This the sixth post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer. Here are the links to post one (IBL and Learning), post two (In the Mess of Learning, what will stick?), post three (Questioning and Expertise in Inquiry-Based Learning), post four (Supporting Conversations), and post five (Gather and Analyze).
How can I help my students make sense of their evidence and data?
This is THE question.
To synthesize is to weave themes and ideas together to create a cohesive picture of line of thought (108).
The key to synthesizing, to be able to weave themes and ideas together, is the depth and breadth of knowledge we have. It’s unlikely that I will be able to see patterns or make connections if my knowledge on the topic is superficial.
Notice the number of sources the student in the cited examples has gathered.
(I love this chart and will definitely incorporate it in the inquiry process this year.)
In order to do the level of thinking that synthesis requires, students must 1) draw on their background knowledge and 2) conduct sufficient new research. And they need to engage in this process in an efficient manner. This means that students need to have fairly good fluency with most of the research steps. But if students struggle to read, to make meaning with the sources that they have found, then they will get bogged down at the very outset of the process. If it takes a student days to wade through an article then not only is there not enough time but even if and when more time is allocated, students can become discouraged and frustrated at their lack of progress. When teachers are designing the learning (deciding on the topic of the research etc. ) then there may be some opportunity to locate resources that better suit the students’ needs. However, since we believe that the inquiry process works best when students make their own choices, we ask students to find their own sources.
I need to identify those students who struggle to work through the early part of an inquiry (whole class articles for back ground knowledge building) and work with them regularly to strengthen their reading skills. Reading for meaning sheets and summarizing in their inquiry journals offer frequent opportunities for students to push their thinking.