Student-created learning is the key to inquiry

Inquiry-based learning remains a mystery to many teachers, and a serious challenge to others. Creating the conditions for our students to be intrinsically motivated while still addressing important areas of curriculum is not easy.

Or, is it?

Maybe, we just have to readjust our expectations, like…

  • expecting all students to be working on the same curriculum areas at the same time
  • expecting all students to be interested in the same things at the same time
  • expecting all students to move through an inquiry “process” or “cycle” at the same time, and with the same momentum

Once we get ourselves out of these habits of expectation, we can free ourselves up in order to free our students up. Once we do that… then we can set out to create the time, the space and the conditions for students to be able to design their own learning.

This, of course, is another crossroads… and another point where teachers become lost:

  • they struggle with the openness of the idea of students designing their own learning
  • they struggle with their own judgments of the value of what students are interested in
  • they struggle with the identification of learning connections
  • they struggle to see the potential for where students may take their ideas
  • they struggle with strategies to help students who have no idea what they want to do
  • they struggle with the redefinition of their role that is so crucial (more on this in the next posting)

Very often, these struggles become the reason not to pursue student-created learning. It goes in the “too hard basket”. But, these struggles should be the justification for pushing forward with it, because these struggles symbolize what it means to inquire, they represent the efforts needed to nurture students who are inquirers, they are the inner battles we must face in order to drop our tendency to teach too much!

For those of us who push forward with it… this is what it could lead to.

Imagine a classroom full of students who have all had the chance to design their own learning (this might only be for a section of a day each week, or maybe a whole day every week… or more!). Imagine them all working on very different things – building a prototype of something they have designed, researching the existence of planets beyond our solar system, cutting fabric to create a dress, mixing ingredients for a new recipe, writing the seventh chapter of a book, conducting experiments with light.

The potential list is endless… because our students (if we allow them to reveal them to us) have endless interests, curiosities and dreams. Usually, the only thing stopping them from learning about them is the person in charge of their learning, or the institution in which they learn. But if we can reverse that, let them bring these interests, curiosities and dreams into our schools and let them pursue them… the learning that happens as a result is unprecedented.

If we know our curriculum well enough, we can make a myriad of connections for our students, we can help them see all sorts of ways in which they are learning what we would normally have had to teach them. We can use our curriculum to help them figure out where to go next… the curriculum becomes our friend as it reveals possibilities rather than reminding us what we have to cover.

Its just not going to be all the same areas of the curriculum, at the same time and at the same pace.

But, who really believes learning works that way anyway?





  1. Pingback: Student-created learning is the key to inquiry ...
  2. jcbjr9455

    From the post: “Very often, these struggles become the reason not to pursue student-created learning.” Sadly, too many teachers are all too quickly looking for those reasons! For those teachers – and maybe for PD planners and Schools of Education, that cannot continue!!! Effective Learning MUST be the goal and the expectation of teachers for ALL students!

    I’m not sure of the differences between PBL and student-created learning (unless it’s teams vs. individuals – team’s best I believe…) but both are made effective with good defining or driving questions. ALSO, those “strategies to help students who have no idea…” cannot accept ‘no idea’ as an excuse and must be limited to feedback (no direct instructions) to student explained concerns!

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