Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Encouraging Inquiry In Managed Independent Learning through Wonder Centers

I use Google all the time.  What was the last topic you googled?

By Nikki Woodruff, Literacy Collaborative Trainer

Many times our family conversations surround wonderings and then we go to Google.  What would we do without Google?  My searches over the past couple weeks have included: Papa John’s menu, the 1911 shirt waist fire, heart rate monitors, NCAA basketball rules, and the sleeping habits of owls.

According to a quick Google search the word inquiry is a noun with the following definitions: 1. An act of asking for information. 2. An official investigation.  If you are a parent or a teacher, you know that kids naturally engage in inquiry.  How many times a day do your students or children ask for information?  Or, ask why? What are we having for lunch? Why did the author/illustrator do that? When will we read that book again? Why don’t penguins fly?

Lyons and Pinnell state that “learners ask questions and search for information: they engage in inquiry. Any learning has some of the characteristics of inquiry; that is how ideas come alive.  Our minds are never more active than when we are making discoveries…inquiry is not an academic exercise; it’s how we live our lives.” (2001, p. 171) Isn’t this what we want our children to be doing? Inquiry should be driving our classroom instruction. Inquiry gets children excited about learning. 

There are many places in the literacy framework where we can encourage wonder and inquiry.  One natural place to encourage student inquiry is by creating WONDER centers in Managed Independent Learning (MIL), a time in our classrooms where the children are “engaged in meaningful literacy” (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). MIL provides an opportunity for readers and writers to actively engage in reading and writing to refine skills taught in all parts of a balanced literacy framework. Children are engaged in authentic reading and writing while the teacher is working with small groups of children in guided reading.

Exploring the tortilla maker
What would a wonder center look like in your classroom? One of my colleagues started a wonder center after talking with a parent about encouraging inquiry. The parent sent in a homemade tortilla maker. The teacher told the kids that in the wonder center she wanted them to think about what this piece of equipment was. She encouraged them to study it by touching it, smelling it, and looking at it carefully. To encourage the groups to socially construct knowledge, she gave them some guidance to help them form their discussions and encouraged them to respond in writing. These included:
  • Things I noticed...
  • Things I wonder ...
  • I think this thing is...
  • I think this thing is used for...
The response to this wonder center was phenomenal. The kids were using this time for in-depth discussions based on their brilliant thinking. All of the children were taking risks. The most reluctant writer was excited about writing so that he could share his ideas about what this thing was and what it was used for. Some of the responses included: doctors use it in surgery to hold open a patient, sandwich masher, and a grilled cheese maker. At the end of the week she revealed what the mystery thing was and built up the excitement for the next week….the pasta maker! 

Another idea for a wonder center is to have the children observe nature. Think about having them draw and write about what they observe outside the window of their classroom.  What if you had the children watch webcams?  Check this out: the trainers at the Literacy Collaborative have been following this webcam since February waiting for these eaglets to hatch. 

As a result of our inquiry we learned so much about eagles. Did you know that eagles can see 1 to 1.5 miles away?  Did you know that they can fly carrying 8 pounds of food?  Did you know that eagles mate for life?  Did you know that eaglets grow rapidly, gaining one pound every 4-5 days?

In your classroom, what can you do to encourage a sense of wonder? MIL is a great place to start!


Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children.  Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Heard, G. & McDonough, J. (2009). A place for wonder: Reading and writing nonfiction in the primary grades. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.  

Lyons, C.A. & Pinnell, G.S. (2001). Systems for change in literacy education: A guide to professional development. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of best blogs on this site. Thanks for the great article! I'll share with my staff!