We, at Abdul Kadir Molla International School, are a new IB PYP authorized school. Teaching and learning through inquiry is a new experience for most of us faculty members, administrators, parents, and students. In addition to the external barriers teachers face, their beliefs and values about students, teaching, and the purposes of education can impose obstacles to inquiry-oriented approaches.  Research demonstrates many of the predicaments that teachers face when considering new approaches. Collaboration acted as an important catalyst of change for us. New understandings developed and new classroom practices emerged when teachers collaborated with peers and experts.
Transforming a school into a learning organization helps students become inquirers. We, as learning community members, pondered and tried to understand the complexities of improving schools. We collaborated to discover how educational change can be managed. We discussed three important aspects of this work and described as: (1) the difficulties and complexities of educational change (2) how structures such as professional learning communities and critical friends’ groups can be used to support instructional improvement; and (3) specific processes and strategies known to support teacher learning.
Here are few strategies that worked very well for us in promoting, developing and sustaining the culture of inquiry:
Fostering Inquiry in Early Years:
Guest Speaker sessions aid the inquiry process of the early years’ classroom. Inquiry-based learning enables children to develop a sense of curiosity. In the 2020-21 session, we had 6 Guest Speaker Sessions for learners in the early years of PYP. Learners in the early years of PYP were very excited to meet the speakers in their class. For the learners, the speakers serve as great role models and the learners can do inquiry during the sessions. Learners in the early years of PYP could interact with the speakers in the session which motivated them to develop their communication skills.
During remote learning, learners could reach other country’s educators through online platforms. Learners also invited the parents as a speaker in their class which helped them to develop the relations with the school community. The parents have a chance to connect with the learners and can observe the progress of children’s knowledge and skills. Learners in the early years of PYP have developed their IT skills. They can use some IT tools independently. Learners could reflect their understanding and opinions about the guest speaker session through Google Jamboard and Google Form.
Early years learners developed habits of gratitude by making digital appreciation cards for the guest speakers through M/S Paint. Learners in the early years of PYP love to collaborate with international educators and other school learners which promoted the importance of global collaboration, thereby helping them to be more open-minded and confident.
Figure 2: Sample of learners work in Google Jamboard. Learners wrote their reflections at the end of the guest speaker session.
Enhancing the learning environment through collaborative approaches to learning in lower primary.
The Round Table Circle Strategy:
The world needs kind people more than ever in history. The world is facing conflicts due to a lack of tolerance to cultural diversity and a lack of respect for others’ values. AKMIS endeavours to create a peaceful global community. To nurture young people towards establishing a peaceful world we need more intercultural exchange in the curriculum.
We believe, creating a sharing space for learners from different ethnicities to help young minds to foster their international-mindedness. Virtual learning proves to be a blessing in this disguise for our school to arrange such interactive round table dialogue sessions. It extended the inquiry as learners got to prepare themselves for the real-life dialogue. The great benefit of the Round Table dialogue strategy is that it allowed everyone to participate, even those who are more reluctant to speak openly. A key purpose of the round table discussion was clarifying and creating a space for differing opinions on a topic.
Our Grade-2 learners were having a unit related to home and culture. They explored the cultures and cultural diversities around them. They got to learn about the beauty of cultural diversities and family values. We were thinking of an event where learners can share the beauty of their cultural practices, family values and can talk about their home with the learners belonging to different cultures.
We arranged a dialogue session where the learners interacted with the learners from different countries. It was such an interactive session with posing different situations to learners like, ‘suppose a girl from the USA joined your class. She has a different hairstyle, colour, dress, food habits, beliefs, and even different behaviour and language. Will you make her your friend?’ Learners shared their opinion on home, cultures and values and came up with solutions to different situations. This discussion strategy helps learners to develop their higher-order skills while becoming grounded in a social-emotional way by building both self-confidence and respect for their peers.
We, at Abdul Kadir Molla International School, shared the topic and questions of the live dialogue session with the participants’ schools beforehand so that learners can inquire into the topic and be prepared for the round table dialogue. It boosted up critical thinking. Learners related real-life conflict and built a mutual understanding of the problems.
By organizing such interactions, we try to provoke learners to relate learning to the real world and be open-minded. It helps to establish a base for mutual understanding, negotiation, and tolerance on the border of beliefs, culture, and ethnicity.
Design Thinking: Grade 3-5
In PYP, design thinking has been extensively used in various learning engagements and our school is not an exception from this scenario which can be evidenced in the implementation of this thinking approach by the learners in most of the taught concepts. Such as we had a great experience with the team of Grade 4 with the Transdisciplinary theme “How The World Works” under the central idea “Machines play a vital role in our life and make our work easier” where they have used design thinking by empathizing the needs of simple and complex machines and defining the simple and complex machines with the provided 6 sets of simple machines for 6 groups by the school. Next, they ideate many ideas for the chosen real-life problems, created and tested the prototype. For example, they have made pulleys to help break equipment, a flagpole for the flag of our school and a catapult level for throwing things at a distance and donated it to the school’s laboratory.
At present, we are heading towards our PYP exhibition for grade 5 where learners have chosen 6 SDGs within 6 teams and to evident their use of design thinking, one of the groups working on “Affordable and Clean Energy” has empathized with the trend of needs of affordable and clean energy by doing surveys with google forms within their community and chosen areas of the world.
Regardless of the difficulties, we believe that each of us took some important first steps. As a learning community where teachers and pedagogical leaders shared responsibility for instructional improvement not only in few classrooms but also school-wide. We created professional learning communities and made our school an organization that provides structures and processes for continuous teacher learning to promote a culture of inquiry.
Written by Asnaha Farheen (Head of Primary and PYPC at Abdul Kadir Molla International School) with inputs from her team members: Rezuan Chowdhury, Ranjit Biswas and Farjana Bente Jalal.
Author bio: Asnaha Farheen is a pedagogical leader and working in International Education Sector for the past 12 years. She has worked both in India and overseas. She has extensive experience in creating curriculum, assessments, policies for 21st-century schools. She has trained International Baccalaureate leader and educator. She trained teacher both in India and abroad to help them to survive and thrive in these unprecedented times. She has led the authorisation process of many IB School both in India and overseas and helped them to become International Baccalaureate Schools. Asnaha Farheen wears many hats such as Microsoft Master Trainer, Lausanne Learning USA Mentor, Bhopal Chapter Chairperson All Ladies League, PYPC Chapter Chairperson for Bangladesh Network, Wakelet Ambassador, Teach SDG Ambassador, T4 Country Ambassador and National Geographic Certified Educator.
Also Read: School as a Learning Community by Remediana Das