#1. Student independence is a huge piece of inquiry. This not only refers to independent actions, but it also refers to independent thoughts. When we encourage students to think on their own, we really are encouraging them to wonder and inquire about the world around them without worrying about the right answer or what the teacher will say. When students express and explore their own thoughts, their learning takes place at a much deeper level. Creating an independent classroom environment empowers the learner, allowing them to extend their learning beyond the given task.
#2. The teacher is still involved. Keep the lesson short, don't give everything away. Allow the
#3. Be ready for NOISE. Self discovery is great, but students communicating and problem solving TOGETHER is even better. After all, aren't we trying to teach students content as well as life skills. So much can come from a student verbally explaining his/her thinking. Through trial and error this year, I've found out that a strong inquiry based classroom works cooperatively, understanding that two heads are better than one. Often, the teacher is the last resort resources, due to the fact that independent students enjoy seeking and finding answers on their own.
#4. Get organized! Students will be using classroom materials and the cooperation of their peers to solve problems. When puzzled or stumped, students are able to direct themselves to a resource that will help them to solve their problem or answer their question. Accessing books or information on computers or tablets is a part of everyday life in an independent classroom. These materials should be in a consistent locations that is accessible to all students. Getting students in the routine to get their own materials is a huge step to independence. It may take double the time, but it will be worth it in the long run.
#5. Model, model, and model again! In fact, even try to role play a scenario. Some students may think it is silly, but before long, you will notice students mimicking your actions and dialogue. Getting students to speak academically to each other to find answers and gain perspective from their classmates, is a HUGE goal of mine. Seriously though, if I hear, "Can you help me get the thingy to work, my group is stuck?" one more time, I will fall over. Academic vocabulary comes from modeling everyday. Turn it into a game, have students copy down vocabulary words, role play scenarios, do anything to get the student to start speaking like a student.
I know that seems like a dream, but I promise, it won't happen over night. Try, try, and try again. If it doesn't work the first time, refocus yourself and your class and model some more. Just this year I stopped being so Type A, and let go of some of the control in my classroom. It is the most I've ever seen my students grow and we still have TEN weeks of school left. My fourth graders will make their fifth graders teachers proud next year! :)