Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thinking Routines & Inquiry

I have been implementing many thinking routines throughout the year where the boys are routinely asked to think a specific way for certain results.  I have intentionally chosen thinking routines that would help to develop or enhance inquiry as well as lend itself to an English classroom.  The following are thinking routines, their explanations of how they have been implemented, and how they expand and deepen students' thinking:

Ladder of Feedback:
The students worked on varied sentence structure, word choice, specificity, and reflexive pronouns to answer a writing prompt. They read these aloud and then received feedback from their partner by clarifying with a question (what they didn't understand), valuing the work (what they found impressive, innovative, and strong), sharing concerns (problems/challenges), and suggestions on how they can handle the concerns.

This thinking routine allowed the students to practice asking questions when they needed clarification.  The following are some examples that I heard:


What I know, what I want to know, and what I have learned
The boys used this before research of a topic to distinguish between what they already know and what they don't. This helps to use questioning to get a clearer understanding as they sort through what they know to guide their research for what they don't know.

Question Starts: 

The kind of thinking that this routine encourages is developing good questions that lead to inquiry of a topic.  As stated on the website Visible Thinking at Harvard Project Zero, "The purpose of asking deep and interesting questions is to get at the complexity and depth of a topic. "  The site further states how Question Starts deepens the thinking of students and has them more curious and questioning about the what they are learning. It is ideal to use them to introduce new material but can also be used in the middle of a study of a topic to 'enliven students' curiosity.  Using the thinking routine at the end of a study of a topic is a way to revise questions using the knowledge gained to ask even more interesting questions. The following Question Starts are being used in my English classroom to have the boys to look at parts of speech in a different way and to gain a deeper understanding.

Before even asking the questions from the thinking routine Question Starts, my 5A boys were doing it on their own!!!  I was so excited to see how inquisitive they were about reflexive, demonstrative, and interrogative pronouns.  One boy asked if there was a pattern to distinguish between demonstrative pronouns (dp) and demonstrative adjectives (da) and they immediately noticed that dp's always come before linking verbs and da's always come before nouns.  When we were discussing the demonstrative pronouns this, that, these and those, a boy commented on a sample sentence of "That tastes good."  He replied, "We are expected to write with more specific information." I then clarified that it is usually a sentence that is in addition to other sentences written together to convey a certain message.  Another student then recalled the study of clauses and asked, "Suppose we add that sentence beginning with a demonstrative pronoun and have it to interrupt another one like, "The candy that tastes good is on the table." Does that change the function of the word that.  Before I could answer, another student replied that it sounded like a dependent clause and would the word that be a subordinating conjunction.  I couldn't believe the connections they were making to previous learning, especially since we weren't covering relative pronouns during this unit.

Another boy asked about his own sentence, "Is this piece of bread over-cooked?" and wondered if this was a pronoun or adjective.  His question was answered by another student who indicated that "piece" was a noun and therefore the pronoun this was functioning as an adjective.  Then I had a student to add, "What if the sentence said, 'This is over-cooked bread'?" Some students chimed in and said that it would change the function of the word this from an adjective to a pronoun because demonstrative pronouns stand alone.

5D decided to use What if questions when discussing indefinite pronouns.  They really started to inquire in ways that I had never experienced before.  We were looking at all singular and plural indefinite pronouns and one student asked, "What if we put an indefinite pronoun in front of a noun? Would it be like the demonstrative pronoun that would then function as an adjective?" It was then asked, "What if we put an indefinite pronoun in front of another indefinite pronoun like several others?"  I answered his question with a question, "Would they both function as a pronoun?" He then said, "One will remain a pronoun and one will function as an adjective."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Inquiry in the Classroom

So far, I have tried many different strategies for creating a higher level of inquiry among my students. Project based learning provided multiple opportunities for the students to routinely be engaged in the inquiry process.  I ran across some valuable information from Kathy G. Short from University of Arizona where she shares several years worth of research regarding "Inquiry as a stance on curriculum." She states, "Inquiry is not a particular teaching method, a refinement of project approaches or theme units but a stance that underlies our approach to living as learners, both within and outside of school." Inquiry occurs when the students can make connections to what they are learning and relate it to their own personal lives and experiences where they combine "uncertainty and invitation."  It was stated with uncertainty comes questions to explore and with invitation comes the courage to seek answers. It is the "why" and "what if" and can be a stance of being "off balance." Short explains, "A life of balance involves staying perfectly still in the same place- in that comfortable rut, and reaching out for answers occurs because there is a driving force that compels learners to move forward to pursue new insights and unities."  Project-based learning creates an opportunity for all students to take a guiding question that is written in such a way that gives them the "need-to-know" that they can explore and investigate as they construct their own understanding.

It made so much sense when Kathy Short shared how a teacher's approach is to create instruction based on how people should learn with the question of "How do I teach Inquiry?" In the beginning, this is the exact approach that I took when looking for ways to strengthen and develop inquiring minds.  During research I learned that I should take a different approach with the question, "How do I and others inquire?"  Inquiry is a natural process, and once it is explored as to how this occurs then we can approach the ways in which to involve the students in such a learning environment that foster this: planning lessons in which contain a conceptual framework (for relevance and to engage), questions are asked that lead to divergent thinking, you serve as a guide through the learning process, ask the "why" and "What is your evidence" questions, and formative assessment is ongoing.

Inquiry begins with the learners' own experiences and understandings and without any connection to what is being learned, the information is forgotten.  When I chose the topic of civil rights for project based learning, I knew that it needed to be part of the 5th grade curriculum that involved humanity.  This was a topic that they could all relate to and bring in some experience and prior knowledge.  But before beginning the project, we began with a discussion about fairness and what it meant to them.  In their own words, they wrote their ideas in their reflection journals and made an immediate connection to what it meant to be fair and how they had demonstrated this in their lives.  They also shared examples of times when they experienced situations that were unfair.  Kathy Short supported this approach by saying that sometimes we have to move beyond the topic for significant connections to be made by the learner.  She gave examples that involved students exploring experiences of moving place to place instead of jumping right in and covering immigration patterns around the world.  She further states how units of inquiry need to begin with a conceptual frame, not the topic, for the students to make a connection to their own lives.  Civil Rights would be the topic and the concept would involve freedom from unfair treatment.  The students' connection would involve their own personal freedoms and their own experience with fairness.  After exploring the topic of fairness,  I introduced the following guiding question: 

Guiding question:  What can I learn about past civil rights struggles to help solve the issues that still exist?

This actually began the inquiry process and had the students wondering about a current, relevant issue that they needed to explore for problem solving and could relate to from the stand point of fairness.  Because of my focus to incorporate the skills to improve the students' written and oral communication, it didn't affect the conceptual frame of inquiry regarding civil rights.  There was no focus of building knowledge (information in isolation) separate from the conceptual frame. This can easily happen with the teacher's need to cover instructional objectives and "get lost in information" within a project.   The focus always needs to remain on the "why" of the unit.  After much research and personal reflection, this is something that I definitely want to be more intentional about in the classroom. 

Using primary sources (authentic documents, images, videos, etc.)  allowed the students to analyze and provide their own interpretations for understanding different aspects of the civil rights movements as they formulated their own questions for further research.  These were recorded in their reflection journals where they learned about revising for specificity, clarity, and being open-ended for further research. The following are some of the original documents that the students analyzed:

original letters to President Truman to stop segregation of armed forces
original warrant for Rosa Park's arrest
Bus rules before/during the civil rights movement
Pictures of sit-ins, child labor, women marching for voting rights,
newspaper articles about children striking
original document for child labor laws

Videos (click here)  Primary Sources (click here)

After the students explored the civil rights involving child labor, disability, gender, and race, they decided on the specific area in which they wanted to focus their research. The students had to explore the past to problem solve for the future, but some went as far back to the beginning searching for the answer of WHY. For example, one collaborative group wanted to explore WHY there were slaves in the U.S. and began researching the history of slavery in America even though the videos presented to them were only from the civil rights movement.

KWL This is an important part of inquiry in project/problem based learning that I previously reflected on.  I am creating a link here for reference.

Investigation began when exploring different sources as they looked to answer their questions about their chosen topic.  They had to evaluate url's for reliability and websites for validity.  This involved being current and having an author with credentials.  Then they had to draw conclusions from the information that would answer their questions, and from their discoveries, they had to come up with a problem to solve that mattered to them, something worth investigating. In Kathy Short's research, she stated, "One of the most common understandings of inquiry is problem-solving with the vision of the students engaged in research on particular topics of interest related to the class focus." She further stated that teachers often plan projects around a focus deciding what the students will research, but these particular experiences of guided inquiry don't teach them how to find a problem to investigate.  When teachers pose problems for the students to solve, the students aren't asking questions about issues significant in their lives and as a result never fully experience inquiry.

Collaboration As stated in the research presented by Kathy Short, inquiry can come in different forms: personal inquiry (the student poses the problem), guided inquiry (the teacher poses the problem that the student solves), and collaborative inquiry (the student negotiates problem posing and solving within a group).  Collaborative inquiry involves "reaching beyond ourselves and our current understandings where we think together." Within a collaborative group, inquiry takes place in participation regardless of the level of proficiency that each member can contribute. 
Exploration of unknown words in context was required during the research process.   As the students encountered unfamiliar terms during research, they recorded them and included the definition.  They were supposed to do this each time they researched a new website to instill the habit of inquiry as they approached unknown words in context.

Forming a hypothesis about a possible solution to the problem was the next step which lead to further investigation to test the hypothesis or find answers and solutions to the question and/or problem. The investigation lead to the construction of new knowledge based on investigation findings. Reflections were made and more questions were formulated for further investigation. 

Reflections are written and expressed throughout project-based learning but is especially important at the end of an inquiry project. The students in my class wrote a reflection essay after gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and organizing their research. As stated from an article "Supporting Inquiry with Primary Sources" from the Library of Congress, "expression is essential for inquiry learning because when they demonstrate new understanding and share, they solidify their own learning." The following are some samples of 5th grade reflection essays on the research they did on solving the problem of civil rights issues that still exist:

After researching and problem solving their chosen topic,  the students organized their information as they used a technology presentation to share their findings.  During my observation, the students in the role as the audience were very active in questioning when the presenter's thoughts weren't fully developed or were missing important information in the presentation.  One group was questioned about the pros and cons not being the benefits and drawbacks, but instead were presented just as ideas of what they were going to do to achieve as an outcome.  Other questions were just asked out of curiosity where the students in the audience were seeking more information.  The students seemed so genuinely involved as they asked specific questions about the presentations.  I actually had to limit the questions to make time for other presentations that followed.   The following are some samples of the technology presentations on civil rights:


Changing Directions: How Can I Create A Higher Level of Inquiry Among My Students?

After doing a considerable amount of research on inquiry-based learning, I have decided that I need to revise my question about how to create a disposition of inquiry among my students to something that is more measurable.  Using thinking routines, project-based learning, and various other strategies has impacted my students, but I struggled with coming up with evidence other than the questions that the students formulated during their projects and the written reflections that the students recorded in their journals.  The work itself is evidence of inquiry, but can a disposition among 68 of my students actually be measured? 

After brainstorming, I decided to turn the focus on the ways in which I can create a higher level of inquiry in my classroom.  Whether or not my efforts are successful in developing a certain disposition, I know that with continuous routine, habits of the mind will develop and I will be able to measure the quality of students' questions, the extent of inquiry regarding the material that is covered, and reflections of thinking routines that stimulates curiosity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Exploring Civil Rights Using Primary Sources

After researching The Library of Congress, I discovered an article/tutorial, "Supporting Inquiry with Primary Sources."  It discussed how primary sources such as authentic images, documents, and diaries allow the learner to connect to the real world as opposed to using textbooks where interpretations of world issues are already given.  The article further stated, "Using primary sources empowers students to construct their own understanding, draw conclusions, create new knowledge, and share the knowledge with others."  I began to think about how project-based learning lends itself to the students having access to primary sources on the Internet.  Even though the students are responsible for finding an answer to a guiding question through research, they are also exposed to teacher-selected videos and documents that are relevant to furthering their inquiry and research. The students were asked to formulate questions based on what they were left wondering after analyzing documents, photos and videos of children, people of ethnicity, women, and the disabled being discriminated against, all of which involves a civil rights movement.