I’m at my daughter’s synchronized swimming Provincials. She just finished her combo routine and there is over an hour wait for her Team routine. Having trained for water polo just one pool bulkhead away from National level synchronized swimmers, I’ve always had high regard for their athleticism. With my daughter training 22+ hours a week this past year, that high regard has increased. She does far more cross-training (outside the pool), with strength conditioning and flexibility, than I’ve seen in most sports, and the blend of aerobic and anaerobic conditioning is exceptional, (my 14 year old daughter recently held her breath for over 2 minutes & 20 seconds while sculling across the pool and maintaining her upside-down kneeling position with knees-to-toes at the surface).
The training is significant, but when all is said and done, a routine is over in under 5 minutes as an accumulation of a year’s worth of practice. Perfection is impossible. There is always room to improve, and hard work is an essential component to success. So too is team camaraderie, good coaching, and to some extent natural talent (though hard work can compensate for talent to a certain level as my water polo career exemplified). There are many aspects that need to come together for a final presentation.
In thinking about student inquiries at Inquiry Hub Secondary School, I think of the messy nature of inquiry learning, as well as the importance of learning from failure. Watching the synchronized swimming competition today has left me wondering about what kinds of structures we can build to help train our students as they do their inquiry learning dance.
- We know students struggle with developing good questions. What can we do as a team of learners to support this? Rather than coaching students individually, what ‘training‘ can we implement so that we can ‘work together as a team of learners‘?
- Learning in depth is a challenge. We have built a culture in schools of getting to an answer quickly. What habits of mind can we ‘practice‘ to help students see good questions not as a means to a Googleable answer, but rather as a spark to ignite new questions and possible iterations?
- How do we raise the expectations and quality of the final presentations of work? A key part of our inquiry process is expressing and sharing what we have learned. What can we do to showcase student work in meaningful venues? What forms of feedback can we provide along the way so that we are ‘conditioning‘ students to seek both feedback and audiences for their work?
I think it would serve us well as educators using an inquiry model with students to think of ourselves like coaches. The conditioning is cross-curricular, the practice needs to be purposeful, and the training is ongoing, with opportunities to improve many skills throughout the process. Coming up with a good final product is important, but it’s the day-to-day training and practice where we really need to be providing feedback and good coaching.
Developing good questions, learning in depth and executing final presentations are just three of a number of areas where we need to continually coach and train students on their quest to ask good questions, to seek rich and compelling answers, and to share what they have learned beyond the school walls. What structures and strategies do you use to coach your students on their journey? What skills do you explicitly train your students to do well? How often do they get to practice these skills? I think these are inquiries that we all need to focus in on, as our students explore their own inquiries.
As a final thought, I think students also need to see us coaching each other in order to help them understand that the learning never ends.