Chris Lehmann led a session on inquiry yesterday at ISTE, and it got me thinking about a phenomenon that has puzzled me when I work with kids on computers. Chris asked us think about a lesson we have taught that could be improved by being more student-centered. Immediately many lessons came to mind, particularly those that involved teaching students to use software, or to navigate through a sequence of web-based baffles, such as logging into a website. I always begin these lessons in a top-down mode, wanting to get through the instruction in the interest of time. The result is inevitable: the kids expect me to walk them through every minute step every time. They don't seem to transfer any of their previous experience, even asking permission to do the obvious, "Should I click here?" "Should I open this program?". Nothing brings a slew of sarcastic responses to mind than those moments. The only thing I allow myself to say is, "And what will happen if you don't click?"
These experiences make me wonder why these so-called "digital natives" are so inhibited about making decisions in my classes. Chris talked about the value reaped by the 11th and 12th grade teachers at Science Leadership Academy from the step by step scaffolding in guided inquiry that the 9th and 10th graders are thoroughly immersed in. Guided inquiry, or as the Responsive Classroom folks call it, guided discovery, is such an obvious way to redesign lessons, that it's almost embarrassing that I haven't done it myself. At Flint Hill School, Melissa Scott uses guided discovery to introduce new apps on the iPad. She shows them the app, and allows them time to try to learn everything they can about it. They have the rule that you can't ask the teacher a question about it until you have tried three different ways to solve it yourself, including getting advice from a peer. At the end of the time, students share what they learned. Inevitably, the teacher learns something she never knew as well!
Chris's warnings about engaging in inquiry-based learning also applies here. Time and content can both be an issue. In my short sessions with students, I will have to allow for more time before the lesson is introduced and less time on the task. On the other hand, if they become confident, and knowedgeable about how to figure out and solve problems on their computers, they will be more efficient and self-confident as they work. The culture of collaborating and sharing knowledge will be strengthened, which will also enhance the classroom experience. Overall, it seems like a win-win situation to me!