Readjusting for Inquiry

I think the words matter. A lot of teachers hate having those conversations where we endlessly bicker about the wording of Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry. I understand why, however, I think that it is important to set up the boundaries for an inquiry, and I think we do that through words. New insights arise, new ideas bubble to the top, new ideas collide with other new ideas and create more new ideas.

If you are listening. If you could care less, because you already know how the whole unit is going to unfold and you have every activity pre-planned, well...

That is not inquiry.

Inquiry (from my perspective, we all use different words) is about being aware, listening, and following paths that open. Yet, we need boundaries. We need an area to explore, a map with clearly defined lines around, a few topographical features, and no streets. The streets are the thing we are trying to find.

Inquiry as exploration.

I have an upcoming Unit of Inquiry on Poetry. I am very excited, this is one of my favorite topics to teach (though I don't enjoy anything about poetry as a reader, which I find odd). On reviewing the planning for this unit I was thoroughly disappointed.

This, in my mind, is not a map of inquiry, it is a map of content. "Topics of Poetry" is not a line of inquiry. It's a list. Neither is "Forms of Poetry". Again, a list. These are just faux-lines of inquiry that are masquerading as ways of delivering content, rather than encouraging inquiry, questions, and wonder.

Luckily, I work at a school that is pretty open to change, and they gave me full permission to change it. Since I am the only teacher at the grade level, the task fell to me and me alone. I did share with others, though there weren't many suggestions. Sometimes I do wish I was in a big school environment, but another part of likes the freedom given in smaller schools. More opportunity for trying new things, in my experience.

The difference with the new set-up is we now have lines of inquiry that encourage questions and exploration. What inspires Poets is a much different question from what topics are poems about. The former is about inspiration, what is it, how does it guide the writing process, when does it strike, what does one do when it strikes. The latter is about.... topics. Poetry can be about anything, if you think about, so the scope of that line of inquiry was simply massive. Limiting the scope to the concept of inspiration is like shrinking the map, and making it easier to explore. Too much space and we get lost. Too little space and we become myopic.

Brent Davis has written about what he calls Enabling Constraints, the purposeful limiting of scope to enable a different set of concepts to emerge. To me that beautifully sums up what lines of inquiry should be. A space that is constrained, yet enables learners to explore.

I like the way it starts with inspiration, goes into form, and then ends with worldviews, (in the map metaphor, those would be the topographical features) letting us put the three together to share who we are (or How We Express Ourselves) and how we view the world.

Of course, this unit overview is not perfect, and I'm sure many people out there would have lots of input, which I would love to hear. Remember I love the attention to detail, so please get nit-picky?

What would you change in the 'new' version?

Myself, I am tossed up between the word Style or Form. What is the difference between the two? Do kids have different preconceptions of those words? Does it matter or is it taking word-smithery too far?


  1. I will be sharing your post, Craig. :) I like the way it offers a comparaison between content and inquiry.

  2. Thanks Megan! I am not 100% happy with the new UOI, but I feel it is better than the previous one. At least it will get them asking questions and wondering....


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