Learning Centered Classrooms: Where Inquiry and Text Sets are Essential for Literacy and Learning

By Lauren Freedman, Western Michigan University

An inquiry framework provides both teachers and students with a flexible structure that can be used for learning prek-12 within any content area and perhaps most effectively when integrating content areas. An inquiry framework requires careful planning keeping both the learning goals and each student’s strengths and needs in mind. The importance of students’ choice and voice is honored and the use of text sets provides the tools for students and teachers to reach more deeply and broadly into and across concepts. This ensures that students are operating at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy using critical thinking as they acquire more knowledge and analyze, synthesize and evaluate it. The use of authentic assessment both formative and summative is also enhanced within an inquiry framework as students are provided multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning as they continue to question and problem pose. Inquiry can be thought of as a cycle, but can also be represented in a more linear fashion. The important thing is that each inquiry builds on the one before and supports the ones to follow. The major building blocks of an inquiry framework are bulleted below. Within each block, I have included how text sets support the learning goals and student work:

Building from the Known
Providing students with opportunities to access prior knowledge and experiences. Browsing a text set can trigger what students already know and what holds interest for them.

Adding the New
Presenting students with key concepts and terminology. Using the text set to see ideas and vocabulary addressed multiple times in multiple ways reinforces the meaning and provides students with avenues for building strong connections and associations.

Wandering and Wondering
Providing students with multiple opportunities to question and problem pose. The text sets facilitate this as students encounter and choose to read and gather ideas from new and interesting pictures, information, and stories.

Seeking Answers and Solutions
Providing students with opportunities to read widely and discuss with collaborators and team members what they are finding. Students share the books and help each other navigate the material.

Pulling Information and Understandings Together
Providing students with opportunities to think critically about the importance and connections of what they are finding. Revisiting the text set materials to confirm or negate their conclusions.

Creating Something New and Presenting Learning
Providing students with opportunities to demonstrate what they have discovered and concluded.

The chart below compares a more traditional/content-centered framework with an Inquiry based/learning centered framework. It is easy to see that there is much more choice and voice as well as access to a variety of print materials in the learning centered framework. Literacy and learning become effortlessly synonymous. The chart lists down the middle aspects prevalent in school settings and compares how these operate in the two kinds of frameworks.

Traditional/Content centered

Inquiry/Learning Centered

Lectures, all knowing, dictator, transfer of knowledge from teacher to student, teach from book in front of class, non-active, uses worksheets, autocratic, does all the talking

Teachers

Open class discussion, interactive, facilitator, more experienced learner, democratic, students teaching each other, student-led 

 

Quiet, grades in a grade book, use workbooks, pupil, silent, sitting, cemetery rows, memorizing, non-active, under teacher’s control, uninvolved

Children/Teens

Interacting with other students, acting out scenarios, collaborating, talking in groups, working together, actively participating in learning process, interested, engaged
Memorization, skill and drill, answer someone else’s questions, knowledge transfer, please school board, achieve standards, meeting one-size-fits-all goals, pass standardized tests

Purpose/mission

Engaging students, promoting growth and development, providing meaningful learning opportunities, life-long learning, learning achieved, application of and critical thinking about concepts
Text book focused, round robin reading, popcorn reading, one-size-fits-all, text determines curriculum and instruction, meaning resides in the text

Literacy

Text sets, multiple learning strategies learned and used, meaning focused, students find meaning, students create meaning with the text, wide variety of materials
Worksheets, workbooks, busy work, quizzes and tests, independent seat work, answer others’ questions, study guides, note taking (copying notes from board)

Classroom Work

Group projects, discussion, 

group work, inquiry projects,

interactive, posing questions and problems, collaborative research, note taking determined by students, authentic presentation of learning, ownership

Set in stone, fixed, firm, cut and dried, law/order, no talking, no getting out of your seat, raising your hand, no exceptions, no discussion

Rules

Flexible, sensible, student generated, collaborative, students develop rules and consequences, democratic, ownership, responsibility, fewer rules
Text book, curriculum guides, predetermined, limited, district determined, rigid, outdated

Resources

Outside availability, internet, other teachers, community members, text sets, alternative print materials, speakers, movies, experts
Textbooks, tests, worksheets, library books, lists of facts, pre-packaged handouts, limited

Print Materials

PowerPoint, PPT, text sets, articles, student made, variety
Dead, set, sticks to packaged lesson plans, step by step, standards based, set by district/state administration

Curriculum

Living and ever changing, flexible, new technologies, variety of information, teachers use professional judgment about how to teach
Out of date, little technology 

Books, chairs & tables, quiet reading, silent, get a book, card catalog, teacher assigned

Library

Current, relevant, interactive, 

Computers, career/tech centers, multimedia, internet activities, student inquiry, on-line catalog,

Measureable, quantitative, use to label students, objective tests, standardized Assessment Inquiry, use to inform instruction, determine growth and development, authentic, practical application, qualitative
Hierarchical, predetermined, authoritative, threatening, strict, closed, rigid

Relationships

Partners, facilitative, collaborative/cooperative, community, shared learning, relaxed, non-threatening, open communication, relaxed, 

open peer relationships

Teacher focused and centered, 

cemetery rows facing the teacher, formal, teacher owned procedures,

Class structure

Student focused and centered, groups, inviting, colorful, organized to suit a variety of learners, shared procedures, informal
Hierarchical, evaluative, determines instruction, dogmatic

Administration

Collaborative, partnership, supports teacher professionalism

With an inquiry framework and text sets, teachers and students can take back their schools and refocus education on building all of our nation’s children’s capacity for learning in ways that prepare them for their 21st Century lives.

Please visit wowlit.org to browse or search our growing database of books, to read one of our two on-line journals, or to learn more about our mission.

One thought on “Learning Centered Classrooms: Where Inquiry and Text Sets are Essential for Literacy and Learning

  1. Charlene Klassen Endrizzi says:

    Lauren,
    Thank you for sharing this years ago. My secondary education preservice teachers find this comparison of learning paradigms so useful in constructing their own Theory into Practice reflections.
    Charlene

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