During our UOI for How We Organise Ourselves my grade level inquired into the purposes of trade. This involved us exploring the history of trade, the reasons for trading and ethics in trading. It also coincided with my class assembly. My class and I had the choice between basing our assembly on our previous UOI (about The Arts) or jumping straight into the new UOI and presenting something associated with that. After some discussion we decide to run with the new unit.
This presented me with a new challenge. How would my students show their knowledge and understandings of the inquiry? There wasn't even an inquiry for them to show their understandings of! Due to the timeframe, our choices were limited. It was either tuning in for our UOI or practice for the assembly.
I made the executive decision to front-load the students with a lot more information than I normally would. This worried me because I was wary of simply give my students the information that I figured was relevant. The result of this, of course, would be that they would be able to share their new knowledge with the rest of the school at our assembly (our focus was on fair trade).
The assembly went well and the kids were brilliant. But it was what happened in the next 4 weeks that really surprised me.
My students had such a great understanding of fair trade early on in the unit that they were able to apply it in many ways. This took the UOI to a whole new level and was definitely something that I didn't foresee. They integrated their understandings into their language focus, took meaningful action throughout the local community and could easily relate to formative and summative assessment tasks.
This got me thinking, how much I should be front loading my students during the tuning in stages of the inquiry cycle? My feelings of worry at the beginning of the UOI were alleviated throughout the remaining weeks as the students raised the bar. Perhaps I have 'under-tuned-in' in previous units, only skimming the conceptual surface in fear of effecting a more didactic approach to teaching? Perhaps I was allowing too much freedom and not providing enough guidance for their inquiry?
What occurred with this UOI reminded me that my students need to have acquired a certain level of knowledge and skills in order to make meaningful connections with the concepts they are focussing on. It is misguided of me to think that they will always be able to engage in deep and dynamic inquiry from the get go. The trick is finding the magic balance of providing them with enough information, through a constructivist approach, that will give them the opportunity to explore their learning with enthusiasm, confidence and curiosity.