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Personalized Learning: Inquiry Walks with the Grandson

I have spent the last four weeks with my grandson who is not quite three years old. During this time there is the relentless inquiry process which at time can be exhausting for person of my age. A walk around the block which would normally take 10 minutes with our dog takes forty minutes with my grandson. Stopping what seemed every ten feet to investigate bugs, plants, or ask "what is that?" becomes the norm.

This prompted me to reflect about learning. I taught at the secondary level for 36 years and rarely did I see constant inquiry take place. One must ask, "why is that?" What made my grandson want to know about ants, birds singing, airplanes, garbage and cement trucks, sow bugs and the like? Will he continue this inquiry when he reaches primary school and beyond?

Perhaps there is a need to rethink how we teach. My grandson was simply demonstrating what is known as the personalization process. Although not in a structured environment as walked, he was in the learning environment of our geographical area. He was taking in the sounds, nature, and utilizing his categorical skills in the best way that he could. When he came across something he was unsure of he would ask about it. My response was to provide an answer and context for what he was asking. If he saw an ant, he would ask, "what is that ?" I would reply, "an ant." Then would come the next series of questions: Where is it going? Why is it going there? Is it looking for something to eat?

Each of these questions is part of the inquiry process as the scaffolding to higher level thinking was taking place. In my classroom I made a point of provoking students to go beyond the simple response. When I was asked about a historical topic in the recent years, I would prompt the students to find it themselves by searching the internet. My next question would be about the reliability of source of information they found. Was it reliable? (we address the topic of reliability of sources in the first weeks of the school year) Typically students shy away from the second question. I the would challenge them to find any other information that could corroborate what they previously found. That desire to go beyond the basic response was missing. I don't think that this anomaly but happened in many classes whether science, language arts, math, etc. That spark that excites a three year old was missing.

Let's get back to my walk's with my grandson. The inquiry process was sparked because he encountered something new that interest him. I am not saying that every student will find that as they navigate each grade level and content area. I know that for myself there were classes I was completely disengaged from and found little interest in. But what if more time was given to teachers to develop a more personalized approach to their respective grade or content material? What if more time was devoted in assessing students skills and interest so that the curiosity that many students had when they were younger was continually sparked?

This past year has made many educators think about their current practices as they grappled with the complexities of remote instruction and or hybrid instruction. In doing so many networks of teachers blossomed and new ideas about instructional practices were shared. More importantly these dedicated came up with a never-ending list of ideas to engage their students in the most trying of circumstances. It is time to continue this networking and create a new paradigm shift that truly personalizes the learning experience for all students.

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