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Student-led Inquiry

Learners with agency can “intentionally make things happen by [their] actions,” and “agency enables people to play a part in their self-development, adaptation, and self-renewal with changing times.” To build this capacity, learners should have the opportunity to make meaningful choices about their learning, and they need practice at doing so effectively. Learners who successfully develop this ability lay the foundation for lifelong, self-directed learning.

Those statements come from the National Education Technology Plan.  They resonated with me as some colleagues and I were recently discussing themes we’ve noticed here in NCTE publications. A topic we have seen woven through many of our journal issues is student-led inquiry.

The May 2015 issue of Language Arts was themed, “Writing as Creative Construction“. The guest editors reminded us that “We don’t need ‘creativity’ programs, we simply need environments that don’t constrict and judge. We need space to be BIG.”

The current issue of Voices from the Middle includes the article, “Their Own Voices: Empowering Students with Choice in Writing Tasks“. Choice in writing assignments empowers students to take ownership of their work. Choice alone will not help students become better writers, so teachers must guide students in careful study of mentor texts and models of exemplary writing.

The latest issue of English Journal is on “Rethinking Research: Cultivating Inquiry in the ELA Classroom“.  This issue overflows with practical ideas for engaging students in research that originates, transpires, and ends with the lives of learners, with the ultimate goal of interrogating the word and the world to tell their stories.

English Leadership Quarterly recently addressed “Voice and Choice“. One article, “Voice, Choice, and the Optimal Mismatch: Empowering Students’ Voices by Making Them (Un)comfortable with the Student-Directed Multigenre Research Paper” discusses a new way to teach the research paper that encourages students to use more than just their academic writing voices.

The College Composition and Communication article, “The UnEssay: Making Room for Creativity in the Composition Classroom” makes the case that if we theorize creativity as a highly sophisticated and valuable form of cognition, it must also then be regarded as a necessary and indispensable part of the curriculum in the writing classroom.

New Pedagogical Engagements with Archives: Student Inquiry and Composing in Digital Spaces” from College English advances a new pedagogical approach to engaging with archives in undergraduate courses. The pedagogy described in the article invites students to inquire into the relevance of archival materials to their own everyday lives and composing practices in digital spaces.

Teaching English in the Two-Year College‘s article “Classroom Reading Experiments: Systematic Inquiry to Motivate Sentence-Level Instruction” shows how brief reading experiments can illustrate the effects of various grammatical features, pique students’ interest, and position them to construct their own understanding of English grammar, separate from the teacher’s dictates.

How do you address student-led inquiry and provide students with opportunities for agency?