Trevor MacKenzie is an experienced teacher, author, keynote speaker and inquiry consultant. His passion is supporting schools in implementing inquiry-based learning practices.
Hi everyone. And welcome to the effective teaching podcast. I’m your host, Dan Jackson. And today we have in a book club episode, and we’re gonna be looking at the book, dive into inquiry. I’m actually gonna be chatting with Trevor McKenzie, the author of this book to find out more about inquiry and the whole process here. And I’ve got to say, this is one of my favorite educational books that Trevor has written here. So, uh, you’re gonna learn a lot from this, but Trevor has actually published two books already. This is one of those books and his third book is coming out on the 15th of May. It will be available on amazon.com. And so I’m doing a three part series with Trevor over the next week to find out more about his books, which I absolutely love. Well, Trevor, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about your book, dive into inquiry. It, I’ve got to, I’ve got to tell you that this is actually one of my favorite books when it comes to education and how we go about our process of helping our students learn. Uh, and I’m really excited to get a bit more insight from you about this process because your process that you outlined in this book is amazing. So curious, tell us a little bit about that overall process that you, that you walk us through.
Yeah, thanks for the kind words, Dan, and thanks for having me back. It’s so nice to chat with you again. Um, you know, I, to be honest, just to backtrack a little bit, I, I never sought to write a book, you know, I never, I never considered, uh, what sharing, what inquiry based learning looks like in my practice to a broader audience. And when the opportunity kind of presented itself to me, um, I really reflected on, uh, you know, what does it look like and sound like and feel like from the start of a school year, to the end of a school year, um, you know, introducing students to inquiry, uh, that perhaps are new or unfamiliar with this shared landscape of learning between the teacher and the student, and what does it look like to scaffold across the months? Not just within a unit of inquiry, but quite literally across the span of time with students to slowly build agency, to slowly build confidence and to slowly build competencies.
And, uh, and in reflecting on what that looks like in my practice, that’s essentially what led to the book being what it is today, you know, um, you kind of launching inquiry with a new group of students. How do you slowly transition into sharing the landscape and learning and, and what it feels like for the teacher to loosen the reins, so to speak of control over learning. And so, um, that’s kind of the backstory to getting to what the book looks like today, um, which kind of segues into more pointing to your question is, is what is that process? And, and it is a gradual release of responsibility over learning from the teacher to the student. Um, and, and it is riddled and scaffolding and being quite responsive to what it is that we’re noticing and observing in our students each and every day. And how could we be a little bit more responsive and provide more agency as the days and weeks and months go by? So, um, that’s a little bit of the process, Dan, and, and, uh, very proud to, to talk about this book. This is my first book written way back in 2016 to, to imagine that we’d be here today, you know, three books later, um, it’s, it’s quite an honor. It’s quite exciting for me.
Yeah. I’m very excited for actually your new book. That’s coming out on the 15th of May this year. And I can’t wait. I can’t wait to read that one because I really liked your process that you lay out the fact that you actually scaffold it for your students and are slowly taking away that scaffold as you lead into that final, you know, free inquiry type approach at the end of your year. But right at the very beginning, you start off with a lesson that’s all about, you know, what is, what makes a good teacher, I’ve got a good student, but what makes a good teacher you might even do? What makes a good student in there? Can you share a little bit about that process and why it’s so important for what gets set up throughout the rest of the year?
Yeah, well, you know, uh, an underpinning of the inquiry model is, is co-designing learning with students and, and through asking students guiding questions and facilitating talk, and, and the thinking, um, we begin to design and construct a, a culture of learning, a culture of inquiry. And one question, one guiding questions. I, I love to ask students at the onset of our time together is what is really effective teaching. What is really amazing teaching look like and sound like and feel like, and I asked students to talk in small groups of maybe three and they spill their ideas, their amazing ideas onto a piece of paper. And, and I walked through the room and I listen. Um, you know, I really lean in and I show them interest in their thinking. I really am quite observant and making connections across the room. Um, and, and really what I want students to see on the very first day of school is number one, that their voice matters that their voice is going to, co-design a lot of what the experience is going to be throughout our partnership, our time together.
And number two, that I’m really interested in being the teacher that they tell me, they need me to be, um, you know, I’m the expert I’ve taught for over 20 years and, and I could be agile. I can be flexible. I can maneuver my way through the mini relationships that I built in my classroom. And I’d like my students to see that I’d like them to tell me what they need from me. Um, you know, one question I asked them as a sub guiding question to that larger one is, you know, how do you learn new information best? Um, do you learn most effectively by reading whether it’s a resource or a textbook or, or, uh, a PDF perhaps, or a website, um, do you, you learn new information, you know, verbally, you know, auditory listening, whether it’s a podcast or a teacher speaking to you or someone collaborating with you, or do you learn new information best with, with images, whether it’s, you know, infographics or, or posters or sketch notes are a hallmark of, of my work.
And, and essentially what they tell me allows me to be a more effective teacher for them. You know, kind of ironically, you, you slipped up there when you said, you know, what does really amazing learning look like? Or what does, what does a really amazing student look like? And I actually asked them that question, as you know, what is, if we’re talking about what effective teaching looks like, what does effective learning look like as well? And it’s amazing to hear what they have to say. Um, you know, essentially what we’re doing is we’re co-designing routines and expectations and behaviors and relationships right away on the very first day of school. I think student agency and student voice and choice Dan, um, is often too watered down into simplified to a list of assignments that students can do. You know, you can do a PowerPoint presentation or an essay or, or a poster project and student agency at its core is really having students use their voice in really meaningful ways in the classroom to shape the learning landscape. And so what you described from dive into inquiry is, is how I begin each and every school year with students. You know, I wrote that book five years ago, and I still begin with the same co-design, uh, activities and conversations to really lift up student voice and begin to share the landscape of learning with my students. That will be the foundation for the scaffolding that you refer to throughout the year.
Yeah. And then as you walk them through the year, is your first like unit essentially kind of planned like at some level already?
Absolutely. I would say, I would say all my units are somewhat planned, but somewhat, um, you know, responsive to the students in the room and not just their needs, their strengths and their stretches, but also their interests, their curiosities, you know, trying to spark curiosity engagement throughout our time together. So there’s a certain amount of responsiveness and space built into my unit design. Uh, but broadly speaking, absolutely. My initial units early on in the year are quite teacher directed. Um, more teacher controlled, although I’m responsive to the students, I’m doing a lot of coaching and modeling of the different components of an inquiry unit. So students in that transparency can understand what more agency is going to look like and sound like, and feel like later when they take on some of the decision-making around some of those components. So, you know, broadly speaking, yes. You know, more teacher directed throughout the earlier months of scaffolding, leading to much more student ownership and student agency over what our units look like towards the second half of the year with regards to our time together.
And I liked the fact that you also want us in throughout the book that you don’t want to just go to the end of your year and go, you know, these free inquiries, they look amazing. They sound fantastic. Yeah. The kinds of learning that your students are getting from it. I mean, there’s that guy who, the student who rebuilds his car and you’ve got lots of these fantastic examples or are these kids doing this kind of learning? And it sounds amazing, but from a teaching perspective, teachers get worried yet, how am I going to tick off my curriculum? And the fact that that unit at the end is also not going to be playing, but if I dive straight into that, like I know I’ve had other teachers that have done it and they’ve just given me feedback, this is terrible. Like kids aren’t doing anything. It’s not that like, they’re not, they can’t do this. I’ve got to then feed them, like spoonfeed them again. And you’re like, well, you kind of, you’ve skipped a lot of steps.
Yeah, yeah. You have. And you know, I, I, I made similar mistakes early on in my inquiry practice where I had such rich experiences with certain students in that personal inquiry, that free inquiry that we’re talking about, that I thought that was, that was it. That that’s what inquiries should be like for all students. And, and I tried to throw most of my kids into the deep end. I tried to get in the free inquiry too fast and too soon. And it resulted in a lot of students feeling anxious and overwhelmed and learning because that scaffolding wasn’t present and the scaffolding is it’s always different depending on the students that I’m supporting, to be honest, depending on the age, depending on their competencies that they possess. Um, but yes, I always encourage teachers new to inquiry to not start in the deep end, to start in the shallow end, to start with that more teacher directed inquiry, um, and slowly transition to adding more agency, more student voice and choice are cross our time with students.
And ideally if we get to that place, wow, that’s amazing. But if we don’t get to that free inquiry place, that doesn’t mean we did it wrong. That doesn’t mean, you know, we’re less of an inquiry teacher. Um, really amazing things happen in all types of inquiry. You know, whether it’s deep learning, whether it’s engagement, whether it’s fulfillment, whether it’s achievement, it’s not that we have to get to free inquiry for us to have those other rich things occur. So, um, you know, I, I would always advise teachers to start in the shallow end and take small steps towards that deep end place and, and always reflecting on how is agency changing across time. That’s the goal? How are students taking on more of the heavy lifting of the learning across time? And, and those are the things I look for when I visit classrooms around the world. I, I look for changing agency across time, Dan.
Yeah, I think too, it’s really important for the teacher to do that prep, to actually use the understanding by design framework, for creating units of work. There’ll be lots of teachers who’ve never heard of that, that alone. Have you used it and walked through that process themselves to then be able to eventually walk students through that process? So I think it’s really exciting to see how you’ve actually scaffolded that really well. It means teachers are having practice. The students are getting practice and you’re just doing it openly. I love the fact that it’s open and that these kinds of unit designs, uh, processes are shared with students and that they actually are seeing the effort and the thought process that’s going into the unit design as well.
Yeah. You know, Dan, you raised a really good point when you referenced understanding by design and, and for those teachers perhaps watching who are unfamiliar with UBD, you know, it, it reflects the, the notion of we really need to know our curriculum and our curricular curricular design really, really well, to be able to share some of that space with students, you know, the most masterful inquiry teachers I’ve ever observed, the ones that are really amazing what they do in part they’re really good at what they do, because they know their curriculum so beautifully. And within their curriculum, they see how they could be more agile, uh, more responsive to what they’re witnessing with their students. Oh, my student is interested in that over there. Well, we can take the curriculum to that over there. You know, it’s not designing students to get to the curriculum. It’s almost how do we mold our sculpted curriculum to support our students and who they are and their interests and their stories, their narrative, their culture. Um, so I encourage those watching to really, yeah. Try to get intimate with your curriculum, you know, know it really, really deeply so that you can begin to be more playful with your curriculum in your, in your unit design, as you respond to who your students are throughout your time together.
Beautiful. Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking about dive into inquiry, your first book, and I’m looking forward to you to come back and chat to me in just a little while about your second book, which is all about inquiry mindset. So thank you so much for joining me today. And I look forward to chatting to you again soon.
Thanks Dan. Appreciate it. Can’t wait.
Well, I hope you enjoy this episode. If you did make sure you hit the subscribe button and make sure that you come and listen to the next episode, what I’m going to be talking to Trevor again about his book inquiry mindset. But if you would like to find access to the links that we talked about, even links back to Trevor and his site, et cetera, please head over to teacherspd.net/Dii for dive into inquiries. So teachers pd.net/Dii you’ll find a transcript of this episode and also links back to all of Trevor’s stuff from there. Thank you so much.