For two hours today, I worked with a group of librarians in our school division to introduce the concept of inquiry. As in past presentations, we explored the idea of inquiry through the process of inquiry. I found it so interesting to watch a group of adults wrestle with a new concept in a way that was equally foreign to them.
I divided them into two groups and I made sure I had prepared an “invitation” for each group to use. I invited them to define and claim necessary roles in the inquiry process and clarified the final product (an information bulletin for future librarians new to the Division). Once they knew where they were going and knew who would do what within their groups, they explored, generated questions (which they exchanged), generated new questions as they learned more and then explored some more.
As their “teacher,” I stood back and observed, writing down observations, which I later shared to stimulate further discussions. I redirected the groups when necessary, directing them to sources of information as their questions became more precise. Mostly I listened to their discussions about inquiry and their role in this process within their schools.
After they had sufficient, uninterrupted time to explore, we came back together and shared our findings and new learning. We asked more questions (which always happens when we begin to discover what we don’t know) and clarified. We also took time to “step out” of the inquiry and talk about how it felt to be engaged in the process (“It felt uncomfortable”, “I didn’t know what I was doing sometimes”, “I would think I had it figured out, and then I didn’t”) and related our feelings to those of students and teachers engaged in inquiry. We discussed why this may be a new way of exploring and why it might be both challenging and exhilerating for both students and teachers. We spent a great deal of time talking about the importance of inquiry questions that cannot be answered by looking in one place. In this way, we clarified the relationship between research and inquiry (not synonyms, but rather research is part of inquiry) and how we might continue to invite students to explore their own ideas and opinions. We clarified the difference between asking: “What were the economic factors contributing to World War II” (a research question) and “How do countries justify killing?” or “How do we determine the line between staying out and moving into conflict?” (strong inquiry questions).
Lastly, we discussed what this way of learning means for them in their roles. Many of our librarians work in small schools and the group today are both libarians and administrative assistants. We needed to talk about how they can support teachers and students within the realm of reasonableness. We shared ideas for adopting a questioning or wondering stance with students and encouraging them to think more deeply. We talked about the balance between print and digital resources and how they can complement each other and together, can teach student to be critical comprehenders. We also discussed the importance of working as a team with teachers to create learning environments to support inquiry.
Overall, the workshop was a good exploration and, as always, I left having learned so much as a facilitator. I continue to have a deep appreciation for the passion and commitment of the people working with our children each and every day.