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Engagement and Inquiry in the Preparatory School

Student engagement is an important key to success within education. We want and need our students to be highly engaged in their learning so that they are inspired to keep asking questions and motivated to strive for personal excellence. Educators often talk about fostering a love of learning and engagement is the key ingredient in providing a platform that ensures our students are given every opportunity to develop a thirst for knowledge and a deep desire to want to know and learn more. Children are hard-wired to learn, just look at how much they learn in the first few years of their life. They naturally ask questions and are engaged by their parents and those around them through play, love, laughter, curiosity, exploration, fun, conversation and discovery. When children commence school, we work hard to hold onto this natural learning ability by ensuring the learning opportunities and experiences we provide are built on these same principals of engagement.
 
Children do not learn best through traditional ‘chalk and talk’ all day long. While direct instruction is absolutely important for academic success and has a place in a modern-day classroom it is generally not engaging and has little personal investment. Children need to have opportunities to ask questions, be curious and explore and learn through experience. Inquiry learning creates opportunities for children to continue asking the ‘why’ and ‘how’ about the world and provides a meaningful and purposeful context to apply all the skills and knowledge they have learnt through direct instruction.
 
When we give students a voice in their learning and they are empowered to drive the inquiry journey they are naturally more engaged, in fact they often become passionately engaged and are exuberant in their thinking and learning. It makes sense when you think about it, that if you are invested in your learning you are going to do better.
 
As adults we all know that when we are personally invested and engaged in a project and there is a clear purpose to that project, we are more likely to work hard to complete the tasks required for completion to the best of our ability. Unlike the tasks that we find meaningless and mundane which we often put off to the last minute, rush through doing the bare minimum, or simply avoid doing altogether. Children are no different and if the classroom work is simply content driven without the deep thinking and inquiring, children will often complete the bare minimum as they are not personally invested or engaged.
 
Student engagement and inquiry in actionYou may have noticed that many of the classroom environments are designed by the students, giving them choice around the desk layout, the type of displays on the walls and what defined zones and spaces they would like in the environment. In this process not only are the children empowered and feel a sense of ownership of their learning space they also have to reflect on how they learn best and that this different for each individual student. Do they like to rock on a wobbly stool, work collaboratively with others, sit in a quiet space, work lying down or standing up or even work outside under a tree? Students have clear guidelines and boundaries, but they also have agency and choice requiring them to be active participants in their learning, which fosters a high level of engagement. They know what work must be done, the expectations and the timeline.
 
In Pre-Primary this student agency looks like a clipboard of the week’s learning centers where the students must manage their days to complete tasks by the end of the week, in Year 3 it is the students brainstorming their ideas to redesign the break out space to include a science table, box construction and soft, inviting reading space, whereas in a Year 6 class this may be open-ended questions that require deep thinking and research to answer and the students may have a choice about what question they would like to focus on and the format in which they would like to represent their knowledge and learning.
 
Across all year levels you will also see student agency in the questions they pose that guide the lines of inquiry often written and displayed on the walls by the students, giving them further ownership of their thinking and learning and classroom environment. Student agency and choice on the spaces in which they learn, how they choose to work and the direction of the inquiry journey, certainly increases student engagement.
 
Student engagement and inquiry in actionTeacher engagement is also crucial to the engagement of our students in their learning. Inquiry teaching is definitely hard work, it is much easier to have a class all completing the same task at the same time. However, the rewards of being an inquiry teacher outweigh the hard work required. You see the engagement and love of learning radiating from the children in your class as they are sprawled across a variety of spaces working on a range of tasks that are differentiated to not only the children’s abilities but also their questions and the thinking that they have shared in the ‘tuning in’ phase of the inquiry. Kath Murdoch, a renowned inquiry educator, describes what it is like to teach through inquiry.
 

When I teach this way, I notice I am questioning, prompting, observing, naming, scaffolding, guiding and listening, and these acts are more present in my repertoire than telling, controlling, cajoling or even entertaining. When the beauty of a high-quality learning moment takes place, I am truly joyful. Every committed, passionate teacher knows that feeling. I am joyful because I can feel myself connecting to the learning in a way that simply makes sense. I feel myself teaching the person – not the subject. I feel myself truly supporting learning rather than simply espousing information, demonstrating something or setting a task and hoping it will ‘stick’. I feel myself empowered by my role in empowering the learning. When I teach within an inquiry mindset, I feel the thrill of not quite knowing what is going to happen next, yet knowing where we are headed… and that delicious frisson that happens when we all start making connections, both expected and unexpected.” (The Power of Inquiry, 2015)

 
Engaged teachers equate to engaged students and at Guildford Grammar School we have highly invested and engaged teachers who strive to provide our children with the best learning environments and inquiry journeys possible.
 
Find our more about our Preparatory School by dowloading our Prospectus here.


DR HOLLY MILLER
DEPUTY HEAD OF PREPARATORY SCHOOL

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16 May 2019 - 11:39 AM
GGS Admin
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