Adopting an Inquiry Stance in Honouring All Languages

Photo credit: danielle-macinnes-iulgi9pwetu-unsplash

How can I get started?

I had a lovely conversation with a fellow teacher recently. Someone who is passionate about honouring all languages in classrooms and communities. A teacher who works tirelessly to gather resources to be able to meet multilingual learners where they are, so they can best access all learning opportunities.

We talked about the myriad challenges that are faced to progress to a place where a culture of honouring all languages is embedded into the fabric of learning communities. Time, awareness, understanding, empathy, more time… leadership, priorities, curriculum, more time… policies, habits, acceptance, more time… And, of course, the big question that often gets asked by teachers, Where do I begin? How can I get started? What can I do right now that will make a difference?

I have written about shifting our mindsets towards ‘honouring all languages’ in our learning spaces and communities. As a follow on from this I would like to delve deeper into adopting an inquiry stance towards honouring all languages in practice.

Where to begin?

As a starting point when we think of ‘honouring’ hold this in mind:

With honouring we express respect, wonder, value, and step back to give space.

The Kath Murdoch Inquiry Cycle is an invaluable starting point when thinking about how to structure a journey of inquiry. The developed framework can be used to help structure any kind of inquiry process and there are a wealth of resources provided on the website linked above. The inquiry journey is outlined and briefly explored below in this interactive diagram along with some concrete examples of how communities could take steps to explore ‘Honouring All Languages’.

Honouring all languages in a community is realized through creating meaningful learning experiences and cultivating an equitable environment.

Taking time to engage curiosity, refine questions and gather multiple perspectives is crucial to navigate the journey of inquiry and develop impactful actions. Given that every community and context is so different engaging in this process as a journey together will ensure broader and deeper, as well as, more lasting, impact. I would encourage teachers to pause, step back and ask questions alongside their learners.

“… when we adopt an inquiry stance towards learning, we start to see things differently. Taking an inquiry stance towards learning involves a shift in mindset and practice for both student and teacher. It allows us to move beyond doing inquiry towards being inquisitive.”

Nigel Coutts, The Learner’s Way

This inquiry stance is evident in all aspects of how we approach learning. Through the way in which we frame questions and gather information. Creating questions that are positioned to uncover rather than check allows for collecting observations and developing understandings. Moving us away from judgement based, or check box, observation, to information-seeking and promoting an open-minded mindset.

What do you notice about how the space is organised?

What does the environment tell you about who uses and navigates this space?

What languages can you see visible in the space?

What are the clues that provide insight into how the space is used?

What learning is happening in this space?

What materials can you see being used?

When it comes to taking action this will be founded in what is identified as appropriate and valuable for your community. It is about reflecting and including your learners in the journey of ‘honouring all languages’ in their space. This needs to be a learning experience for all, and by doing this together a greater depth of understanding and thinking will be nurtured. It is not about putting up pre-made posters of lots of languages, or sticking up flags everywhere, or adding a few books that have different languages in them.

Rather, it is an invitation to notice, question, learn and design together. Indeed it could be a wonderful year-long Unit of inquiry to engage in as a community. Adopting this stance of inquiry allows for relevant responsiveness and appropriate meaningful actions to be taken. Starting from what is already happening or from ideas generated by learners will be sure to facilitate actions that endure.

Initiating a few small shifts that combine deepening our understanding about the ‘why’ with ‘how’ will encourage ways to nudge our ‘thinking and doing’. This journey of inquiry has the potential to propel your learning community in embedding a culture of inclusivity, one that is founded in respect for our own and others’ identities and languages. Safety and security in our learning environments is of critical importance to enable every individual to blossom. Through asking questions with our learners, journeying with them to understand, we create an atmosphere of shared curiosity and acceptance.


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