A Student Reflects [inquiry in the university classroom] by: Cindy Mach

Cindy Mach and her facilitation team (Spring 2016) University of Washington

Cindy Mach and her facilitation team (Spring 2016) University of Washington

My name is Cindy Mach and I'm a Senior at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Throughout my school experience, I've sat in many classrooms and experienced a variety of classroom styles and techniques. None have come close to comparing with my experience with a recent class in curriculum and instruction, all conducted through a student-centered inquiry approach.

Upon first hearing about it, I was concerned because I never tend to work well with groups. I feel that oftentimes the assignments and projects gets dumped onto only one member (typically me) and the rest do little to nothing. This, however, was not the case.

Everyone in this class was asked to facilitate an entire class (start to finish) and we were all assigned to facilitation groups (no more than four people) throughout the quarter. In these small groups, we were expected to create a lesson plan based off of the previous night's homework (usually a text-based reading or video) and then execute it as a team, engaging our classmates in the process while the professor took notes on how we did. While we practiced a Socratic Seminar together as a class for the first couple of assignments, most groups designed other interactive ways to help deepen everyone's understanding and expansion of a topic or question.

I had never been given an opportunity like this before. Most classes are led by someone speaking and others listening. By being asked to facilitate, however, I was required to sharpen new skills and become more interactive. I quickly found that when trying to come up with a lesson plan it requires every group member's participation. Everyone has a part and if you do not work together it shows during the facilitation process. 

All of the sudden, we are the ones who had to keep track of our hour to teach a lesson or complete an activity. No longer could we rely on the teacher for answers. We had to be quickly thinking of things to say if the room fell silent or nobody knew the answer to a question. We had to be able to come up with responses and build off of what was said by others. We had to actually listen...carefully.

Finally, we had to think of ways to stretch the students' thinking and learning experiences through discussion and activities rather than telling everyone what we thought. The process was incredibly interactive and it was so much fun. I enjoyed working with my group members tremendously and what's amazing is that through these activities, the class grew more comfortable with each other and we became a small, close-knit community.

I have never experienced a university classroom where I actually remembered everyone's name and they remembered mine. Just knowing one another's names inspired us to challenge each other. We knew we had a community supporting us as well as your group members while we facilitated class discussions. I learned so much in this class and hope that I can teach my students in the same way when I become a teacher.

I encourage all teachers to be more of a facilitator than a lecturer. Through facilitation, conversations can grow in depth and can students stretch beyond typical ideas and develop their creativity. It challenges you way more then you'll ever realize and it's crazy fun too!