Review of a Teaching Resource Book: Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry
Before I get to the review...
Before I get to the review, here’s some background information. Current teacher training programs are stressing the inquiry approach. Like many teachers, I was confused about the inquiry method—the technique and, quite frankly, what it really was. Inquiry is an elusive term. And, like many aspects of teaching, inquiry is different for every teacher. As a new teacher, I thought to myself: how can I teach using a method if I have no idea what it is.
My colleagues and I attended schools where the curriculum was taught in the traditional way. We had textbooks, copied notes and did our homework (most of the time). We did school, but like many of you with a similar experience, we didn’t love school.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a good student in school—I completed assignments and listened to the teacher. However, I remember some classes where my classmates would be so tired from doing homework, we would drift off to sleep in the middle of class—this happens a lot in universities, too! Now that I am a teacher myself, I want to make school a place where wonder can exist. Life’s too short to waste time teaching material that students don’t care about and so repetitive that it is boring to teach. Why shouldn’t we teach in a manner that excites both us and the kids.
I picked up Jeffrey Wilhelm’s book, Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry, feeling incompetent with the inquiry approach to teaching. The university program I attended spoke highly of this method, and yet, I heard a lot of theory but received very few tools to implement this approach to learning.
So, what is inquiry?
As stated in the book and as described during my university lectures, inquiry approaches a topic (e.g., from a program of studies—aka the curriculum) as an investigation using an essential question that matters to the population as a whole. One example from the book is “What makes a good relationship?” Teachers then plan a unit with the end in mind—a final project that will demonstrate that a student has learned the required objectives for the unit. One thing I like about inquiry is that there are no “right” answers since everyone must create their own meanings to make sense of a situation.
What is understanding?
When I was growing up, we went to the library to find an answer to a question. Now with the internet, the amount of knowledge that we can access seems infinite. I remember never worrying about the reliability of a book as a kid. We can always trust the heavy encyclopedia, right? However, the mass of knowledge out there requires that both teachers and students—and all readers—need to read more critically. Understanding something is not about just knowing the facts.
Teachers of the 21st Century are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist—so learning skills and processes become more important than learning a theory or fact that might get disproved tomorrow. Math is no longer just about right answers but how we get answers… just like mathematicians who pursue a question and search for patterns. Or, researchers who must refine their hypothesizes before drawing a satisfying conclusion. Effective readers actively read, asking themselves questions.
Should you get this book?
Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry presents various reading strategies to use before, during and after reading. The authors encourage questioning strategies that gradually increase in difficulty—starting with basic facts and moving to interpretive questions, to applying content to real-world issues.
The book presents research supporting inquiry. Overall, this book is a worthwhile read and a great resource. If you are looking for techniques for your classroom that will help students gain a deep understanding of a topic, this book is worth the time to read. Although it’s relatively short (176 pages), it’s jam-packed with useful information and unit ideas. Most importantly, the book applies inquiry to many subjects, including language arts, history, health, science, and even math. If you are looking for more information on the inquiry method or need ideas on how to implement this model, buy this book as a resource to help you learn how to reach more students in your classroom.
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