I am absolutely thrilled to introduce you to Karen Caswell, an amazing educator and writer in Coomera, QLD, Australia. Recently Karen and her school hosted me for a day of inquiry learning for teachers in their region. It was truly magical. The energy from the educators and the powerful work that was done on the day left me feeling absolutely invigorated!
Karen is the Teaching and Learning Coordinator at Coomera Rivers State School, an Apple School where she’s a certified Apple Teacher. She is the founder of #TLAPdownunder. She is also the author of Teaching Passionately, a blog where she shares her passions in education - a highly recommended site I suggest you check out!
I’ve been inquiring about inquiry for the last year or so, and this weekend was lucky enough to not only attend, but also host, Trevor’s Inquiry Workshop at our school. There was increasing excitement as the day approached, and the event did not disappoint! A team of twelve teachers and leaders from my school attended, looking for inspiration, direction and guidance as we prepare to embark on our Student Centred Learning journey…and Trevor delivered on all points! Here are some of my key takeaways from the workshop.
We all know the power of relationships between educators and students, however if we are going to facilitate student centred learning, then the importance of knowing our students increases exponentially. In order to empower student voice, honour agency, enable them to take ownership of their learning, and teach perseverance, a growth mindset and self-regulation, then we need to truly know our students - their interests, fears, strengths, challenges, passions and goals. We need to know them so we understand when, and how, to press them towards success when they feel like giving up. We also need to know how they like their achievements to be celebrated, as not everyone is comfortable in the spotlight or receiving applause. Knowing our students helps us understand the story behind data we collect. Authentic relationships are the key to unlocking student centred learning.
“Plant seeds of curiosity that bloom into passions”
This was a mic drop moment for me. Having started Passion Projects with my students earlier in the year, I came across the exact problem that Trevor described – ask students what they are passionate about, and they don’t really know. I think this is especially true for the 8-10 year olds I taught, who have moved beyond the early fascination with dinosaurs, mermaids, insects, princesses, space, etc. but don’t really have a wide awareness of the world beyond them to have developed increasingly mature passions with more depth and substance to them. I realise now that I really needed to step it back to identifying what students wonder about, what do they marvel at, what piques their curiosity enough that they want and need to know more. This is what will spark passion and drive them to seek answers, solve a problem, create something new, or share their interests and talents with the world. This step is essential to help students know their authentic self.
Provocations are powerful for inspiring learning. The purpose of provocations are to ‘stir thought, wonder, engagement, curiosity and questions with our learners.’ Provocations are a rich entry point to hook our students into learning – hooks are a concept I totally get as I’ve been ‘teaching like a PIRATE’ (from #tlap#tlap by Dave Burgess) for the past twelve months. Provocations however, go further than just hooking the learners in by sparking their interest and engagement, they invite opportunities to discuss genuine thoughts and feelings and ignite problem solving, curiosity, creativity, imagination, and/or debate in students. Provocations ignite the inquiry process that leads to authentic learning.
The day began by exploring the 10 Characteristic of Inquiry Learning, and I identified Number 8: Fortify the importance of asking questions as my goal. Luckily, we spent a session on the Question Formulation Technique, with Trevor guiding us through the essential question process. Identifying questions which lead toward deep learning and critical thinking is hard, but the practical aspect helped us develop and prioritise questions which lead to exciting and engaging learning and have strong cross-curricula links. It is through asking questions that we guide students to engage in authentic learning.
The hands-on nature of the workshop, and Trevor’s guidance and support, ensured we left with ideas and resources we can begin to use straight away (including a gifted copy of his book, Inquiry Mindset! 🙏🏼). For our school, it was encouraging to know we are on the right path with our journey toward student centred learning, and helpful to gain further clarification around future direction. Our students begin school full of natural curiosity and as motivated learners – it’s up to us to maintain it. Trevor showed us how inquiry and student centred learning achieves exactly that! I'm excited for the future for our learners.
It was an amazing day of inquiry learning, but the best part was meeting Trevor in person - not only is he an inspiring educator, but also a kind, caring and encouraging person. I'm so grateful to have connected with him on Twitter, and honoured to be able to now call him a friend IRL!