Implementing Student-Centered Inquiry

On Friday February 20, I wrote about how I wanted to experiment with a new method of teaching (new for me), that I wanted to move away from teacher-centered inquiry to a student-centered model. Today, Monday February 23, I had an opportunity to experiment with that new approach and it worked splendidly! I had a wonderful time and felt like an actual educator. I felt like I wasn't there to impart information, to "give" the students knowledge, but to provide students some of the tools or language they might need in order to discover their own knowledge.

Specifically, I taught/presented on "Media Represenations of Iran and Iranian Culture." To do so, I used an investigatory model. First, we began by exploring what the students already "knew" or believed about Iran - what do we associate with Iran? What terms come to mind when we think of Iran? Some responses we came up with were - the veil, Ahmadenijad, oil, nuclear weapons, and others of the like, though one student did happen to know that Iran has one of the largest populations of young people in the world (proportionally, that is: nearly 60 % of Iran's 70 million people are under the age of 30).

We moved from there to talk about HOW we come to know these things. Of course, we all guess that it is from the media, but what media forms specifically? Here, we watched a CNN clip, footage of the Columbia University president introducing President Ahmadenijad during his visit a couple of years ago, and the opening scene of the film Syriana. We moved from there to a discussion of what was missing from these accounts, which helped open up the question of whether culture can ever be captured. Even if we had a representation of "Iran" created by eveyr single person in the world, would we have "captured'  Iran and its culture? What does "culture" even mean? How can we, as media makers, be forward moving in our representational models?

I think that what helped me the most in organizing this presentation were the following two conversations:

1) Speaking with Renee (which I discussed in my last post) about student-centered inquiry, about modeling for them the process of investigation in the classroom rather than my prior model which was to provide them enough information to entice them about all that they could potentially learn upon investigation). Watching Renee in action, as well as the Roberts elementary school teachers, has also helped me a great deal. A GREAT deal. Renee has a way of working with students and adults that is completely open but also intentional...Really helpful to see this acted out since no explanation can do it justice.

2) Speaking with my friend Laura Deutch about project planning. She talked to me one day about how effective project planning and evaluation would include: 1) Declaring your focus, 2) setting goals, 3) setting learning objectives, and 4) evaluating whether those objectives were met. And so for this presentation, I did just that. Set some goals, decided what I wanted the students and myself to walk away with, and then tried to ask questions that would bring us to that learning and it actually worked! I mean, I felt so much more organized in the classroom, so much more focused, so much less flustered or chaotic or pressed for time. 

My only regret was that I felt like my evaluation strategy was not as effective as I wanted it to be...But now I know for next time. I also hope that i can continue to build on this learning and continue to grow as a media literacy educator. I hope to be able to apply this learning in new contexts and to new topics.