Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Game of Shared Inquiry Discussion

I recently participated in a discussion of David Perkins's Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education (2010). Perkins thinks about learning as a type of game in which players are engaged in thoughtful concentration over a period of time, in episodes, and in varying contexts. Perkins's favorite game metaphor is baseball. From it he derives his first principal: both experienced and inexperienced players can play something like the "whole" official game. Novice and young players have junior versions with shorter base paths and fewer innings, sometimes hitting balls off of tees rather than a skilled pitcher. Having a version of the whole game that even a novice can play is key to Perkins's other six game-related principals (make the game worth playing, work on the hard parts, play out of town, uncover the hidden game, learn from the team and other teams, and learn the game of learning). Perkins argues that teachers can create junior versions of complex skills such as reading to increase student engagement and success.

I work for the Great Books Foundation, and the whole game is reading high-quality literature and engaging in Shared InquiryTM discussion. The full version of the game is reading and understanding challenging texts and discussing them thoroughly. But we offer even beginning readers a version of the game that retains the essential elements of the whole game and uses texts that are more appealing and easier to read for the young or novice reader. At all levels, though, we suggest "rules of the game" that limit grandstanding and provide a field of play that has boundaries--keeping the discussion within the boundaries of a text, for example.

In the game of Shared Inquiry, a focus question is posed by a discussion leader. The question is intriguing and has more than one good answer. Each reader gets a chance to speak. Each response must stay "in bounds," and others can agree or disagree with that response--while also staying in bounds. In this game, readers get to hear other viewpoints, strategies, and arguments, and can hone their own skills. There is much rereading because answers to questions must be found somewhere in the text. It's a very rich game, and the novice version looks a lot like the whole version.

Discussing Making Learning Whole with a group of diverse teachers helped give me renewed confidence that Shared Inquiry stands up to general principles of learning.

Mark Gillingham is vice president of technology at the the Great Books Foundation. He works to develop ways to use technology, information, and research to forward the mission of the Foundation.

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