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What happens when teachers design great tasks?

   Galileo Educational Network    May 18, 2016    Focus On Inquiry Research Series

Highly-engaged students and teachers who say they’ve become more thoughtful about task design and more reflective about their practice in general – this is what Galileo Educational Network researchers found during the Focus on Inquiry study.

The study had researchers, mentors and teachers in 36 Alberta schools working on inquiry-based learning strategies and strong, effective task design. Teachers were asked to create compelling tasks that brought them, their students and the subject matter together in ways that were intellectually challenging and authentic to disciplinary ways of knowing, doing and being. It required that teachers:

Grade 4 students were challenged to design an authentic science experiment that would identify variables that have the greatest impact on the rate of decomposition. Learn more
  • Begin with the students’ experience. They established the context for learning taking into consideration that all learning begins with experience, either direct or vicarious.  They set up thecontext for learning by presenting problems, discussing ideas, introducing issues, asking compelling questions and addressing misconceptions.  Quite simply, they started from where the students were at and showed them what there was to be interested in.
  • Teach students how to gather, critique, analyze, and interpret existing information on the topic under study. Teachers also taught the students to determine credible information from the abundance of available information on any topic. During this part of the study, they also encouraged the students to develop working theories about compelling ideas within the topic.  Students learned how to examine the information and pose new questions about the topic under study.
  • Teach students how to engage in knowledge building. Knowledge building is a collective activity, not an individual activity, and as such is a feature of a participatory culture.  Students engaged in knowledge building learn how to problem solve, problem pose, develop expertise, build on existing knowledge, bring forward evidence, work with ideas, explain new insights and integrate new ideas.
  • Have students engage in deep learning which sponsors deep understanding. That is students are involved in explaining new insights; applying new learnings in new and noisy contexts; demonstrating empathy; revealing self knowledge; evaluating and critiquing ideas; creating new ideas, new works, new working theories; engaging in new ways of knowing, doing and being; reflecting and contemplating what the new insights might mean to them and to the world.
As part of an inquiry into their local community teachers had students undertake an archaeological dig in their schoolyard.

Several resources were used to help with task development and assessment planning – the Focus on Inquiry digital resource, the Teaching Effectiveness Framework (Friesen, 2009), and the Discipline-Based Inquiry Rubric (Galileo Educational Network, 2013). Teachers also posted plans to shared folders online to gather feedback from the research team.

As professional learning sessions and mentoring meetings progressed, many teachers noticed their students demonstrating a deeper level of engagement when involved in inquiry tasks – “they’re more inquisitive,” one teacher said of her students.

Researchers in one of the Focus on Inquiry schools observed 80 – 100% of students demonstrating either academic or intellectual engagement in the Grade 1, three and combined Grade 5/6 classrooms that were studied.

For examples of classroom inquiry used in the Focus on Inquiry study, see Pg.20 of the Focus on Inquiry report and the Focus on Inquiry website.