Developing lines of inquiry in a unit exploring creativity

When teachers plan units of inquiry in MYP, the unit planner’s process aims to support the thinking that leads to intended learning.

I know that some may feel that unit planning takes away time from other tasks in a school day, and I personally think that unit plans are useful in making visible the teacher’s thinking and learning in a unit of inquiry. A unit I am sharing in this blog post, for example, was developed in the early days of the 2014 iteration of the MYP when we were rolling out the current chapter, and schools were shifting to a conceptual approach to learning. Since that year, this unit was adapted by three different teachers in three different schools – and the unit planner I originally shared with colleagues was useful in that transfer of some of the ideas from one context to another.

An important focus of a unit of inquiry is the inquiry itself. The extent to which students are able to use the inquiry approach will vary from context to context, and for the purpose of this writing I will clarify that the context in which I wrote this unit originally had an agreement that guided inquiry would be where we started and when the students were primed to take on independent inquiries, we would at that time let go and let them.

So with that said, the year 5 students and I started this unit on creativity with the conceptual frame Key concept creativity, a number of related concepts and the explorations artistry, craft, creativity and beauty. The decision to draw from a number of explorations was intended to widen the students’ investigations. Creativity is a wide concept and allows for lots and lots of avenues for exploration, and I wanted the students to pick their own explorations along the way.

This instructional intention opened up several more open tasks for the learners, including developing their own lines of inquiry.

When I was planning how we might approach the concept of creativity, I wanted to design performances of understanding that would illuminate the concepts. Some ways that might help the conceptual understanding to emerge became the unit’s final tasks:

An investigation into creative expression in someone’s life

The task of investigating someone’s creative expression supported the research or explorations of artistry, beauty, craft and creativity. In the research process, students would most likely encounter the key and related concepts and form those as part of their understanding. This task also allowed the ATL skill of “making unusual connections between ideas” inherent in the investigation process. In addition, the skills of crafting questions, sustaining a dialog with another person on ideas revolving around the explorations, note-taking, and the discrete critical thinking skills that went into synthesizing and analyzing for this task would also necessarily have to manifest as students followed their investigations. The task also allowed for choice.

A manifesto for creativity for life

This task allowed me to teach a text type that was in our subject overview, so I did teach this text type explicitly and we deconstructed examples from Apple and other creative companies and individuals. This task also drew out the concepts focusing our learning and allowed for opportunities to use the language we were learning from our research on creativity, for example Cskzentmihalyi’s construct of flow. The task was also an opportunity for transfer, so each student might make connections between their investigation and their own lives. It expressed the global context of our unit, Personal and cultural expressions.

Student-led Symposium on creativity for life

The students exercised more ATL skills in this task. As they prepared for an audience of community members attending the symposium, they used self-management skills to organize the event, design skills and communication skills to publicize it and in hosting the symposium itself, where they presented their findings and took turns in dialog based on the audience’s questions on creativity.

Learning and performances stemmed from the lines of inquiry.

Each student in that class of 19 learners investigated a different aspect of creativity using a disciplinary frame. Some of their lines of inquiry were:

  • How is cooking an expression of creativity?
  • How do designers get their ideas?
  • Why do some artists gain an audience and others don’t, in their lifetime?
  • How can someone be creative in sport?
  • Can creativity be learned?
  • How does creativity express in mathematics?
  • Can we develop our imaginations?
  • To what extent are artists emotional personalities?
  • How does historical context impact artistic expression?
  • Why do I feel free when I’m making art?

The opportunities for the students to develop individual lines of inquiry were not accidental but planned for. I knew the students from having taught them before, and I knew from the overview and collaborative discussions with my subject group team members that these students were familiar with formulating questions and personalized the permission we all gave ourselves to follow our thinking into the unknown. I knew that they would take the opportunity to take risks and dive into an inquiry on an interesting element of creativity. Knowing the students, I planned for the provocation materials to include a wide panorama of creative pursuits and lives but provided materials to allow us to create a working definition of creativity from various sources. This structural parameter to the unit gave us a concrete starting point and gave each student the freedom to pursue their individual lines of inquiry.

In an almost-open ended inquiry, monitoring of our learning was key because each student had an individual pathway. I had to make sure that the concepts and skills manifest in the formative learning and that these were visible to the student, to me and the rest of the group. So in planning, I stripped all the walls of other materials and enlisted the help of the class to allocate space where each student could make visible their process and progress along the lines of inquiry.

Useful takeaways

What I learned through this unit on creativity were some of the following:

  • I learned more about each student’s personality through our regular individual conferences.
  • If we want our students to develop lines of inquiry, we need to break down the process for them. I used a lot of reflection questions like, “How might you craft a question that allows you to narrow your focus?” as a student found his research question was too broad. I learned that my role was to keep them on the inquiry process, like a facilitator would.
  • I learned that if we want our students to confidently follow individual lines of inquiry, we can embed that process into instruction so the conditions are set for the learners to naturally ask questions. For example, the individual conferences were useful because I knew when to explicitly pause the individual inquiries to gather the class on a common inquiry. For this unit on creativity, we held small, shared inquiries into interviewing skills, manifestos, and what a symposium was like.
  • The goal of setting up lines of inquiry is to build bridges between the concept and your content through the process of investigation.
  • Material for provocations work best if they illuminate concepts because the provocations lead students to ask conceptual questions as well as content-based questions.
  • If we teach question formulation and set conditions for curiosity to take central agency, students will come up with individual lines of inquiry.

Want the unit planner for this unit on creativity?

Sign up for your free copy of the unit “When I make my masterpiece” exploring artistry, craft, and creativity.

Featured photo by Nick Fewing on Unsplash.

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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