Inquiry - "Making Conclusions" and Reflecting on Our Thinking

I have a confession to make,... I have been teaching through inquiry for a few years, and I am still learning and finding my way. It's challenging, and often times frustrating, but I keep at it because I believe that it is the most powerful way to inspire my students. That doesn't mean that all of my students will always "get" what I'm teaching, but I do hope they learn about themselves through the process of inquiry. I hope they learn to wonder and question, to look for their own answers. I know that I don't always do everything "right", but I strive to, at that's what matters. I hope this post encourages you, and gives you some "thoughtful" (pun intended) ideas for your classroom!

It's easy to get caught up in teaching, and not take some time to reflect on what the students are actually learning. We want students to make connections so it's critical that we stop and make it a point to allow that to happen.  During the "making conclusions" stage of a unit the focus is on having students compare their knowledge from the beginning of the unit up to the present. We are in the middle of a unit of inquiry into well-being. Today I'm sharing how we used a tuning in activity to help students reflect on their learning and "make conclusions".
I like to use Kath Murdoch's Inquiry Cycle as a guide for our units. We always start with "tuning in" and then "finding out", but after that it can change. Even though it's a "cycle," it's seldom cyclical; students may go back and forth between different stages of learning depending on what understandings or opportunities arise.
Click HERE to read about another strategy for "making conclusions"

I made these cycle cards and have them posted in my room for two reasons: to make the phases of inquiry explicit for my students and to help me remember to use the language of inquiry. Along with the name of the stage, I added a question for students to ask themselves. I mark where we are in the cycle by moving the star that reads, "We are here!" to make the phases "active" for students. I want them to realize that as we learn, our thinking has different purposes, and our thinking changes. Higher level thinking skills are challenging for first graders, but I believe that they are absolutely capable if it's made explicit for them and the teacher guides them along the way.

 Whenever we have a  unit lesson, I gather my students on the rug near this inquiry wall and draw their attention to the cycle so they can see the purpose of the lesson. Our unit wall is an active participant in our class; it's not just good-looking wall paper- we refer to it often. The questions on each card help them to focus in on a goal, to extend or challenge their thinking. If you'd like a free copy of the inquiry cycle cards, just click HERE to download them from my TpT store. Thanks for leaving some feedback!

Recently, I asked students to use their "Think, Wink, Decide" books (or Think & Wonder Books) to reflect on how their thinking had changed, and what they had learned. Their original ideas were written in pencil. This time I asked them to write in green pen. Here's what some of them said...

These students realized that their thinking had changed, that they had become more knowledgeable about the topic.

Now, the other benefit to reflecting throughout your unit is to find out which students are not understanding concepts, or are holding on to misconception. Of course, there were a few students in my class that were not yet at the point of "owning" their learning. I'd much rather know this now than at the end of the unit after students have completed a summative assessment, wouldn't you?
Here is a friend that struggles a bit. I had originally written his question for him because he had a hard time expressing his ideas. As you can see, he was more into the green pen than what he was thinking! This shows me that I need to spend some more time with him to help him work through whatever is confusing him.

If you'd like to start "making conclusions" with your students, but don't know just how to start, you can try three easy steps:

  1. Have students record their thinking at the beginning of the unit (pre-assessment) to assess their background knowledge. This can be super-simple, as in, "Write and draw about what you know about _______."
  2. After some learning experiences (don't wait until the end of the unit!), stop and pick a day to get those pre-assessments back out. Ask students to read and reflect on them.
  3. Have students share their conclusions with a partner or small group. They could follow the "I Used to Think, Now I Think" routine. You will want to review their refections to inform your future teaching.
If you're trying to teach through inquiry I want to encourage you to have a go. Try something, so what if it fails? You'll learn from it (like I frequently do from my mistakes!) Go ahead, encourage your students to be more thoughtful about their learning. Empower them with the strategies to become independent thinkers who "own" their learning and enjoy the benefit of the confidence that come along with that knowledge!

If you have reflection strategies that you use in your classroom, I'd love you to share them in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by!
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  1. Great visual display; love the "we are here" star.
    Also, the "Think and Wonder" books are perfect.
    Thanks for the great ideas!!! Keep 'em coming!

    1. Thanks for your comment, and I plan to keep sharing! :) Keep readin' .....

  2. Karli, I'd like to do inquiry learning next year. Is there a book you'd recommend to help me get started? Thanks! I really enjoyed this post.
    Grade ONEderful

    1. Hi Barbara,
      I LOVE Classroom Connections by Kath Murdoch and use it all the time, but I'm not sure if you can get a copy in North America; I have a school copy, and it was published in Australia and may even be out of print now. I will look into this and let you know! Kathy Short has a book about inquiry, but I have not read it, however, she is a leader in the area. It would make a great post- professional books about inquiry!
      Thanks for your comment!


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