Inquiry Education in the Diverse Classroom

EDU WorldCompetence web 300x222Recently, Shanna Peeples, a NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow and teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas, wrote a guest post for Education Week that connects two subjects that may seem as though they don’t fit: global competency and locally-based inquiry investigations.

Amarillo, which has the largest refugee population per capita in the United States, provides Ms. Peeples and her colleagues no shortage of students with widely varied life experience—most of which outside the country. Lessons in global competency may not be differentiated enough to be effective to these students. They simply have too different global experiences from which to draw.

So Ms. Peeples’s approach is basically to have her students think globally but act locally, through student-centered inquiry.

The process starts simply by the teacher facilitating the practice of students being the ones who ask the most questions in a class. This should be the approach across the subject areas, but it’s obviously particularly important when implementing inquiry-based strategies.

Ms. Peeples is honest; some of the questions generated in class aren’t even enough for a discussion, much less a multi-step investigation. But those that are provide the engine for her ideas of global competency through local action.

Her investigations often center around students gathering around common issues that they see in their divergent cultures. Once found, teams work toward answering their general question, usually with some sort of work product (bringing project-based learning into the fold as well).

Whatever the case, students need to be in control in order to reach the level of engagement that inquiry-based learning strives for. The teacher serves as facilitator. If students need access to information, the teacher provides it. If they need the ability to track down original sources, the teacher finds a way. Other than that, the students are the guides.

Ms. Peeples finds that her students’ diverse backgrounds actually enrich their work, rather than signalling a need for increased differentiation or a more consolidated curriculum. They use their varied global experiences to create work products that have a much broader reach than if they were created by a homogenous pool of students.

Ms. Peeples sees her methods as working bi-directionally, increasing students’ global competence as well. Not only are they learning about their classmates’ experiences, but they are using questions that tend to be universal among cultures, dealing with topics like justice, identity, responsibility, and co-existence.

Her post is well worth the read, particularly if you are teaching a diverse group of students, are interested in inquiry-based education, or both.

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