Last weekend, I was fortunate to attend the “Reading the City Institute: Comprehension, Collaboration, and Inquiry” with Harvey Daniels, Nancy Steineke, Sara Ahmed, Kristin Ziemke, and Chris Lehman. It was truly a transformational experience.
It made me reflect upon the power of experience. The whole purpose of the institute is to learn about inquiry and best practices for teaching students how to be curious, literate, critical thinkers through inquiry. It is purposeful that the institute takes place in Santa Fe, NM as it is the perfect place to go exploring and inquiring.
I have always been a proponent of student choice, but here I began to rethink the idea of complete, untethered choice for students as we were led through as series of activities to help us narrow down topics of study in Santa Fe that ultimately led to a collaborative effort in researching and performing on our chosen topic.
Through the inquiry process, three truths came to light.
1. The power of negotiation is real. Students (and teachers!) can’t always choose exactly what they want to study. Sometimes, they need to work with a group as the process of collaborative inquiry is more important than the specific topic. And, you never know what you might find interesting in the company of others!
2. Exploring and learning about an environment you are physically in is much more powerful than simply researching online. I would never have learned so much about native New Mexican foods, especially the chile, if I had not been encouraged to go into Santa Fe and speak with various chefs and natives of the area.
3. There are many ways to present what students learn from the research process other than a research paper. Skits, tableaux, poetry, song parody just to name a few. When students have fun learning and presenting, the learning sticks. As Smokey said, “If the work is interesting, you don’t need grit.”