Yesterday the faculty at Greenhill had several sessions with David Streight, author of Breaking into the Heart of Character: Self-Determined Moral Action and Academic Motivation. When he spoke to the Middle School staff, he discussed four approaches in developing autonomy in students. As he spoke, I thought, "This is what we do in Guided Inquiry Design!" Here's what he mentioned and my take on the implications for GID.
1. Choice - Mr. Streight pointed out that students do better when they have choices in their learning.
In GID, choice is not random. Students are given the opportunity to make educated choices about topics during the"Immerse" and "Explore" phases. After the students have developed background knowledge, the students select their topics for research in the "Identify" phase . Rather than drawing topics out of a hat or being randomly assigned a topic, the students have autonomy in selecting what they wish to research.
I found this to be particularly telling last year when we first implemented GID into the Middle School history classes. The students were genuinely interested in their topics. They had ownership in their topics, and enjoyed researching to find out more information about their topics. They were also more creative in producing their products because the information had relevance to them. Leslie Maniotes calls it "Third Space" which is the overlap of curriculum and interest. It truly happens in Guided Inquiry Design.
2. Voice - Mr. Streight asked, "Do kids have the freedom to express unpopular opinions?
Because GID is s student-centered learning and the students interact together in their Inquiry Circles, the students have a great deal of opportunity to express their opinions. In the Seventh Grade Inquiry Project we did last fall, the overarching essential question that we asked was "How does the phrase 'All Men are Created Equal' apply to particular groups in the nineteenth century?" One team of students studied the Chinese Immigrants working on the Transcontinental Railroad. Surprising to me, this group felt that yes, the Chinese Immigrants would have felt that "All Men are Created Equal." When asked to give their rationale, they noted that while the Chinese were initially exploited and mistreated while working on the railroad, they went on to own their own businesses and provide a better life for themselves than they would have had in China. While I didn't necessarily agree with the students, they had the freedom to express their ideas.
3. Structure - Mr. Streight noted that autonomy isn't "freedom," but "freedom with structure." Students need to know where the limits are. This is important in fostering autonomy.
GID provides a structure for learning. While the activities are no longer "teacher-led," there is a definite structure to the learning. The unit starts with "Open," an introductory activity/event designed to start the inquiry process. Then the students "Immerse" with group activities to provide a basis for their topics followed by "Explore" where they can find out more about the content. Then, of course, is the "Identify" phase where students select their topics and the Essential Question they wish to answer about the topic. As they "Gather" information, information literacy skills are introduced. The students then "Create" a product to reflect what they learned about the topic and how they answered the essential question posed in the "Identify" phase. This is followed by the "Share" phase where students participate in demonstrating their new found knowledge. Last, they "Evaluate" their learning by reflection and discussion. GID provides that "freedom with structure" Mr. Streight feels "freedom with structure" is one avenue to develop autonomy.
4. Relevance - Mr. Streight stressed the importance of relating the information to the students' lives and show how the information has value. He said, "When we understand value, there's more buy-in."
I think that relevance has been covered earlier in this blog post, what we found in the Seventh Grade Inquiry project is that students who traditionally weren't the best test takers or particularly gifted academically were very successful in GID. The students were allowed to find the relevance in the topic, and we noted that as the students learned more about their topics, the "buy-in" was even greater. Both girls and boys had difficulty believing that women had few rights in the nineteenth century and were enraged to find that in many ways, women were treated more as "property" than people. Additionally, several of the kids selected a topic because they either had background in the topic or family connections. This also raised the level of relevance.
While my ramblings lack the eloquence of Mr. Streight's writings and the authors of Guided Inquiry Design and I haven't provided empirical evidence, I was struck by the similarities between the two. Because Guided Inquiry encompasses that areas that Mr. Streight mentioned, students do begin to develop that autonomy that we want them to have.