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Secret to Successful Inquiry: Failure

Secret to Successful Inquiry: Failure

Guest Blogger: Rachel Sniff, 6th grade Science teacher and Chief Encouragement Officer (CEO)

There is power and freedom in failure; from such, there develops an innate freedom to question. Isn't that which we desire all our students to embody?

With the start of a new school year, a reflection period on growth occurs as educators. How can we improve in our practice for our students? How can we develop and sustain a culture of success for our students? How can we help develop a desire of learning within our students?

These questions alone hold one commonality: inquiry. The root of all deeper growth depends on the ability to promote inquiry within the classroom. Thus, to truly develop a culture of inquiry means to allow our students the ability to experience growth in its most unstructured, and native form. No matter the content, such can be created by providing students with an understanding of the following: the process of failure.

What it Means to Fail. 

Providing opportunities to discuss failure and its importance in learning eliminates the belief by many students that success occurs the first time. Developing a culture of inquiry depends on the important shift in student understanding as success being predetermined. As a result, a community of learning then develops where, when outcome fails to meet our expectations, success is still reachable through questioning, adjustments, and altering academic and behavioral patterns in order to meet our needs. One avenue by which students achieve such is through Problem Based Learning, an instructional strategy which pushes students to find a solution to a given, real-world problem (the URL provides a great article by Tiffany Carter on "What is Problem Based Learning?") PBL, as it is commonly known, allows students the opportunity to discover their own passions in the process of problem-solving. Through such, they develop a sense of questioning, and ultimately a characteristic of learning of which success is built upon: how to move forward from repeated failures.


The ability to develop a community of learners is important in the inquiry mindset. In order to do such, educators must understand the role of partnerships within the classroom. I describe partnerships in two ways: (1) partnerships between the teacher and the students, as well as (2)  partnerships between the students and the community. Between the teacher and the students, trust, respect, and a sense of humor flourish the learning environments so as to create a community of learners. Between the students and the community, as driven by the teacher, partnerships with local companies allow for a more personalized, relevant, and connected classroom. Finding individuals and companies who will share their personal experiences in relation to the content, as well as those hard and soft skills needed for the working world, provides a deeper connection to the content. One can do such through cold calls, Twitter, the Chamber of Commerce, and networking in their own community. With both in mind, the ability to develop a sense of deeper learning and questioning occurs due to safety, relevance, and communication.

Utilization of the Tools Provided.

Communication amongst colleagues and companies are diversified today due to the array of technology present. For such a reason, I encourage students and educators to think “outside-the-box” when utilizing technology to support inquiry. Consider the following: How can we connect our students to the wider world? How can we develop a sense of citizenship amongst our students? How can we advocate for our own learning needs by the means of technology? With all such being said, several tools I utilize to promote inquiry amongst our ever-connected world includes:

Google Hangouts: Students are able to include professionals related to their academic content in the learning process.

Twitter: Classrooms are able to connect with other classrooms around the world to foster discussions on an array of topics. Consider reaching out to other global educators through Twitter to connect your classroom for weekly discussions.

Connect Classrooms:  Take students on a tour of anything from museums to foreign lands to research vessels. Each tour holds the ability for students to partake in discussions with other classrooms globally, and tour otherwise unreachable lands for them, such as the International Space Station. National Geographic, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Marine Laboratory, NBC Learn, and many more are partners in such.

FourSquare: Can you imagine a global scavenger hunt? Students are able to "check-in" when they find related content, or materials on a scavenger hunt that lends itself to global connections.

All of the above establish a culture of inquiry through the elimination of classroom barriers both in-county, in-state, and globally. Imagine the deeper of level of questioning in content that occurs when students are able to connect beyond the classroom walls, and interact as professionals to students across the globe.

Consistent Reflection.

I encourage educators to develop a sense of reflection amongst students. Students who reflect on their practice are more able to understand deeper connections, allowing themselves to make sense of their own needs, growth, and pathway to success. Allowing and encouraging students to reflect and moderate their own growth promotes the ability to focus on beliefs, interpretations, and interactions in relation to the content. Such can be down through students tracking their own personal progress and goals, as well as through discussions. Several questions to consider utilizing may be the following:

How did you solve the problem or task? Did you reach your goal? Explain.

Would you make revisions or changes if you had to solve the problem again?  Explain.

What are several concepts and ideas that you discovered/learned?

All of such provide students with the opportunity to reflect on the process, successes, failures and avenues for growth from their work.

What it Means for Inquiry.

Ultimately, the ability for students to grow as learners by developing a sense of inquiry in learning means allowing them all the above: a personalized education rooted in trust, proper use of technology, reflection, and failure. As educators, we must advocate for our students to acquire a truly incredible educational experience so that they may better foster an understanding of how inquiry can set them up for success. It is our duty. Therefore, it is our duty to understand the best instructional practice for obtaining such, and that is through failure, the process of failure, and all it means to grow.


Rachel Sniff is a graduate of High Point University in Middle Level Education, culminating in research on Transitional Issues in Middle Level Students and LSI Instructional Strategies in AIG Students. She is working towards a degree Educational Leadership, and has presented on the use of Twitter at the NCMLE and AMLE Conference, while leading the integration of its use within her local school. Furthermore, she is involved in the development of PBL and STEM curriculums and partnerships through RSS, NCDPI, and Wake Forest, of which she has led webinars for the Triangle Coalition for STEM Education on "Sustaining STEM Partnerships with the Community." Presently, she teachers 6th Grade Science in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools District. '

Follow her and science success stories at @sems4stem and @Tchr_RachelM


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