Summer Institute 2018: Student Inquiry in the Secondary Classroom (June 6-8)

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I’m happy to announce this year’s Summer Institute – Student Inquiry in the Secondary Classroom (June 6-8).

You may notice we are scheduled for directly after this year’s Tech Camp, which is focusing on student agency. That’s on purpose.

We’ll be examining your current standbys, things you’d like to build, and units you’d like to refresh for how we can build toward learning driven by student inquiry.

Also, I’ll be facilitating this year along with Diana Laufenberg who led professional learning for district principals during 2017’s Tech Camp.

So, come join us. June 6-8. Just like last year, this class is open and relevant to any 6-12 teacher and will be about building resources for your classrooms relevant to latest research and practices. You can find the course here –

As a taste of why this is important, check out this wonderful read on “What’s Going on Inside the Brain of a Curious Child” from KQED’s Mind/Shift. Plus, here’s a great piece from Diana on “Crafting Learning Experiences.” Okay, one more, Diana’s post on “Speed Learning: A Classroom Activity.”

Ep 010 – Inquiry in Increments

Executive Director of Inquiry Schools Diana Laufenberg talks about how teachers can engage students in inquiry and make learning more student-centered without completely overhauling all that’s already working in their classrooms.

Episode 001 – Oakley Schilling & Scaffolding for Student Inquiry

In this episode, I sat down with District ELL Coordinator Oakley Schilling to answer the question, “How do we better open the doors to student inquiry?” with a specific eye on supporting students who are English language learners.

Making the Most of Essential Questions and Exit Tickets


Most any time I’m visiting a classroom, I’m having a conversation with the students I meet. The first few questions are pretty expected –  “What are you learning about?” and “What are you doing?”

The last two questions I routinely bring to the table working with students are less expected – “Why is that important?” and “What questions do you have?”

I know those last two are less expected because they are met with silence and stares from students – no matter the grade level. For me, it raises the questions of why are students are doing what they are doing and whether they have been asked to consider the deeper implications of a text. Whether it’s a third-grade student reading The Year of Miss Agnes or a ninth-grader wrestling with Regine’s Book, our expectation must be that students can consider key ideas, themes, styles, etc. outside of the pages of what they’re reading.

Much work has been done on the transfer of knowledge and skills, and there are certainly some thoughtful, complex projects students can embark upon to show those abilities. For the purposes of this post, though, I want to focus on two activities that can build students’ understandings of their learning and thinking while helping teachers understand areas of growth and need.

Essential Question journals can help students track their thinking about essential questions within lessons or units of study. For each of the curriculum modules within our elementary curriculum resources, for instance, students are asked to consider essential questions as they read, write, and speak their way through complex texts. Journaling around those essential questions can be easy.

  • Make routine time (5-10 min) once or twice each week for students to journal their answers to the essential questions within a unit of study. As they journal, have them consider what they wrote in their previous entries and focus on what they know or understand now that they didn’t before. Ask students to share/compare their journals with their peers and then engage in whole-class conversations about reading and writing.

Standing exit tickets help your students focus on a stationary target for thinking about their learning while giving you some quick formative information on what they think they are learning and wondering.

  • Have students fill out slips of paper with their names on them at the end of each class or lesson. Have them respond to the same prompts each time – “What can you do now that you couldn’t do at the beginning of class?” and “What is one question you have as a result of your learning?” If technology is available, have students respond via a google form. Imagine being able to conference with students with not only numbers and summative assessment results, but a portfolio of their own statements of learning and inquiry as well.

Not matter their age, all learners improve their abilities and skills if they have consistent, dedicated time to reflect on their learning. By including time to journal on essential questions and checking in at the end of a class, we make that time for our learners and provide ourselves with new windows into how we can alter our instructional practice to meet students’ needs.