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by Erica Fischer on Feb 3, 2016

#Langchat Inquires About Inquiry-Based Learning!

Last week, #langchat had some great questions (and answers!) about inquiring-based learning! Participants described what inquiry-based learning looks like and discussed how to design and evaluate a quality end product. Instructors also shared tips on how to scaffold to support student inquiry in the target language at different proficiency levels and how to keep students on task. Finally, Langchatters reflected on how to integrate an inquiry-based learning model into a prescribed curriculum. While the chat only lasted an hour, it left participants ready to inquire into inquiry-based learning for hours to come. @KrisClimer wrote, “If your head is spinning, as mine was, comb through the chat, open up some tabs and settle in for an hour or five.” Don’t have five hours to spare? Your #langchat summary has got you covered!

Thank you to everyone who joined the conversation last week. We would also like to thank our moderators: Kris (@KrisClimer) and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell) led the Thursday chat, with support from Amy (@alenord) and Laura (@SraSpanglish), who also led the #SatSequel!

Question 1: What does inquiry-based learning look like?

#Langchatters agreed that students drive inquiry-based learning. @ADiazMora described it as fundamentally student-centered. Given its focus on students, @MlleSulewski imagined that inquiry-based learning would be “very personalized.” @ksampson4 agreed, writing, “It looks like [students] asking the [questions] that matter to THEM.” @William_Caze noted that a focus on personalization supports students’ quest for knowledge: “[Inquiry-based] learning needs freedom for students to choose a topic that makes it easy to go ‘down the rabbit hole’ of information.” @ProfesoraM207 noted that the teacher serves as a facilitator, and several instructors commented on the value of scaffolding and guidance. @ksampson4 wrote, “[World language teachers] need to scaffold, but I agree that [students’] interests can guide the curriculum.” In the words of @frenchfr1ed, “Allow for freedom of discovery, but set up cool things to discover!”

Question 2: How can we design and evaluate a quality end product?

Langchatters pointed out that instructors should involve students at every stage of inquiry-based learning. @ksampson4 wrote, “I work on design [and] evaluation WITH the [students]. They are a part of the whole process.” @SraSpanglish shared her observation that some degree of structure can be comforting for students: “I was so gung ho about CHOICE when I started that it made my kids feel unsupported!” @SigDrucker offers students a general framework with room for flexibility and creativity: “I try to be flexible with some projects by giving [students] a general idea and then telling them to be creative with their formats.” Similarly, @profepj3 commented, “I gave the overall theme, but [students] came up with the topics. I also met [with] them as they ‘pitched’ their ideas.” When it comes to end product design, @SraDentlinger wrote, “Personally, if students are choosing the topic I think they should be able to choose how they demonstrate understanding.” Langchatters shared some possible end product forms that could be suggested to students: videos, podcasts, infographics, tutorials, skits (@sr_connolly), drawings, postcards, etc. (@SigDrucker). With regard to evaluation, @frenchfr1ed proposed, “[Let students] evaluate. What better commodity than the opinion of their peers?” @senornoble agreed that “it’s great when [learners] can share their project rather than simply turn it in.”

Question 3: How do you scaffold to keep students in the target language at different proficiency levels?

Participants shared useful tips to help keep students of all proficiency levels in the target language as they engage in inquiry-based learning. Some suggested frontloading useful vocabulary and phrases. @SraSpanglish offered one scaffolding tip: “[Focus] on a few essential verbs that work for questions, answers, everything,” and @SigDrucker proposed a way to help students reinforce key vocabulary: “[I] often set up @quizlet of essential terms to study [and] practice before topics so [students] feel more prepared.” In addition to vocabulary, @profepj3 noted the importance of reviewing essential structures and tenses: “Anticipate what structures [students] may need to accomplish tasks. Talking about childhood hobbies? [Stress the imperfect tense]. Potential jobs? [Review the future tense].” @kltharri added that instructors can adapt mediation based on student needs: “I use different levels of mediation. [I] start open [and] keep narrowing in until they get it.” Langchatters agreed that novices need more support to stay in the target language. @SECottrell said, “[My] opinion is [that] you have to give serious guidance [and] limit choice with novices. I create questions. I guide [the] product.” She added, “I will almost never ask my novices to find their own sources. [This results in endless] frustration and/or descent to English.” In terms of question creation, @SraSpanglish noted that novices again need more support: “I GIVE novices questions to copy and rephrase. Intermediates can come up with their own questions.”

Question 4: How do you ensure that students stay on task and focused?

Instructors agreed that interest and enthusiasm are key to focused inquiry. As @MrsCoblentz wrote, “If it’s something [students] want to do and are excited about, 99% will stay on target.” Similarly, @ksampson4 commented, “If the [students] are answering a [question that] they are interested in, they stay on task [and] go above [and] beyond.” @ProfesoraM207 added that, aside from interest, difficulty can play a big role in (lack of) engagement: “My [students] are off-task when the task is too easy or too hard. If they direct the learning, this might solve the problem.”

Langchatters suggested a number of ways to create accountability. @Marishawkins wrote, “I know you have to have specific end goals for each class period [for inquiry-based learning].” Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Daily exit cards: @MmeBlouwolff wrote, “I like daily exit cards for [students] and a chart where I’m tracking daily progress for me (with [a] clipboard).”
  • Blog updates on progress: @profepj3 said, “I’ve had my students write blog posts about their progress each week. Plus we’ve had ‘business [meetings]’ where I check in.” @SrtaGlynn echoed this suggestion: “Have [students] keep a blog of their progress/problems/questions/resources/etc. Share [these] on [the] school website.”
  • Google spread sheet: @ADiazMora shared an idea from @natadel76: “[On a] Google spread sheet students [can] track [their] progress and answer questions. [Teachers] can comment back.”
  • @nearpod: @SrtaGlynn suggested, “Use [a] tool like @nearpod to have [students] share progress with [the] whole class. Have them take accountability [and] pride in [their] work [through] sharing.”

Question 5: How can an inquiry model be integrated with a prescribed curriculum?

Participants acknowledged that inquiry models can and should be integrated with a prescribed curriculum. @krobertslwsd wrote, “I go rogue and add these units in :).” @KrisClimer proposed, “Use the prescribed material as ONE of the resources to which [students] can refer,” and @ksampson4 pointed out, “Having a textbook doesn’t mean you need to follow it page by page 😉 Skills [are] most [important and] that’s what [students] use in [inquiry-based learning].” @profepj3 lets students engage in the process of integrating inquiry-based activities into the curriculum: “I’ve done ‘match or scrap’ with my [students. They] write out [their] ideal objectives, [and] then match [or] scrap [them working with] the curriculum document.” @MaCristinaRV reminded instructors that they need not feel limited by the textbook or prescribed curriculum: “Use [the] textbook as [your] springboard… to infinity and beyond!”


Last week, participants described what inquiry-based learning looks like and discussed how to design and evaluate a quality end product. Instructors also shared tips on how to scaffold to support student inquiry in the target language at different proficiency levels and how to keep students on task. Finally, Langchatters reflected on how to integrate an inquiry-based learning model into a prescribed curriculum. Instructors acknowledged students’ role at the heart of inquiry-based learning, and they encouraged including them at every stage of the process—from planning to evaluation!

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who kept curiosity alive on #langchat last week! Don’t forget that you can get your #langchat fill twice a week — both Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. ET!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have an topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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