I want to summarize the connection between Warren Berger’s inquiry progression, and my experience with the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process. I plan to clearly explain their similar progression to better understanding a complex problem.
This will be a three part blog, that clearly demonstrates the correlation between innovative questioning, and how it is adapted and transferred into a school setting. This post will focus on the first part of the inquiry progression – WHY.
At the start of last school year, my grade level team decided to explore a complex question within our math instruction. With support from district level instructional coaches, we investigated one particular question through a Professional Learning Community (PLC) process. (If you have not had a chance to participate in a PLC – I beg you to find a way to get involved! It is by far the most meaningful type of professional development out there!)
The PLC process aligns with the inquiry progression Why – What if – How model as described in A More Beautiful Question (AMBQ). Warren Berger’s research in AMBQ has become one of my favorite texts to read, as it provides a refreshing lens to many outlooks in my life.
Chapter 3 is titled The Why, What if, and How of Innovative Questioning. If I step away from the vignettes described throughout the chapter, and I look at the big picture, it made me think of this past school year’s PLC. Again, since this is Part 1 of this series of blogs, the focus will be on the WHY stage of process.
My PLC Process and Reflections:
Initial Planning Meeting – During the initial planning meeting we used a cycle of collaboration to come up with a powerful question to evaluate. We started by discussing what exactly a PLC is meant to accomplish and reviewed the following mission statement:
FHPS Professional Learning Goal 2015-2016
We will use a cycle of collaborative intentional planning and reflective practice to increase instructional expertise and deepen student learning.
We created norms to reference throughout the year, and spent an entire day brainstorming and rewriting our learning goal. By days end, this is the question we came up with:
How might we inspire ALL learners to explore and apply Visible Thinking Routines to grow as confident, independent learners who understand with depth and breadth?
I cannot emphasize enough how difficult this initial process was. It took a lot of time, confrontational discussion, and many revisions. Without even knowing, it was as if we were going through all of the WHY requirements mentioned by Berger.
Step Back: it is so easy for teachers to want to just solve problems. We went back and forth about our PLC goal and what subject we wanted to focus on. Ultimately we had to step away from the teacher’s instinct of problem solving, and focus our attention on student needs.
Notice what others miss: We saw a desperate need for our students to solve multi-step math stories, or Open Responses as Everyday Math (EDM4) has created. Students appeared to lack the problem solving skills to attempt open ended math concepts, especially those with multiple answers. Now we were getting somewhere, we decided to focus on math.
Challenge assumptions (including your own): Our epiphany moment during the initial planning meeting, was assuming that we were teaching our students how to approach number stories. We realized we were missing a major concept within our instruction, and those were the Standards for Mathematical Practices as described by the Common Core. None of us had a clear understanding of these standards, yet we have been assuming our students had the tools to successfully solve open ended problems.
Gain a deeper understanding of the situation or problem at hand, through contextual inquiry: This is where the design of our PLC question became more concrete, when we decided to study the Standards for Mathematical Practices. This didn’t happen during the initial planning meeting, but it became a focus area for further exploration.
Question the questions we’re asking: As our planning meeting came to an end, we were clear that the PLC goal may need revision after further contextual inquiry about the Mathematical Practices. For the next month, my grade level team worked diligently to come up with a more defined goal for the PLC.
Take ownership of a particular question:
Later in the month my grade level team met separate from our coaches and revised our learning goal yet again –
How might we inspire ALL mathematicians to explore and apply Visible Thinking Routines to grow as confident, independent problem solvers who can use mathematical practices to demonstrate understanding through writing, drawing, and use of manipulatives with depth and breadth?
You can see we kept much of the same wording from our initial question, but we made revisions until we felt confident enough to take ownership for our inquiry cycle. This was an exciting moment, and we were ready to explore the question further.
Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question. New York: Bloomsbury.
*Graphics created by Bridget Bennett using Canva
*Here is the website where you can learn about PLCs: http://www.allthingsplc.info/