Establish Routines to Support Students’ Full Participation in Inquiry
Table of Contents
Classrooms working with Read.Inquire.Write. investigations are usually well-functioning and fast-paced. They feature frequent transitions between individual, pair, small-group and whole-group work. A wide range of students consistently participate and engage with the content at high levels, both orally and in written form. Observers often comment on this, and they wonder how teachers set up the environment for this kind of work.
We illustrate how teachers establish an environment for inquiry teaching here through the example of Mr. Kabat and his colleagues. For the past few years, Mr. Kabat has been developing an ‘inquiry approach’ in his classroom as he teaches the Read.Inquire.Write. investigations, and as his whole building migrates towards inquiry. For Mr. Kabat, a good classroom environment and a strong community have been key for the success in adopting an inquiry approach. Another important change in his teaching has consisted of reducing his own participation and increasing the students’, thus creating a more interactive environment. Though keeping up the class’ stamina in these intellectually demanding investigations is challenging, students’ engagement can be sustained, and they get satisfaction out of the work.
Frequent group talk before whole class discussions is one of the most distinctive features of Mr. Kabat’s classroom. It “gives them ownership, gives them interest, gives them more ideas than they would ever get calling one on one.” Students value this too: in a survey, many of them said that it helps to talk with their group, because it allows them to hear what other people have to say, and to know that they’re not always right.
Small groups help English Learners as well: Mr. Kabat has noticed that if they are not socially or linguistically ready to participate in whole group, they have the option to “gently join” or “gently not join,” instead of the hard dichotomy of raising or not raising their hand in whole-group. A variety of students in Mr. Kabat’s class, including English learners and students who are below grade level in reading, have substantial oral participation.
Small-group talk is one among several participation structures that routinely support inquiry in Mr. Kabat’s classroom and the classrooms of other Read.Inquire.Write. teachers. Other participation structures featured here are bell work, individual thinking (usually followed by small group talk), whole-group discussions (usually preceded by small group talk), and individual writing time.
Also featured here are strategies to set up and sustain the conditions for student participation within those varying structures: a strong sense of community and a safe environment, expectations for the different participation structures, routines to transition between them, and routines for organizing classroom materials.
In this site, we have assembled:
- Three video examples of how Mr. Kabat and two other expert teachers use a combination of routines to support inquiry in the context of Read.Inquire.Write. investigations.
- The different participation structures in Mr. Kabat’s class: their mechanics and rationale, along with short videos of how he introduces them during Orientation Week with an incoming cohort of 6th
- The strategies Mr. Kabat uses to foster a learning community, set up and uphold work expectations, transition between participation structures, and organize classroom materials. They are also accompanied with short videos of him introducing this during Orientation Week with an incoming cohort of 6th
We hope this site will be useful for teachers who want to establish a learning environment that supports students’ involvement in inquiry, whether they are using Read.Inquire.Write. or other materials.
Combination of routines for inquiry during Read.Inquire.Write. investigations
Here, 7th-grade students are working on the investigation Was democracy in Athens a good form of government? After reading one of the sources –Life of Solon, by Plutarch- the teacher asks students to think individually: what does the source help them understand about democracy in ancient Athens, and is the source reliable for that purpose? He then calls them back together, using the ‘fingers up’ signal, and he launches a whole-group discussion. A variety of students make substantive contributions, which the teacher helps them elaborate and connect. At one point, he uses the ‘fingers up’ signal again to remind them of discussion expectations. Finally, the teacher commends the students on their analysis and asks them to work individually again, for 2.5 minutes, on the headnote and attribution for the next source.
Participation Structures for Inquiry
The following are different participation structures through which Mr. Kabat and his colleagues carry out the Read.Inquire.Write. activities, as well as other lessons. Every day starts with bellwork, and every day includes several cycles of individual, small-group, and whole-group moments. In contrast, individual writing takes up a whole class session (or more). Individual writing is a culminating moment of prior work: all Read.Inquire.Write. investigations end with this activity.
- letting students’ contributions stand on their own without evaluation;
- asking them to amplify their voices if they’re too quiet;
- strategically reformulating students’ contributions and asking them to confirm that’s what they meant;
- asking students to clarify, elaborate, or back up their thinking;
- connecting one comment to another
Building a Community, Organizing Inquiry
A strong community is the key underlying condition for inquiry work in Mr. Kabat’s classroom. This entails that he and the students know each other’s names and personalities. Mr. Kabat greets everyone by name in the hallways, and expresses he’s happy to see them. A strong community also entails a safe environment. As Mr. Kabat explains, this means that students know “that everybody’s working on the same team in this room, that I’m not gonna be teased or disrespected in this class, at least when the teacher’s paying attention … That no matter what I say, there’s value to it in this room.” They know that even if they give the “craziest, most off-topic, most wrong answer possible,” Mr. Kabat’s response is going to be positive. “We’re gonna steer it, we’re gonna thank you for saying that, because it’s gonna make us think of something that’ll maybe get us to the right place.” This strong sense of community allows for substantive participation from all students in different participation structures, including small-group and whole-group moments.
Another key set of conditions for the smooth functioning of inquiry-centered classrooms like Mr. Kabat’s are clear expectations for each participation structure, strategies to transition between them, and systems to organize materials. Mr. Kabat thinks that teaching and establishing these routines during the first week of class is time well spent. However, even with this early groundwork, these routines take maintenance and reminders throughout the year.