Allowing students greater agency in their learning can be a liberating experience. Rather than the teacher as expert, inquiry-based learning allows learners to assume the responsibility of becoming experts of the knowledge they are constructing through a process self-discovery and trial and error, while the teacher’s role is to monitor their students’ process of constructing new meaning and step in when they need help. Continue reading
Every teacher would love to see their students totally engrossed in the task at hand, asking meaningful and pertinent questions, and then looking for the answers themselves. Sound like an impossible dream? Perhaps not! Inquiry-based learning seeks to do just that – engaging students in their learning process by having them asking questions that are meaningful for them and then helping them to find the answers.
What is inquiry-based learning?
We all know that engaging students in their learning process improves their learning. Having students listening quietly to our explanations and then asking questions usually produces complete silence, and maybe another long explanation on our part. Inquiry-based learning turns this process around, presenting students with an interesting topic, helping them identify what they already know, and then having them ask the questions that are important to know more.
What is the teacher’s role?
This doesn’t mean that the teacher’s role ends with presenting a topic. On the contrary, there is an important and central role for the teacher to play. It simply has been removed from center stage to the side or back of the room, a role more of monitor and facilitator than only that of a provider of information. It is important to identify where the students’ questions are taking them and make sure that they aren’t coming up with misinformation or a wrong idea about how the world, and English, work!
Empowering students to shape their future
What will students need more in the future, the ability to take notes and repeat what the teacher tells them, or to be able to find answers to questions that are important for them? I think we can all agree on the second reason.
Part of this involves having students work together collaboratively, to develop the skills needed to work with others, with each person making key contributions to solving the task.
Many teachers find it difficult to let go of control in the class, perhaps thinking that their students don’t have the necessary level of maturity or motivation to work in a more self-directed way. This might come from our previous experience when we have tried to encourage greater student autonomy and not found a very positive response.
Large classes and strict supervision from authorities might strengthen this idea that a more student-centered class is not possible.
I would encourage you to try an inquiry-based approach in developing a learner-centered environment. It doesn’t have to be a choice of all or nothing at all but can be done in small steps. Try starting by having your students be the ones to ask a question about the topic the lesson centers on. If the topic is Wild animals, have them each write down something they know about wild animals and something they would like to find out about them. Using K-W-L charts is an excellent way to help them visualize the information.
Seeing the benefits
Using inquiry-based learning in the classroom will help your students feel more engaged in the class, and more in charge of their own learning process. They realize that they are learning things they want to know, rather than just mechanically repeating what someone else thinks they should know. This will encourage them to see learning as a life-long activity, rather than just some boring classroom requirement.
Inquiry-based learning in the Secondary classroom
Secondary age learners are more mature and aware of their learning than younger learners. This can help develop greater autonomy in these learners. Providing opportunities to reflect on their learning is also important at this age. This can be done through self-assessment activities, or specifically designed questions that allow students to see their progress, and how they made that progress. Fostering these aspects (autonomy and reflection) can increase their motivation for learning in general, and learning English in particular. They can also see a closer link to what they are learning and what happens in their lives outside of school, opening their awareness of global skills that they need to acquire. Providing our learners with more opportunities to experiment with the language, and make decisions themselves also shifts the responsibility of learning to the learners themselves.
Are you interested in teaching with a course that uses an inquiry-based approach? You can find our new title, Oxford Discover Futures, here:
Barbara Bangle is originally from the United States but has lived and worked in Mexico for many years. She is the former director of the CELe language institute at the University of the State of Mexico (UAEMex) and has spent the past 35 years both teaching English and working in the field of Teacher Education.
Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina have taught young learners in Asia for over 25 years. They are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and Oxford Discover, primary ELT courses published by Oxford University Press. Their inquiry-based teaching approach supports a differentiated classroom environment that builds the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.
If you teach English to young learners, take a moment to consider the role you play in shaping their futures. To begin with, you are providing the building blocks of a skill that they can use meaningfully and productively throughout their lives. You are offering the opportunity for global communication, for relationships and careers that will shape who they are and what they do. Most importantly, you can help them change the world for the better.
In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves and becomes even more interconnected, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society.
So how will your young learners of English change the world as adults in the future? Here are five ways:
- By communicating effectively in English. Your students will have the ability to read, write, listen and speak with a strong degree of fluency. They will have the social and academic language skills necessary to consider differing points of view, and to persuade and inform others. Here are some tips on how to help your students develop good communication skills in English.
- By thinking critically about knowledge and information. Your students will think deeply about issues, and will connect what they learn with what they already know. They will be able to organize and prioritize the information they receive, in order to make sense of it and achieve new goals with it. How do you bring critical thinking skills into your classroom? Here is a video with some easy-to-use ideas.
- By thinking creatively. Your students will have the ability to take knowledge and create something completely new with it. They will connect information from various fields to arrive at solutions to old and new problems. They will personalize new knowledge, adapting it to create something that is uniquely their own. You can develop and nurture creativity in your classroom with some of these simple strategies.
- By working together, also known as collaborating. Your students will have the social language skills necessary to work with people from other cultures and perspectives. They will learn to share ideas and compromise to achieve the needed results.
- Finally, by caring about the world. Your students will be curious and connected adults who will be able to identify problems and seek out solutions with others. They will strive to make a difference in the world. Try some of these approaches to create a classroom environment in which students are encouraged to collaborate and show caring attitudes towards each other.
Some of these qualities have been listed under the label of “21st Century Skills”. We’re happy to look at them as prerequisites for success. Students who communicate well, who think critically and creatively, and who work well with others, have the tools they need to find success in any field. And it all begins in our classrooms.
How do we build these skills? The links above will take you to a small sample of video tips on using and developing 21st Century Skills in your English classroom. To view all 56 videos available on this topic, visit this 21st Century Skills playlist on YouTube.
If you’re in Japan, join us on Sunday November 22 at the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka, where we will present our workshop entitled A Practical Guide to Building 21st Century Skills. Using examples from our new primary course Oxford Discover*, we will demonstrate how the building of 21st century skills can be incorporated into every language lesson. We’ll show how these skills can help your young learners develop English fluency and increase their motivation at the same time.
*2015 ELTon award winner for Excellence in Course Innovation.
Kathleen and Charles will present at JALT on Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more details.
Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
We’re very happy to be sharing our thoughts and ideas about creativity with you, because it is such a natural and motivating skill to develop in our young learners. Creative activities are fun and engaging for our students. They take learning far beyond the simple tasks of understanding and memorizing. In fact, it is the highest order thinking skill, as Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy illustrates below:
Creativity is an essential skill (along with critical thinking, collaboration, and communication) that students need in order to be successful in the 21st Century. Creative students are better at making changes, solving new problems, expressing themselves through the arts, and more.
How important is creativity?
In one of his TED talks, education scholar Sir Ken Robinson says:
Creativity now is as important in education as literacy. We should treat it with the same status.”
Creativity is a natural ability that is found in every young learner. Unfortunately, traditional classrooms don’t always value creativity, and sometimes even hold it back. Our role as teachers is to nurture creativity at every opportunity.
Consider the following:
- Creativity develops when students are able to analyze the information they’ve learned, make new connections with that information, come up with new ideas, and evaluate their choices.
- To nurture creativity, students need the freedom to offer ideas and express themselves without judgment. In a creative classroom, all contributions from students are welcomed.
- Creativity requires the courage to make mistakes. Sir Ken Robinson states, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
- Creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand. David Hughes, founder of Decision Labs and professor at UNC Chapel Hill, feels that innovation is essential for our global economy.
What are the qualities of a creative classroom?
- Teachers and students ask open-ended questions that encourage curiosity and creativity.
- Students brainstorm as many ideas as possible without fear of being judged or being wrong. Students then go on to choose the best ideas and improve upon them.
- Students demonstrate creativity not only individually, but with partners and in small groups. Ideas are generated and assessed collaboratively.
- Students lead the learning and work together to complete projects. These projects help students take the information they have learned and present it in new and creative ways.
How can you nuture creativity in your classroom?
Let’s look at some specific ways to nurture creativity in your classroom, starting with one of the building blocks of language learning:
Learning about letter shapes and names can be creative! When your young learners are introduced to letters, try this activity to build their creativity. Write the letters one by one on the board and ask the following questions:
Can you make the letter _(b)_ with your fingers? With your hands? With your whole body? With a partner?
When you first do this task, you might model how students could do this. Think out loud. Let’s see. Letter b is round and straight. How about like this? Or like this? Then your students are ready to try their own ideas.
Vocabulary words can be taught in many creative ways. For example, verbs such as walk, tiptoe, and skate can be learned more deeply by inviting students to move in creative ways. Questions might include:
- Show me what it’s like to walk in deep snow. Show me how you might walk on hot sand.
- Imagine that you’re tiptoeing past a sleeping polar bear.
- We’re on a frozen lake in Antarctica. Let’s skate with the penguins!
As you can see, creativity and imagination are closely related.
Other words such as nouns and adjectives can be presented creatively through facial expressions and body language, through movement, and even through dramatic skits.
Grammar is often considered to be a logical and unimaginative part of English. However, grammar can be very creative as it is expressed in songs, poetry, and storytelling. Look for opportunities to build creative skills along with grammar skills.
Here’s a fun and creative way to teach not only grammar and speaking skills, but math as well! It’s taken from Oxford Discover Student Book 2, Unit 8:
The above activity combines the logical thinking from math with the imaginative thinking from poetry. Students have a great time substituting the animals and numbers in the poem with their own creative ideas, while at the same time presenting a logical math problem.
Oxford Discover offers an inquiry-based approach to learning that allows students to consider big questions with many answers. Students are allowed to come up with their own additional questions. This process is creative as well as motivating for students.
Consider this Big Question from Oxford Discover Student Book 3: How do people have fun?
Students explore the many ways that people have fun around the world. The discussion may turn to the subject of celebrations. Students may explore the following questions:
- What is a celebration?
- What are some ways that people celebrate around the world?
- What do people celebrate in your area? How do they celebrate?
- What is needed to make a celebration successful?
As students explore these questions and find answers, they process the information by analyzing and evaluating what they have learned. Finally, they should be given an opportunity to create.
One suggestion is to get students working together to plan a celebration. They must determine:
- What are we celebrating?
- What is our celebration called?
- Who is invited?
- How will we celebrate?
- What will we need to prepare?
As students plan, they also create. Students might create a poster, gather materials for their celebration, or even write a short play. Finally, they share what they have planned with the rest of the class.
A creative classroom is a joyful and motivating place where children feel empowered to learn, where all ideas are welcomed, and where learning is deep and meaningful. Children who are allowed to be creative are better learners, and they are more aware of their own learning styles. Creativity is a lifelong skill that our students will take with them into their adult lives to solve problems and help build a better world.
We’d like to conclude with a powerful quote from Robert Fisher in his IATEFL address entitled, “Expanding Minds: Developing Creative Thinking in Young Learners”:
What promotes creativity is a questioning classroom where teachers and pupils value diversity, ask unusual and challenging questions; make new connections; represent ideas in different ways – visually, physically and verbally; try fresh approaches and solutions to problems; and critically evaluate new ideas and actions.”
Thank you, and happy teaching!
Would you like more practical tips on developing 21st Century skills in your children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.
Sign up for a free webinar with Charles Vilina and Natasha Buccianti on How to use creativity in the classroom on 18 and 20 March 2014.
In the first in a series of blog posts about 21st Century skills, (to accompany our teacher training videos on the same subject), author and English language teacher Charles Vilina provides some great tips on why 21st Century skills are important, and how to incorporate them into your classroom teaching.
When I was a small boy in the 1960s, drawings of the 21st Century always showed the same visions. People of the future would wear shiny space clothing, travel on moving sidewalks and in flying cars, and talk on portable phones.
Isn’t it interesting that many of these visions have come true? We now have personal computers and smartphones that let us share information instantly around the world. Modern air travel can take us anywhere on the planet. And while I don’t wear space clothes, I do use those moving sidewalks in airports! I think we can all agree that the 21st Century is a very exciting time in human history.
So when I talk to teachers about new developments in English education, and go on to mention the term 21st Century skills, why do so many begin to look uncomfortable?
Let’s start by looking at these skills a bit more carefully. 21st Century skills can actually be listed as a group of words that begin with the letter “C”.
Communication Creativity Critical Thinking Collaboration
To state it simply, these are the four skills that your students will need to be successful in the 21st Century.
21st Century skills are being taught in primary classrooms in many countries. Many international schools are also committed to teaching these skills. However, I would argue that your English language classroom is actually the PERFECT place to build these 21st Century skills. Here’s why:
In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves toward greater interconnectedness, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society. Yes, basic language skills are essential. However, equally essential is an individual’s ability to think outside the box, find future solutions to future problems, collaborate and reach a consensus across cultural and national borders.
So let’s get to some specifics. How easy is it to teach 21st Century Skills in your classroom? Well, chances are good that you’ve already started. The English language classroom has been evolving for decades, and continues to do so.
As a general guide, however, here are five “essential strategies” I would recommend that you develop in your classroom to encourage 21st Century thinking and learning. They may involve a change in perspective about how your students learn best, so feel free to take small but steady steps toward these goals. Practical information on how to implement these strategies will follow in future blogs.
1. Let Your Students Lead The Learning
Learning takes place best in environments where students feel empowered to learn. Effective teachers are more like moderators, offering inspiration and guiding students to discover for themselves. Give students the opportunity to be self-learners, which guarantees lifelong learning. This brings us directly to the second point.
2. Create an Inquiry-Based Classroom Environment
If students are to lead the way to learning, they need to be able to ask questions – and then find the means to answer them. Students (and teachers) need to “wonder out loud” as they encounter new information. A KWL chart (What do you Know? What do you Want to know? What have you Learned?) can guide students toward true self-motivated learning.
3. Encourage Collaboration
“We are greater than the sum of our parts.” Herein is the heart of collaboration. A healthy, active classroom is a sharing classroom. Students are social beings, and even more so in a language class. Find every opportunity to allow students to form pairs and small groups. Not only does this encourage the development of speaking and listening skills, but it also teaches students how to effectively achieve goals together.
4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Learning is more than memorizing and remembering. Critical thinking skills take students well beyond simple comprehension of information. Students use these skills to solve problems in new situations, make inferences and generalizations, combine information in new patterns, and make judgments based on evidence and criteria. Introduce activities in your lessons that build critical thinking skills along with language skills.
5. Encourage Creativity
Encourage your students to be creative throughout each lesson. Creative activities allow students to express what they’ve learned in a new way. This synthesizing and personalizing of knowledge consolidates learning, and creates an experience that remains with students long after the class is over.
By keeping these strategies in mind as you plan each lesson, you will be encouraging the development of 21st Century skills. Of course, your students may also need time to adjust to this new way of learning. However, they will soon begin to feel empowered to think more critically, to ask questions and seek answers, and to express themselves creatively. Most importantly, their communication skills will become much stronger as a result, which always remains our main objective!
Keep an eye out for more in-depth blogs in the 21st Century skills series. In the meantime, I wish all of you the greatest of adventures in this wonderful vocation that is English education!
- Critical Thinking in your lessons – It’s easier than you think! (oupeltglobalblog.com)