A Key Tension in our Inquiry Community

In our PDS, we seek an inquiry community, in which interns become largely responsible for shaping the direction of their learning. This responsibility is essential to the life-long process of learning for any teacher. In fact, the PDS supports full mentor involvement in ongoing inquiry activities through a assigned PDS duty period with interns and associates for collaborative learning.

The responsibility and power generated in the learner through participation in an inquiry community should also be experienced by our grade 7-12 students. But, the creation of an inquiry community in a secondary school classroom requires a surrender of thought control as the key form of behavior control. And, a repositioning of assessment from the origin and primary purpose for school activity, to a post-descriptive analysis of actions and artifacts that result from the pragmatic exploration and construction of valued community ideas and issues through the many genres of language and media texts.

Thus, we seek to construct inquiry practices in two locations of our PDS community: 1) students' in the classroom, and 2) interns, mentors, and associates in the profession. We might bring together inquiry in these two locations by carefully examining how we ourselves think about students' literacies as we simultaneously encourage students to inquire with us into how texts use us as we use them to accomplish valued, yet negotiable ends within communities. Our classrooms are essential spaces for the construction of identity, relationships, and values in our culture.

  • What kind of culture do we desire?
  • How often have we focused our inquiry on what is going on inside students' heads?
  • Why do they read and write?
  • What do they do with literacy to marginalize or expand consciousness?
  • What do they want to know more about and how could literacy facilitate that learning?
  • How do the lessons and literacy practices we sponsor serve the construction of their identities, relationships and values in their lives within and beyond our classroom doors?

A visualization of our PDS inquiry model places the Student, Intern, Mentor, and Associate as equally important in the production of knowledge and valued activity. These four roles interact in various everyday activities emphasized in the middle layer of the circle: conversing, documenting, portfolioing, reading, viewing, imagining, and authoring. The outer layer describes the social literacy practices desired to produce the greatest degree of agency and equity in a democratic community: negotiating and inventing curriculum, reflexivity and making problematic, juxtaposing representations of the world, and publishing visions of possible worlds.

A tension between this inquiry learning model for the PDS and a more traditional transmission model of learning has been prevalent in our PDS since its implementation in 1998. We may be so enculturated to a traditional form of interaction in classrooms that not only does movement towards an inquiry community seem impossible, the very formation of our inquiries serves to only enhance and reify the status quo. Many of our PDS inquiries have focused on the teacher's actions of control, the students' actions in compliance or resistance, and the interactions in which events came off smoothly, predictably, dully, or excitedly. The transmission model of PDS illustrates how we often position knowledge as static, external, and authoritative bodies of truth. Through the Mentor and Associate we transfer knowledge of teaching to the intern, and through the intern and mentor we transfer content knowledge to the student. This model is problematic, not because it can work and even be quite dazzling at times, but because it constructs a social world with limiting possible relationships, identities, and values.