By Toni Poling
In all my years of teachings I have faced no unit more dreaded than the RESEARCH PAPER! In the past, no matter how I’ve presented it or how hard I’ve tried to sell it, it has elicited nothing more than groans, eye rolls, and an exceptional amount of teenage bargaining to do “anything else” in its place. Last year it reached the point where I was dreading this unit as much as (if not more than) the kids and I knew we all needed a change.
Last year I received a grant to conduct an inquiry project in my classroom around independent reading and its ability to increase reading comprehension, stamina, and fluency. I spent the summer honing my methodology, data collection/analysis processes, and means of sharing my findings. I also wanted to be completely transparent with my students regarding the research I was doing and the reasoning behind it. So, on the first day of class, I introduced the idea of inquiry-based learning. I explained by own year-long inquiry project, the goals I hoped to achieve, and how I planned to apply my findings to make changes in my teaching.
Since that first day, we’ve approached every unit with inquiry as our focus: What do we know? What do we think we know? What do we hope to find out? This new approach fits perfectly with my goal to teach transparently and empower students in their own learning.
As the dreaded unit was approaching, I decided to scrap the research topic(s) I had used in the past and instead provide my students the opportunity to inquire about a topic that interests them; my only guideline for topics was that it be related to a social justice issue. I introduced our new Inquiry Unit (no more using the term “research paper”) by opening up a discussion about the definition of “social justice,” followed by a brainstorming session on social justice issues. My students FILLED THE BOARD with social justice topics and EVERY student left with a solidified topic idea. I heard topics around voting rights, vaccinations, poverty, homelessness, quality education, access to clean water, etc. I did not hear one groan, see one eyeroll, or hear any begging to do “anything else.”
Because they have a genuine interest in their topics, there is a buy-in from my students. There is a sincere excitement in my classroom and a desire to share all they’ve learned. We are still in the early research phase of our inquiry project, but the change in attitude from past classes is undeniable. I guess it’s true: inquiring minds do want to know.
WVCTE is wondering how you foster a classroom climate of inquiry.