Kids Own Their Learning


The Spiral of Inquiry by Judy Halbery and Linda Kaser  is my favorite  framing of the inquiry process because it speaks to both the educator and the learner in academic and social-emotional learning contexts.   Teachers are asking big questions about their students and how to support them; students are taking responsibility for their learning.  It is the questions that we ask that are going to make a difference.  If students can answer the following questions, then the revised curriculum in British Columbia is well on its way to being implemented:

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

Students are actively engaged in knowing what they are learning and why.  Learning is happening as a result of moving forward with a plan, not just the luck of the draw.  This goes hand in hand with the work that people such as Stuart Shanker, Kim Schonert-Reichl and Leah Kuypers are doing with self regulation.  The goal is to give students the power to identify their moods and thoughts without judging them as good or bad, as well as create a customized set of strategies to cope with them.  As a school principal, I am engaged in these conversations with my students on a regular basis.

All too frequently, students will tell me that it is bad to feel angry or sad.  No so.  Being angry or dismayed at injustice is often a catalyst for needed change.  However coming up with a well reasoned problem-solving strategy is not going to happen when the blood is flooding the reptilian brain in preparation for flight or fight.  The best thing we can do for our students is to help them identify the self calming strategies that work for them so they can problem solve and get back to a place where they can continue learning.

One helpful strategy for many of us, is to take a break.  I have shared with many kids that one of my calm down strategies is to make a pot of Earl Grey tea.  Their strategy could be as simple as walking to the fountain for a drink or moving to another place with teacher consent and appropriate supervision in place.   This gives the child the control over self calming  when he or she is not feeling in control of the situation.

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I encourage students to use a timer (1 minute, 3 minute or 5 minute) to help them meet the goal of calming down rather than dwelling on the problem, and then moving into problem solving mode.  Once a plan is formulated, students move back to the classroom.  The three inquiry questions are just as relevant with social-emotional learning as they are with academic learning.

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

When students are able to self calm, the learning is acknowledged and students are able to move forward with a sense of accomplishment.












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