“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”
What Is Purpose Driven Inquiry?
Purpose Driven Inquiry is one of the biggest shifts Place Based Learning (PBL) asks us to make in our practice. We shift our focus from coverage of content to uncovering knowledge, skills, processes, information and perspectives. Purpose Driven Inquiry is student driven. For the teacher, Purpose Driven Inquiry can be a shift in when and how we facilitate learning, we no longer have to marry ourselves to a strict sequence of lessons. Instead, we pivot to presenting a question or challenge and then providing the “just in time” resources. For the student, Purpose Driven Inquiry goes beyond research alone and includes interviewing, consulting experts, conducting surveys, field studies, and data collection all while building the necessary knowledge along the way .
No longer are we following a set of arbitrary and often invariant lessons. With Purpose Driven Inquiry, we utilize project design to mould these lessons into key components of purposeful learning. Specific learning tasks and activities are selected to support and scaffold student centered learning. All of the set lessons are now reimagined and made purposeful as the “doing” to which John Dewey refers. Consider this list as a start when you think of the tools necessary to achieve Purpose Driven Inquiry:
How do I build Purpose Driven Inquiry into MY PBL Unit?
Begin with the end in mind. What do we want students to know as a result of the “doing”?
Our Project Snapshots and Assessment Maps serve as tools to codify our practice and overtly spell out the PURPOSE of the Community Product.
Teachers at an elementary school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were guided on a tour of the Whitney Plantation, their Authentic Community Partner. They then decided that the 3rd graders would contribute to an upcoming celebration on site at the Whitney Plantation by providing information and explanation of cultural elements from African and Indigenous people that have contributed to Louisiana’s heritage. The PURPOSE of this exploration was for students to experience the place of Whitney Plantation and connect their informative/explanatory writing lessons to contribute to and inform their community.
Plan for “Just in Time” Instruction.
First and foremost, a strong Essential Question will harness students’ inquiry. The Essential Question helps connect purpose to the place. Used as an anchor, the Essential Question can also help us anticipate students’ questions. We can then plan for the questions overtly, so as to facilitate and guide the student-centered inquiry.
As a critical piece in crafting their Essential Question, teachers in the 3rd grade Whitney project examined the “doing” they pictured as part of the students’ learning experience. They envisioned students: gathering artifacts from the plantation tour, interviewing tour guides, surveying other tour participants on their understanding of Louisiana heritage, surveying their family, and leveraging all of their research and in-class readings and discussions. With all of this inquiry in mind, teachers landed on the project’s Essential Question: “What can we create to educate and inform Whitney Plantation visitors about the ways African and Indigenous people have impacted Louisiana heritage?”.
For teachers whose instruction is very linear, a second step may be to map out weekly instruction (as opposed to daily) and be prepared to provide direct instruction, point students to a resource, or conduct a targeted small group workshop on the day that students start asking questions about that facet of the project. Here is an example of a project “flow” that allows for student inquiry:
By deliberately including Feedback and Revision within the project’s design, we can build in formative assessments in a targeted and intentional fashion, allowing us to let students’ curiosity “free roam” within the framework of the intended marks along the way. These marks helps us to monitor instruction’s efficacy and differentiate accordingly. Most importantly, we can plan to empower students to also track their progress. When we introduce the Essential Question, as we gather and revisit students’ Inquiry Questions (questions that students generate in response to the Essential Question), we can overtly model this tracking as well. As you refine your design, focus formative assessment checkpoints around the knowledge, skills, processes, information and Ways of Knowing you intend students to uncover throughout their work.
P.I.N. Down the Connections. To sum it all up, P.I.N. down the connections on a daily basis. Allow this tool to become a pillar of your classroom culture. P.I.N. is an acronym that represents three major ways we can ensure that students and teachers both are able to effectively speak to and demonstrate the connections between the purpose of the PBL Unit and their work, solutions, and products.
P. - Process each day’s work. For teachers, this means facilitating a conversation or an exit ticket that gets students to call out the process they’ve undergone that day. For students, processing might be responding to a journal prompt or submitting an exit ticket
Students might reflect upon: WHAT did we do today? HOW did we do that today?
I. - Incorporate the day’s work into the larger picture. Teachers plan for specific procedures and structures for students to use and show how the day’s learning supports the larger purpose of the PBL Unit.
Students might reflect upon: WHY did we do what we did today?
N. - Note any connections. Revisit the Essential Question, the Inquiry Questions, and the work that has been completed so far. Mark questions that have been answered and any new questions that evolve.
Students might reflect upon: HOW does what we did today help me answer the Essential Question? Do I have any new Inquiry Questions?
Pinning down the purpose in Place Based Learning is necessary to ensuring that the “doing” is not in vain. Daily P.I.N.s can fold into the formative assessment checkpoints we’ve planned out for the entire project. As often as students are allowed to make these connections, the deeper they can understand the project’s PURPOSE. Trusting that students will “get there” and then being ready to guide them is what moves Place Based teachers from presenters to facilitators, and students from receivers to creators and innovators.