Engaging all students in inquiry

posted 5 Oct 2014, 11:46 by Unknown user   [ updated 1 Jul 2016, 21:13 by Andrew Blair ]
Alex Darlington (a primary teacher in Melbourne, Australia) contacted inquiry maths through twitter:
While Alex teaches a mixed attainment class, the issue of ensuring all students are engaged in mathematically-valid inquiry is a general one. Alex decided she would try out the 4 by 3 rectangle inquiry and wrote to inquiry maths for advice:
"I was planning to introduce the first prompt and use the questions identified on the website if necessary. What other preparation would you recommend? Would you give each child a copy of the prompt sheet? I'm hoping this will be attainable for lower kids but any advice for how a valid path of inquiry for the highers if they don't identify this? All going well I will move onto the sequences prompt (see 'Open inquiry' on the 4 by 3 rectangle inquiry page) in the second session. Hoping the highers will attempt to use algebraic expression for this and the lowers will continue the sequence, calculating area and perimeter. Alternative lines of inquiry could be looking at different shapes? This seems understandable now I'm writing it but please let me know if there's anything else I should prepare?"
It is a good idea to give a prompt sheet to pairs of students. If the students are novices at inquiry, the teacher could spend some time going through the 
question and comment stems. Then the teacher would encourage each pair to notice one thing and ask one question. Collect the sheets in at the end of the lesson because often students will write valuable questions or comments that they do not go on to use in the class discussion.
After writing the class’s contributions on the board, the teacher might consider closing the inquiry down and set three differentiated tasks related, as Alex says, to the questions. (Each task could be supported by a structured worksheet.) However, it is often the case that students will differentiate for themselves if the teacher picks out two or three pathways for exploration from what they have said. An inquiry into the main prompt might last more than one lesson, but the sequences prompt, as Alex suggests, is an excellent way to continue the inquiry.
One of the hardest decisions for the inquiry teacher is if and when to close down the inquiry. At what point, if any, should the teacher step in to determine the form and content of activities? Classes new to inquiry might only carry out the initial phase (questioning and noticing) before the teacher structures the rest of the process. In the next inquiry, students might be given the option of selecting from, perhaps, three of the regulatory cards. In this way, students build up their inquiry skills until they are capable of planning and regulating their own inquiry. Until this point, the teacher plays a role, to a greater or lesser extent, in ensuring all students are engaged in inquiry.

Alex can be followed on twitter @alexldc