This week’s Make Cycle asks us to consider remediation – not in the sense of providing a “remedy” for children who are “deficient,” but rather in the sense of how media shapes and informs our composition.
Anna Smith suggested that remediating our inquiry questions would be a possible path for Make An Inquiry this week. I like that idea, and think it would be interesting to pursue.
Today’s Make With Me helped understand the concept of remediation a bit more clearly. One of the comments by a participant gave me the idea that I might want to remediate my research question as a map, specifically as a map of the power relations that exist in my school and the community I serve.
What ideas for advancing your inquiry do you have? Does remediation factor into your plans for making this week, or will you go in another direction?
Spaces for Sharing
In addition to the Twitter #clmooc hashtag & the Google Plus community (where we’re using the hashtag #MakeAnInquiry), we’ve started several collaborative documents that you might want to explore and add to:
I often find myself packed with to-do items on Friday, for some reason, so I often don’t have time to do a Find Five Friday post. The next best thing? Seek Six Saturday! (Or Select Six Saturday, or Spotlight Six Saturday, or Showcase Six Saturday…)
I wanted to use this post to curate some of the ideas people shared around the Make An Inquiry theme.
How-to / Examples
The first actually comes from before the official start of CLMOOC, when we were “prototyping” what an inquiry might look like. Terry Elliot shared the following on our Slack page:
Kevin’s phrase “topic of interest”/”scope of inquiry” is similar to Shagoury & Power’s “wondering.” It would be interesting to create more videos like this as I move through the steps of my own inquiry process.
I was especially impressed at how the students worked with experts outside the school to develop their research. I can see that part of the answer to my question involves making more connections like this between my classroom and the “outside world.”
My focus this week, as I’ve mentioned, is on the questions themselves, so I wanted to collect some of the questions that made an impression on me as part of my S6S.
In John Barth’s The Tidewater Tales, the main character (Peter something, I’ll have to look it up) is a writer who has severe writer’s block. He and his wife decide to go on a sailboat voyage (because, you know, everyone has a sailboat to escape to when they have problems; as much as I admire Barth’s technique, his world of East Coast affluence can be a bit off-putting) and to tell each other stories – but the novelist isn’t allowed to write down anything other than notes. The idea is that the novelist will become pregnant with inspiration, and that he will “give birth” to a new work of fiction when they return from their voyage.
I loved Barth in college, and while I haven’t read him much since then, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea behind the process he describes for his fictional novelist.
That’s why, this week, I’ve refrained from thinking too much about possible answers to my questions. I wanted to spend some time sailing through the questions themselves, if you will. But in addition to listening to other people’s questions, I am also listening to the possible answers and ideas to my questions that people have put forth; I am keeping all these things and pondering them in my heart.
Another wondering on my mind has to do with balance and priorities. This came to mind during my spring break, when I found myself trying to catch up on grades while my wife and I were visiting Joshua Tree and San Luis Obispo. I realized that I needed to change the way I live and work; if I couldn’t take a week off to recharge and spend time with my wife, then I was probably putting my health, my relationships, and my effectiveness at work at risk.
When #Rhizo15 rolled around (spread around? connected around? extended in all directions around?), the week 2 prompt brought up the idea of counting. I realized that I was spending hours and hours counting up points and making marks that didn’t help my students learn. I want to count less and teach (and learn) more.
If I am considering how to improve my balance – between school and home, rest and work, self-care and caring for others – then I also need to consider my priorities. The passage of Fast Track approval for the Trans Pacific Partnership has brought this into the forefront in my mind. The world is in danger – from climate change, mass extinction, massive inequality between the haves and have-nots – and I don’t think I’ve been doing my part to fight for the world I want to live in. Or perhaps, more charitably, I’ve been working hard, but probably not focusing on the most important areas. There’s a song by the Fall where Mark E. Smith sings of paying “highest British attention to the wrong detail” – and perhaps this is what I’ve been doing by taking on too many responsibilities, or by assigning too many grades and not writing enough formative feedback.
I have wanted to become more politically active for some time, but I keep telling myself that I’m too busy, wait till summer, wait till I finish with this project, and so forth. In the past month, it’s finally hit me – am I really making a difference if we improve our school but don’t improve the larger society? Put another way, if I prepare my students for college but stand by while the state triples tuition to the UC, am I really helping the community I want to serve? If I prepare my students for a career but fail to act against a disastrous trade policy that could put the final nail in the coffin of the New Deal, what is the point of all my effort?
I know that the work I do at my school is important, but I’m starting to see – in my slow, clumsy fashion – that I need to consider the larger picture. I need to fight for expanded financial aid for undocumented students as I work in my classroom to help these students improve as readers and writers. I need to work on growing more of my own food at home, for as I work to support the journalism students who want to start a campus garden. I need to keep my eye on the connections between making our school a place for the community to thrive and creating a more just world for our community to take part in.
So, since this week my focus is on loving the questions themselves, my questions are:
How can I live my life with better balance?
How can I re-prioritize so that my energies are directed toward actions that will help bring about significant and lasting change for the community I serve?
What are the needs of my community? How can I engage with students and families to learn more about what they believe is important?
How much of the composition process is individual and how much is socially-mediated?
I’m asking that question right now because I’m visiting the LA Writing Project Summer Institute this week, and one of our norms is to open each day with 20 minutes of uninterrupted writing. I opened up Evernote and started to write a blog post about Make An Inquiry; this is pretty standard for me; when we do this free-writing I usually have a particular piece of writing in mind that I want to work on (last summer, for example, I did a lot of work on my essay on Gay’s Lion Farm).
Out of curiosity, I decided not to look at all the communication that I needed to catch up on.
Of course, everyone’s writing is informed by their context; I’m not making any revelations with that statement. But I wonder how much my writing changed when I “disconnected” from the CLMOOC community for these 20 minutes? We give “on-demand” writing assignments “to see what students can do on their own” – but are we attempting to measure something that can’t possibly exist, if context is inseparable from composition?
I’m going to post this right now (9:30 am Pacific) in the spirit of Working Out Loud. I’ll come back to it later to edit and/or add links.
UPDATE: Links added along with minor edits (8:13 pm Pacific)
We’ve changed the name of what was originally “the inquiry group” to Make An Inquiry. (I worried that the term “group” would imply something that requires membership, application, approval from an authority, and so forth; we hoped that changing the name would lower barriers to entry.)
Another barrier to entry might be the word inquiry itself. It seems to me that inquiry can have many meanings; it’s possible that the meaning of the word depends on the context and needs of an individual or a community. I think that inquiry, like the term research, can be intimidating – but I don’t think it needs to be! At its root, in my mind, inquiry is about asking questions and (to borrow a phrase from Michael Fullan¹) making these questions our friends by embracing them and then doing something about them.
Since the first Make Cycle encourages us to make and unmake introductions, I decided that I would introduce myself by sharing my questions. I’m also going to share some “how to” ideas about inquiry – what Terry Elliot called “roadmaps.”
I also want to work on an annotated bibliography of resources – if I have time! 🙂
¹ Fullan, Michael. Change Forces: Probing the Depth of Educational Reform. London: Falmer Press, 1993.
Fullan writes (p. 39): “In short, problems are our friends, but only if you do something about them.”
He elaborates (p. 37):
we cannot develop effective responses to complex situations unless we actively seek and confront the real problems which are in fact difficult to solve. Problems are our friends because it is only through immersing ourselves in problems that we can come up with creative solutions. Problems are the route to deeper change and deeper satisfaction. In this sense effective organizations ’embrace problems’ rather than avoid them.
The official start for CLMOOC 2015 is fast approaching, and this year I will be on the support team for the second time. I’m especially excited for this year’s iteration because of the strand I’m organizing.
For lack of a better term, we’re calling it an inquiry group. I say “for lack of a better term” because, after all, all of CLMOOC is a kind of inquiry group! The project I have in mind, however, will be a strand that will look specifically at ways to “bring CLMOOC back home” to inform our practice during the (non-summer) academic year.
As I mentioned on the NWP Radio broadcast that is airing today at 4 pm Pacific, I’m interested in conducting formal research in my classroom, but anyone who is interested in inquiry in any setting, to any degree of formality or informality, is welcome to join in. Like other areas of CLMOOC, the strand is open-ended, and you can participate as much as or as little as choose.
We’re going to start this off with a mini-inquiry, a sort of pre-CLMOOC practice inquiry session, from June 12 – June 16. Terry Elliot, to whom I am indebted for some wonderful ideas and suggestions, called this an inquiry prototype.
If you’re interested in joining us for this inquiry prototype, please fill out the Google Form below. So far, we have a Slack group and a Hackpad that we’re working on, and I will probably send out a few group emails along the lines of the CLMOOC newsletter. Whatever else we do will be driven by the community!
The group, in whatever form it evolves, will remain open during the summer – so even if you’re busy June 12 – 16, feel free to join us anytime during CLMOOC 2015!