Category Archives: Teaching

Synthesize, Evaluate, and Draw Conclusions

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).

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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.

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(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.

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Gather and Analyze

This the fifth 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), and post four (Supporting Conversations).

What I appreciate about IQ: A Practical Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning’s Chapter 5 “Gather and Analyze” is the strong focus on teaching students how to find and evaluate sources. Too many teachers ask students to “research” without teaching them how to find appropriate sources online. Not only is so much time wasted as students aimlessly wander the web, but the struggle they encounter to locate sources leaves them feeling frustrated and incompetent. This is not the productive struggle that cognitive psychologists claim we need to engage in during the learning process.

To help students get the most bang for their buck, I will use the lesson activity from the ENG4C elearning course, which can be accessed in the Ontario Education Resource Bank (OERB).  The first 13 pages of this lesson is a modified version of that elearning lesson. Here students are introduced to or reacquainted with Google’s advanced search features. For many students, this is their first encounter with tools like the key word search, and it blows their minds!

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  CTRL-F

What I find lacking in this chapter (and thus, in the book) is the inclusion of the note making process. While note making may not be a significant part of young learners’ research process, certainly it must be for older students as the ideas, questions, and sources being explored become more complex.

Students first learn to unpack the sources they discover by asking questions of the text, locating the pertinent information in the text that provides evidence that supports their claim (inquiry question), and ultimately deciding if that source is sufficient, current, accurate, relevant, and suitable (SCARS).

Students make notes by collecting the relevant evidence (facts, statistics, expert opinion, analogies) and noting their thinking about the evidence. Initially, this step is tough for students. I am asking them to not only find evidence that supports their claim, but to also think about how it does. By including their ideas in their notes, they are constructing new knowledge. They are building connections and relationships between the ideas of the various sources and their own thinking. Typically, there is a wide disparity between a student’s first research note and her last note, and not just because better sources are discovered. Since the thinking in each note builds on itself, the first note will generally include little evidence of student thinking (mostly superficial connections) while the latter notes will reflect more sophisticated and significant thinking. Note making also supports many effective learning strategies like summarizing (Marzano) and paraphrasing.

Here are the steps in my research process (pre-writing):

Here is one student’s process:

Here is one student’s note:

Here are the criteria for the note:

Research Note Evaluation Checklist                 

  • Bibliographic Citation information
  • Thesis/Lead of the article—identified
  • Headings
  • Key Words/Phrases
  • Your ideas—identified in some way (ALL CAPS, italics, colour, etc.)
  • Quotations—identified by “  “
  • Paraphrase—identified by (paraphrase)
  • Audience
  • Purpose
  • Summary  

Here is one student’s mid-term reflection:

When it comes down to researching and creating research notes, annotating, increasing vocabulary to understand harder texts, and learning about media portrayal, I have to say this is the biggest learning process I’ll ever go through. I have to say it is fun and hard, and in going through it I have learned about so many things: purpose questions, styles of text, elements of text/posts, learning new words and phrases. Furthermore, the process gives me more knowledge to use for when I head off for college.

You can see the intersection between my process and that of Watt and Colyer’s. Where they use Reproducible 15 “Assessing my point of view”, my students will use the KWL(revised) ,organizer. Where they use SOURCE (Source, Objective, Usefulness, Reliability, Context, and Evidence) as their method of evaluating websites, my students will use SCARS (Sufficient, Current, Accurate, Relevant, Suitable).

I’d love to hear your thoughts about note making. Do you teach note making explicitly for the research process? If so, how?

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Supporting Conversations

This the fourth 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?), and post three (Questioning and Expertise in Inquiry-Based Learning).

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Chapter 4 of IQ: A Practical Guide to Inquiry Based Learning focuses on improving students’ communication skills. I love this chapter because it dovetails so well with the ideas (Harnessing the Power of Talk) presented at the Adolescent Literacy Symposium (#LiteracyON) last month. Like all good professional learning, the Symposium provided layers of learning: participants as learners, participants as teachers, participants as facilitators. One of the threads connecting all the layers was the use of protocols.

Learning conversations do not just happen on their own when groups of people get together to “discuss,” but instead are a result of intentional, systematic planning of the learning opportunity. … Protocols are structured sets of guidelines to promote effective and efficient communication and problem solving (The Learning Conversations Protocol).

Watt and Colyer mention protocols (page 68) as a means of supporting student conversations. Below I have listed some resources where you can access various protocols that may be appropriate to support your students’ conversations.

For example, one protocol that I might use in introducing inquiry vocabulary is List, Sort/Group, Label. Before I give students the list of words and definitions (Reproducible 9), I would give just the words (LIST) to small groups of 3 or 4 students with the instructions that they SORT or GROUP the words into the four categories. Sometimes I’ll give students the categories, sometimes students need to generate their own categories. Finally, students need to explain to the class how they sorted the words. Often I will end this activity with a Gallery Walk so that students can see the variations in the sorting and we can together sort through misconceptions and misunderstandings.

But there are TONS of protocols available AND of course, you can always create your own.

For instance, I am thinking that before I assign a journal prompt to students (LOVE the inquiry journal idea–BUT should it be paper or digital or choice? Thoughts?), I might have students talk through a prompt together. To do this, I currently use the Reading for Meaning Statement sheet, in which students are given a statement and they have to decide whether the text agrees or disagrees with it, and, in the space provided, share quoted, textual evidence to support their agreement or disagreement. Thinking through what the text is saying and providing support for their thinking together gives students confidence in tackling individual thinking tasks like the inquiry journal prompt writing demands.

But there are caveats. It’s important to consider Katz and Dack’s cautionary note because simply using a protocol is not sufficient.

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 7.54.44 AMThe Learning Protocol

Resources

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Photo by TerryJohnston

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Questioning and Expertise in Inquiry-Based Learning

This the third 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) and post two (In the Mess of Learning, what will stick?).

 

Nurturing curiosity in all our learners can be a challenge, especially when we detect a high level of reluctance or “disengagement.” Students, as well as teachers, may need to “unlearn” previous habits such as memorizing content as the goal of learning or viewing the teacher as the keeper of “the truth” (page 38).

Except there are times when it is appropriate to memorize content and when the teacher is the expert in the room.

When I theorize about something I don’t know a lot about, I start by making connections to what I do know. I use my existing knowledge to help my build new knowledge. My curiosity might be naturally aroused but if I can’t ‘see’ a connection or pattern or an experience to this new thing, I likely won’t stick with it. I think that my curiosity deepens when I begin to care about the new thing (object, idea, skill, etc.). Of course, (and I do mean this) there are times when I need to learn to do things or to memorize information that I don’t (yet) care about. I can’t understand that I need to care about these things. If I can learn to self-regulate when I am young, I will have better relationships and more opportunities presented to me in the future. But when I am young, I likely won’t understand that. If I can learn math facts so that they are available to me easily, then I will be able to tackle more complex problems with more speed and efficiency. But while I am memorizing them I may not yet get that point.

When we don’t know what we don’t know, where do we start?

The teacher should certainly adopt a co-learning stance with students, but we should never forget that we ARE the experts in the room. If a student decides to explore the government’s relectucance to establish an inquiry for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, I clearly am not the expert for this content. But I must be the expert in “the discipline and know how to pose intellectually engaging [questions] that will keep the learning moving forward” (page 45).

In terms of learning how to create questions, Watt and Colyer, illustrate how teachers need to teach students how to ask “both discipline-based inquiry questions that develop disciplinary thinking and analytical questions that develoop reasoning and self-reflective thinking” (page 38). I love this because it dove-tails nicely with disciplinary literacies generally (read like a historian, scientist, or mathematician).

This chapter shines a light on the necessity for teachers to be experts in both the inquiry process (formulating questions, gathering and analyzing sources, synthesizing, evaluating, and drawing and sharing conclusions) as well as in their subject areas (essential skills, core concepts and supportive content). I appreciate the list of ‘check-in’ questions (page 55-56) because speaking with students, in both formal and informal conferences, is the work (the teaching-learning process).

I like this series of guiding questions, too.

Figure 18: Analytical questions based on the eight elements of thought

Source: Paul, Richard, and Elder, Linda. The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential Questions. Foundation for Critical Thinking (2010)

They connect to the learning to be a learner question frames that I use with students.

By Maureen Devlin

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In the mess of learning, what will stick?

This the second post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer.

Here is a blog post where I focus on the assessment process I use in one of my courses. It reveals how to use a rubric to capture the messiness of the project. There is often lots of choice in IBL which can leave you feeling like things are out of control. Not all students have done the same tasks, and even when they have done the same tasks, they may not cull the same activities to represent their learning as other students. Learning how to design an assessment workflow is key to the success of IBL, in my opinion.

One of the areas I’d like to improve in is making feedback “stick” better.

Wiliam asserts that if we can “Make feedback into “detective work”—make the students do intellectual work in responding to the feedback” then feedback will stick.

One way of making sure that students actively use feedback is to make responding to the feedback a task in itself. In other words, make feedback into detective work. In a previous article in Educational Leadership (Wiliam, 2012), I mentioned Charlotte Kerrigan, a language arts teacher who sometimes responds to her students’ essays by writing her comments on strips of paper. She then gives each group of four students their four essays, along with the four strips of paper. The group’s task is to figure out which comments apply to which essays.

Or consider a math teacher who provides feedback on 20 solved equations. Rather than telling the student which equations are incorrect, the teacher can instead say, “Five of these are incorrect. Find them and fix them.”

The same basic principle can be applied to any school subject. For example, in social studies, if a student has included the Emancipation Proclamation as one of the causes of the U.S. Civil War, instead of telling the student that the Proclamation was issued in the second year of the war, the teacher could point out that one of the causes he has mentioned can’t be a cause because it occurred after the start of the war, and ask the student to sort this out.

Such practices ensure that students, the recipients of feedback, do as much work as the teacher who provides the feedback. Making feedback into detective work encourages students to look at the feedback more closely and to think about their original work more analytically. (Wiliam, Educational Leadership, 2016)

I can work on designing detective work opportunities during the conversations and observations of the inquiry process. For example, during the research note-making process, I could say to a student, “This note is almost completed properly. There are three criteria missing. Find out what they are and add them to the note.”

I think that I can generate some canned responses based on my prior experience. I bet you can too. Here is a collaborative document where we can list possible detective work practices.

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IBL and learning.

I have been using an inquiry-based learning (IBL) approach for the past four years in various courses. Each inquiry has looked a little different as I learned how to design, roll-out, and support it. But there has been one constant in all of them. Many students are not engaged in the process, which in turn, does not lead “to increases in critical thinking, the ability to undertake independent inquiry and responsibility for [their] own learning, intellectual growth, and maturity” (page 8).

The question must be asked then, should I persist in using IBL?

This book study will provide me with the opportunity to think deeply about learning, IBL, and my practice.

Here it goes…

Inquiry-based learning is a pedagogy. As the authors state, “Inquiry-based learning is a process used to solve problems, create new knowledge, resolve doubts, and find the truth” (3).  Before I dive into thinking about this pedagogy, I want to think more about what learning is.

I don’t think that this is a crazy idea. I don’t think that because we are teachers, we automatically have a clear idea of what learning is. And I don’t think that we should be embarrassed about this. I do think that now is the time to wrestle with what researchers in various fields are discovering about learning so that we can evaluate any pedagogical moves through that lens. In other words, given my context, what do I believe learning is and how can I best support my students so that they do learn? Where does IBL fit into the learning process?

What is learning?

Learn (noun)– the characteristics or parts of what it is to learn

“Learning is an increase, brought about by experience, in the capacities of an organism to react in valued ways in response to stimuli” (Black & Wiliam, 2009 p. 10).

“Learning is a relatively permanent change in a behavioral potentiality that occurs as a result of reinforced practice” (Hilgard & Marquis’s Conditioning and Learning, 1961).

Learning is a multidimensional process that results in a relatively enduring change in a person or persons, and consequently how that person or persons will perceive the world and reciprocally respond to its affordances physically, psychologically, and socially.” (Alexander, Schallert & Reynolds, 2009).

“Learning, which in the Behaviorist era was defined as a change in behavior, should now have been defined as a positive change in long-term memory.” (Tobias and Duffy, page 131).

Learning is tripartite: it involves retention, transfer, and change. It must be durable (it should last), flexible (it should be applicable in new and different contexts) and liminal (it stands at the threshold of knowing and not knowing). (David Didau)

Learn (verb) — the process of acquiring new capabilities

“A process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of experience and increases the potential of improved performance and future learning.”

From How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Susan Ambrose, et al.

“Learning is a broad term that includes any gaining of new knowledge or skill. We learn through experience, practice, study, and other means” (Watt and Colyer, page 3)

In his book, Why Don’t Students Like School, Daniel Willingham says this about learning.

For material to be learned (that is, to end up in long-term memory), it must reside for some period in working memory-that is, a student must pay attention to it. Further, how the student thinks of the experience completely determines what will end up in long-term memory. (page 49)

And he says this about discovery learning.

In discovery learning, students learn by exploring objects, discussing problems with classmates, designing experiments, or any of a number of other techniques that use student inquiry rather than have the teacher tell students things. Indeed, the teacher ideally serves more as a resource than as the director of the class. Discovery learning has much to recommend it, especially when it comes to the level of student engagement. If students have a strong voice in deciding which problems they want to work on, they will likely be engaged in the problems they select, and will likely think deeply about the material, with attendant benefits. An important downside, however, is that what students will think about is less predictable. If students are left to explore ideas on their own, they may well explore mental paths that are not profitable. If memory is the residue of thought, then students will remember incorrect “discoveries” as much as they will remember the correct ones. (page 63)

Learning theories:

Image shows four perspectives on learning based on theoretical principles. Instructional methods associated with each, adjacent to respective quadrant. Orange quadrants represent a student-focused learning approach, blue instructor-focused. By Debbie Morrison @ Online Learning Insights

 

Watt and Coyler tell us that IBL is influenced by constructivism (page 4), and they also acknowledge that IBL is only one pedagogy amongst many that we decide to use based on our knowledge of how our students learn. This point is important, and it is why I have begun the book study by thinking about what learning means.

I believe that novice learners (regardless of age or grade) need more “traditional” learning processes; that is, instructor-focused practices. In behaviorism, for example,  “a teacher creates an environment and stimuli (such as lectures and presentations) that produce desired behavior, learning is thought to happen as a response to that stimuli. This response is further reinforced when the consequence is positive and pleasant. Successful learning is thought to occur when the learning process starts from the student’s initial knowledge and then increased gradually. In order for students to master the information, the teacher often provides practice, drill and review activities.” (Wongyauhsiung)

Or  “in cognitivism, learners acquire information, processing and organizing it into their cognitive structures (schema).  Information is processed through the sensory registers and goes into the short-term and then long-term memory. The teacher organizes the information in such a way that the learner can assimilate it. The concepts and skills must be shown in a logical sequence and go from simple to complex. The main points must be emphasized and the differences and similarities among concepts should be pointed out. The content must show relation and continuation from chapter to chapter.” (Wongyauhsiung)

More advanced learners need “progressive” learning processes that are, experiential, inquiry-based or student-focused learning. For example, in constructivism, or active learning, “if the materials are useful and beneficial to [students], they will be likely to master [the learning].  Students should actively understand the learning materials rather than passively absorb and memorize it. The students should be able to construct their own understanding and build on what they already know. They make connections between new information and old information.” (Wongyauhsiung)

Who are the learners in my classes? Are they novice or advanced learners? How prepared are they for IBL?

I am not just thinking about the content (new and prior knowledge) that students need to have in order to achieve positive learning outcomes as John Hattie speaks of below.

I am thinking about the “when” of IBL in terms of Watt and Colyer’s Reproducible #1 How to Model and Assess Inquiry Dispositions. I think that teachers might believe that the dispositions would be an outcome of the IBL process, rather than necessary at the outset.

So, some questions that I am currently thinking about are

  1. Do students arrive in grade 9 with the dispositions required for IBL? Some? Most? None?
  2. Does it make sense to teach (direct instruction) to the dispositions in grade 9 and 10 to prepare them for IBL as senior students?
  3. Does it make sense to focus on the inquiry process in stages (to teach to particular stages) over grades 9 and 10 so that students truly learn them and are able to use them independently in senior courses?

References:

Willingham, D. (2017).  “On the Definition of Learning”.

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CDNcraft: A View from the Classroom

Part 1 in this series was originally posted at cdncraft.com and it described one way of incorporating global projects into existing curriculum. What it doesn’t do is talk about the why. Why do teachers decide to join global projects? What compels them?

students of all ages need in order to succeed in an economy that is marked by ever-more-rapid change, both structural and technological. These “global competencies” build on solid foundations in literacy and numeracy.

what if rather than what’s wrong

collaboration……exchange of ideas…..to build knowledge

Recognize the value of traditional instructional approaches when they are well done

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