If you can’t tell already, we love inquiry here; however, students aren’t always on board right away. Introducing them to inquiry can be a little tricky because students will respond to more responsibility in varying ways. Some will celebrate more freedom; others will become anxious over the amount of choice. I want to strike a balance where I can share my excitement and (briefly) my reasoning behind the course’s structure, invite them to take on the challenge of self-driven learning, and assure them that they’re not in this alone. That’s why I built this opening paragraph into my course syllabus:
Get ready! This year you will be a true partner in your learning! With each unit, you will increasingly gain independence by exploring works that you are interested in, developing understandings around essential questions that you create, working collaboratively and individually, and really setting the bar for your own success. Your classmates and I are your partners in this journey; we will need to rely on one another as a community of learners. The class will be very inquiry driven, so your participation, curiosity, and reflection are keys to everyone’s progress. As we move through the year, we will be specifically focusing on improvement in 4 key areas – reading, writing, speaking/listening, and researching; however, we will also be sharing our work with authentic audiences. My hope is that by developing learning strategies and fostering learning dispositions, you will be prepared to apply them to situations well beyond this one year.
Of course, I don’t just leave it at that and assume everyone’s totally on board now that they read a paragraph. I spend the next several weeks (and months) answering questions, cheering them on, reminding them of why we’re doing this, and celebrating each bit of progress. In the beginning though, it really is all about sticking to my philosophy – why does this type of learning matter, and why is it beneficial? Thinking about those questions gets me psyched for the potential in each of my students to discover more about themselves and the world around them. Then it’s easy for me to show my enthusiasm when I meet my students at the beginning of every year and I tell them how we’ll be running our class.