So in order to join the celebration of questions and inquiry, I'm including a list of things you might want to remember about this important topic.
However, you might engage your students in an inquiry on commas by having them gather sentences from magazines and books they know well, looking for sentences with commas and lots of meaning. They can then sort the sentences according to how the commas function in those sentences, and then derive their own rules. Once that's done, have the students go into their published writing and revise sentences to include more complex sentences with commas, or into their writer's notebooks and write new entries with these more complex, comma-heavy sentences. Since they've seen the commas in action, they'll have a better understanding of the rules. Yes, inquiry will take longer, but its learning effects will last longer also.
For example, when trying to find a pattern in the multiples of 4, they might say that all the answers are even, and that these numbers are all multiples of 2 as well. They might not discover the relationship between multiples of 4 and multiples of 8, or some of the other juicy patterns you know. They might take something that you know about the multiples of 4 and say it a little differently than you had intended it. That's okay. They're still on their way. When teaching through inquiry, you have to let go of the fact that kids may not come out with the same discoveries as each other, or the same as you intended, but they will have a solid understanding of what they did learn. So we have to go with that! It's okay to guide them. It's okay to lead them a little. However, we never want to take ownership away from them. If we do, we just enable them to be dependent on us in the future.
For example, if you're guiding an inquiry on the animals of the rainforest, don't ask, "Do these creatures use their bodies to survive?" Instead, ask, "What do you notice about the way these creatures survive?" Engage partners in conversation (that can include you if you'd like, but don't lead it), or get kids to flesh out their ideas in writing (this can be in full sentences or a self-designed graphic organizer), so that they arrive at the conclusion that animals use their bodies to adapt to their surroundings and survive in whatever habitat they call home.
This digs deep into something called the difference between monologic and dialogic conversation. For more on this, take a look at Richard L. Johannesen's The Ethics of Student Classroom Silence (1996), or Notice and Note (2012) by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.
* What do you mean?
* Can you say more about that?
* How do you know?
* Can you name an example?
The key to these questions is that they require something important from both the teacher and the student. They require the teacher to listen closely to what the student says in order to know just where to meet her. If you meet her at the wrong place, you can't really guide her, can you? They require the student to know that he is being taken very seriously, and that the answer he gives is about to be discussed, so it had better be a well thought out answer.
You can do this by having partners evaluate their own questions of each other. A great tool for this is to create learning progressions around this very idea. If you make it a linear learning progression, the skills should naturally build on each other. Here is a rough idea of what the categories might say.
LEARNING PROGRESSION ON PARTNER QUESTIONS
1 -- I asked my partner questions that dealt what we're talking about.
2 -- I asked my partner to retell what she read.
3 -- I asked my partner to link many parts of what she read.
4 -- I asked my partner about the ideas she had today.
5 -- I asked my partner how what she learned today added to what she already knew.
6 -- I asked my partner to talk about how she got her ideas today.
LEARNING PROGRESSION ON NONFICTION READING
1 -- I asked questions that had just one answer that I could find.
2 -- I asked questions that had many answers that I could find.
3 -- I asked questions that helped me grow a new idea about my topic.
4 -- I asked questions that helped me grow a new idea about the world.
5 -- I asked questions that helped me grow new ideas and ask newer, larger questions.