Keeping the Concept Alive – Part IV: Creating a Purposeful Statement of Inquiry

This is the final instalment in our series on Keeping the Concept Alive. If you missed any of the previous articles, here are the links: 

Part I: Tuning in to Concepts
Part II: Planning with the Concept in Mind
Part II: A Real-Life Example

I have a confession – I struggle with statements of inquiry. Like many people working in the MYP, I have found the process of writing a statement of inquiry both frustrating and confusing. That has all changed.

Our staff recently had the privilege of working with Ali Ezzaddine as he guided them through a Lynn Erickson workshop regarding teaching and learning through concepts. We had many epiphanies, frustrations, confusions and triumphs over the course of the workshop. One of my biggest “ah-ha!” moments came as teams were constructing their statements of inquiry. It became so clear to all of us in attendance that by crafting a purposeful statement of inquiry, you can really keep the concepts (along with the content and skills) alive throughout your unit. The process of creating statements of inquiry has really been a challenge for our MYP team, but this workshop clearly demonstrated the value of diligence and collaboration throughout this process.

Here are a few strategies offered by Ali, along with some input from our staff and a helpful infographic to top it off:

  1. Start with a “Concept-Verb-Concept” model:

This initial phase of construction a statement of inquiry, what Lynn Erickson calls a “level one generalization” was a great entry point for many of our teachers. In a nutshell, take the Key/Related Concept for the unit you are planning, add a verb and then include the other Key or Related Concept that you did not use initially. For example, if you are teaching Language and Literature and your Key Concept is perspective and your Related Concept is theme, your initial statement could be something along the lines of, “Theme influences perspective”.

2. Make connections: 

Before expanding upon your statement of inquiry, you have to look at the connections that you want to make between the statement of inquiry and your subject’s content and objectives. Ask yourself, “Which curricular standards do I want to focus on in this unit?”, and, “Which of my objectives do I want to target in this unit?”. By focusing in on these two elements, you will be able to construct a statement of inquiry that allows the students to make meaningful connections between how they can utilize the subject’s objectives to connect the content of the unit to the concepts.

3.  Take it to the next level – The why or how:

The next step in constructing a purposeful statement of inquiry, is to take your initial concept-verb-concept statement and ask, “Why?” or “How?”. Then, using a resource like Lynn Erickson’s Scaffolding Verbs, you can create a richer statement. Our original statement – “Theme influences perspective” – could become, “Through the use of theme, authors can express perspective”. This statement of inquiry would probably target Language and Literature’s Objective A – Analysing. However, if we changed the statement of inquiry to, “Authors may use perspective in order to establish theme”, we might be targeting Objective C – Producing Text.

This is where the deep thinking took place amongst the groups at our workshop. Great arguments conversations were had regarding the different directions the unit could take, all based upon the statement of inquiry! Many teams noticed that by investing the time to create a purposeful statement of inquiry (one connected to concepts, content and objectives), the summative assessment task, learning experiences and ATL skills for the unit all naturally fell into place.

4. The cherry on top – The “so what”? 

The final piece of the puzzle is asking yourselves, “So what?”, “Why would students care about this?”. It is this final step that allows you to marry your SOI with the Global Context for your unit and really situate the learning in life outside the walls of the classroom. This is where we can arrive at something like, “By expressing their culture through stories, an author can an audience understand their perspective.” Here we have use “stories” to stand-in for the related concept of theme; perspective is still explicitly stated, but we’ve brought in the Global Context of “Personal and Cultural Expression”, with a focus on sharing our cultural perspective with others. 

When the statement of inquiry becomes a foundational piece to help you construct your unit, the remainder of the planning process becomes much more focused and the learning much more purposeful.

 

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