are different classroom teachers who are blogging about their own experiences. The other advantage of many of these sites is that other teachers post comments and feedback that develops an even richer source of information in terms of reflections/suggestions.
I am now moving into the brainstorming and ‘what do we want to know’ stages of the inquiry project. I am finding that there is a wealth of information that I have immersed myself in during this initial phase. But unless I move on I could be stuck in this stage forever, feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of information and directionless in terms of my project.
I have started thinking about what I want to find out.
What do I want my outcome to be? What are the questions that are going to guide my research? How am I going to use the information I have found? What ‘experts’ am I going to use? And how am I going to use them in my research? What is the relationship between my blog and the outcome of this project? Could my blog be part of the outcome or do I need something else as well? If there is so much information on using blogs in the classroom, how can my inquiry contribute to this area of research? What would be useful to share with my fellow colleagues in terms of an outcome? (this question is of vital importance, especially after reading the work of Dr Ross Todd (2003) who speaks about the process of “celebrating the understood”. We need to ask ourselves (and our students) “What are we being asked to do with the information we have found?” . Inquiry outcomes need to be meaningful and more than just a transmission of information “found”. I guess this has got me thinking about my ‘question(s)’. What is the problem or need that I am exploring in my inquiry project? And how can I create a meaningful outcome through my inquiry research?
I’m not really sure that I have answers to these questions – but they will form useful starting points for discussions in my mentor groups tomorrow. I would usually try and find my research questions very early in the research process. But I am learning that with an inquiry approach it is ok to spend more time exploring different possibilities and viewing research as a more fluid process which is guided and shaped by the process itself rather than by predetermined questions to answer that are set at the beginning of the project.
I have also been linking this to thinking about how inquiry would play out in the classroom. In the same way that I am allowing myself time to explore different avenues within my topic, I also need to be aware of giving students time to do this in the classroom. I think we were brought up in an environment where teachers needed to be in control of the direction of work at all times, and it is scary to think that during the inquiry project we are guides, but that we need to be willing to allow students to take their research in a direction that may be different from our own. As Trevor Bond emphasises, inquiry learning is about developing independent learners. Doing this requires something quite different of a teacher. In many ways we move away from needing to someone with content-knowledge, to someone with process-knowledge. With the ability to help scaffold students in their learning to meet the outcomes they wish to produce. For example, rather than knowing everything about dinosaurs we can possess the skills in library research or creating a Powerpoint or short movie to present their research findings.
What Do We Want to Know?
Once I have brainstormed all the different ideas of ways of undertaking this research, questions I would like to explore, people I would like to speak to, outcomes I would like to produce. Then I need to focus my research by developing a set of key questions to guide my research. I have been doing some reading on questioning within the Inquiry process and now realise how fundamental this stage is to the whole process. Questions need to be carefully structured so that they are:
- focused (on the topic of inquiry)
- intellectually rigorous
Although the questions guide the research process they are not so prescriptive that they restrict the direction that the inquiry can take. Students are still encouraged to approach the questions from different angles and see their topic in as many ways as possible.