The teacher I’ve “virtually shadowed,” Sheila Kosoff, uses the Inquiry Method to teach her class; essentially, students and teacher sit in a roundtable set up and discuss the text in question. Using this method, Kosoff has found students to be more engaged, more active and involved, and more likely to critically think through the text in order to meaningfully participate in class discussion.
My biggest takeaway from this virtual mentorship was the idea that “not every kid participates by talking,” and that it’s possible to get a student’s thinking through one-on-one discussions, writing assignments, even exit slips. Additionally, if a teacher wants to take on the inquiry method, they have to let go of their ego and truly become a facilitator; it can’t be about where the instructor wants the lesson to go, but rather where the students take it.
The best evidence that this method is working comes from the students themselves — which is, I believe the biggest benefit of teacher research: direct access to student feedback. The students, in interviews, said the class led them to be more open about their ideas, more engaged in the text, and more willing to share their thinking. This can be seen in the way they participate in Kosoff’s classroom; they are bouncing ideas back and forth, critically thinking about the text (which is evident in the analysis they share with the group), and building off one another’s ideas while Kosoff herself is saying very little; it is primarily student-centered, and the students respond well to this.
I observed similar results in my ED350 course at Conrad Ball Middle School, during a teacher-facilitated socratic seminar in a 6th grade ELA class. The day before the seminar, students were placed in groups of four where each group member got 1 of 4 different questions. They discussed and wrote down answers and evidence from the story they were discussing; during the seminar, the inner circle was composed of all the 1s or 2s or 3s, etc., and the outer circle consisted of everyone else, who were taking and passing notes about the inner circle’s discussion.
Overall, I observed similar results as Kosoff’s class; students were more engaged in the story because they were able to share their ideas with their peers in a group discussion.
So what does all of this mean?
Student-centered learning promotes critical thinking; when students are engaged they learn more, and thinking leads to talking leads to writing. The Inquiry Method makes students better communicators, better readers, writers, and learners by creating an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their ideas, taking risks, and truly engaging with a text.
As a preservice English teacher, and current practice teacher researcher, I’m very excited about the Inquiry Method; according to my research during this virtual shadowing — and the research of other teachers — this method is one of the best to promote student engagement and thinking, and I hope to use it in my own classroom someday.