How do you keep a year’s worth of inquiry visible?
As we make our way through our year long inquiry, I have been struggling a little with how we can track a year’s worth of learning and keep it present and visible.
I wrote here about the wonder wall, which has evolved over the years. This year, the wonder wall evolved into a project where the entire bulletin board evolved into an augmented reality (AR) target that triggered a video about our reflection. I used the living bulletin board for two reasons:
I didn’t want to spend the time creating an AR trigger related to each image
I didn’t think each learner’s process video would be that different than the others
This resulted in a final AR bulletin board that triggers a video of a class discussion about our process. I have yet to have parent feedback but I’m not surprised parents haven’t really checked it out yet. I’ll leave it up through parent-teacher-student conferences and encourage them to try it then.
But… I have been stressing about taking the wonder wall down because it is physically an AR target. Once it’s gone the trigger is gone. The goal has been to track our learning through a year-long inquiry into connection but I have been stumped as to how to track a year’s worth of work and keep it all visible in a room that has no walls (seriously… one wall is smart board and white board, one wall is windows, one wall is a curtain between my classroom and my teaching partner… which leaves one wall) Enter a digital solution! The solution for now is to print the photo graph which we can keep on our blog and catalogue via tags, post beside the bulletin board as an evolving wall, and, at the end of the year (maybe, maybe, I’m not sure on this one yet) print an AR capable photo album that links back to our learning reflections.
*the featured image on this site functions as an Aurasma target (although, as a technical glitch I have not entirely solved yet, I think you need to follow our channel to view it. We are at: tcevans)
I’m not sure what to call what I’m attempting… maybe “author study plus” where the “plus” means more authors and more subject areas? The following is a list of the books I plan to read aloud with my Grade 3s this year as we work to find our place and tell its story. It is far from exhaustive and the work of planning is in another document. It’s a bit hard to say at the beginning where exactly our work will end up because there is always an element student questioning to drive the learning, but in planning for inquiry, there is a great deal of laying ground work for student and teacher understanding. I am using the Designing Worthwhile Work template available through the Galileo Network and would be happy to share or collaborate if you leave a comment or message me.
I started planning after having read a couple of foundational books. Foundational in that they influenced my thinking around what I understand to be true. This summer, I am participating in a Twitter slow chat surrounding the calls for Truth and Reconciliation by reading “In This Together; Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation” and discussing using the #2k16reads hashtag. The book and the conversation have pushed my thinking in a new direction and there were several “aha” moments.
I don’t claim to have the answers but I am willing to demonstrate that I am a learner, too. I begin with this:
North is not always up.
Richard Louv‘s Last Child in the Woods introduced me to the idea of “affinity for place”, which fits with the concept of situated cognition, in which what we know is directly related to where and how we know. I’m going to come back to this idea when I discuss Bouchard’s If You’re Not From the Prairie (Si tu n’es pas de la prairie).
The slow chat question asked was: In what ways do the TRC’s Calls to Action provide a roadmap for teaching and learning? How will you bring the discussion of #2k16reads into the classroom?
It took a really long time to come up with an answer. For me, the first step is creating empathy, which often starts in books. Bibliotherapy is a powerful tool in helping students to understand the perspective of others. I have deliberately chosen books written by First Nations and Métis authors because I want the perspective to be honest and authentic and I think the reading of these books will take the whole year. I deliberately chose bilingual titles because I want student thinking to happen in both languages. Many of the books I chose are also written in a First Nations Language.
What is the role of language in shaping our identity?
What does language have to do with “quality of life”?
I discovered David Bouchard by accident. Wandering through the library, the book Long Powwow Nights was on the top of a shelf and, knowing the question I was working on, I picked it up to read later. Later, it took my breath away. Literally. Which lead me to explore Bouchard’s other work. This reminded me of the importance of letting a question sit, sometimes for an uncomfortably long time. Answers come sometimes by accident.
An author study of David Bouchard plus others will lead into the work we will do for the year related to Canada’s 150th. Students will find their connection to these stories and my hope is that it will give them an entry point for telling their story and the story of their connection to this land and all of its people.
The first book, Voices From the Wild might be the most accessible of the ones I chose in that the subject matter, animals, is familiar to primary students, so I think this is where the work will begin. Inquiry, art and writing in French and English, and I see it continuing culminating in a year-end project that will include an interactive book and art project.
The Secret of Your Name begins with a message that it should be read without interruption an preferably in a natural place. Students will explore the power of a name.
Our author study will be a bilingual exploration of literature related to place. The beauty of these books is in the way they evoke emotion related to place. Visual journaling and the use of all of our senses to experience place will be a tool in our exploration.
The following books still need some planning on my part:
Long Powwow Nights by David Bouchard and Pam Aleekuk will provoke students to make connections (text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world). Because it’s written as a poem, the meaning of it is not necessarily accessible on first reading and it will take a couple of reads with lots of patience to make inferences and connections. In addition, “See, Think, Wonder” would be a powerful inquiry approach to this book as the art and story are beautiful and complex. For me, Long Powwow Nights was the most beautiful of the books I read and one that literally took my breath away, but it might be one of the most difficult books at the same time because I think it requires a deep understanding of what it means to inhabit one’s culture.
The books by Tomson Highway contain beautiful art and tell the story of a family caring for one another and living their lives connected to their environment. I hope they will lead to a discussion about how environment contributes to our quality of life.
Shin-shi’s Canoe and Shi-shi-etko by Kim LaFave explore residential schools in a way that’s accessible for young learners without being too frightening or overwhelming. I think they will lend themselves well to a conversation about home and education and what contributes to a good quality of life when paired with the documentary film Sur le chemin de l’école.
Tant que couleront les rivières (As Long as the Rivers Flow) by Larry Loyie is a touching true story about a young boy in the forties sent to residential school.
Wilfred Burton, an educator I met while working in Regina, Saskatchewan, wrote these stories that explore the Métis perspective and introduce the importance of dance and music as a part of identity.
A beautiful picture book that explores the what and how of peace, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, will hopefully inspire a conversation about how we are better together.
How will we integrate technology?
I think that digital tools need to follow the learning. As I start to plan, I see the following being useful with lots of leeway for additions and subtractions. We will use:
Books, ebooks, audio books
I don’t know if I’ve done justice to my thought process here and there is still so much planning to do. This is just an overview as I start to plan and far from being a complete unit plan but it’s a starting point for me. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about this work; my intention is not to provoke a political conversation but to evoke empathy for myself and my students. There is enormous power in experiencing the story of others and in finding your connection to those stories.
I don’t know why the false idea that immersion students can’t engage in inquiry persists and, to be frank, I get frustrated when I hear it. Honestly, guys, it’s filtering through to our students. The impression that second language students are not able to fully express their ideas and to explore deep questions is not true. In my experience it is not true that students need to revert back to their first language to engage in inquiry and many of our immersion students speak a language other than English or French at home, so right off the bat we need to get over the idea that it is even possible for the classroom to revert “back” to students’ first language for inquiry.
So how do we as classroom teachers build the capacity of immersion learners to engage in true inquiry?
1. Build vocabulary
We do it when teaching literacy skills and we need to teach the language of inquiry as intentionally as we teach reading and writing. I have found that PWIM (or MIMI in French) is a powerful way to build subject-specific vocabulary. Make the language visible and refer to in often. Require that students use specific vocabulary and don’t accept a generic word where a specific word is needed. Demonstrate for students that language learners and inquirers are intentional seekers of information, including the right word for the situation.
2.Trust that there is translanguaging and interlanguaging
As much as we need to push students to learn new vocabulary we need to be aware that there will be some manner of translanguaging and interlanguaging as students build understanding of the language and of the inquiry topic. There is a fine balance between stopping a student’s rich expression of an inquiry topic to teach to correct grammatical structures. As immersion teachers we are keenly aware of this balance and keep it in mind; when are students translanguaging and when they are just not putting in the effort to use French?
3. Blend language arts with content areas
As immersion teachers, this is second nature. Building language skills goes hand-in-hand with building the skills for inquiry.
4. Engage students in Genius hour
When students have agency in their learning they have a purpose for undertaking the inquiry. Decide ahead of time what the non-negotiables are then allow students choice in their learning.
5. Stay in the second language!
Find resources in the target language and stay in the target language at all times; change your apps to French, change computer settings to French.
6. Be inspired by Vygotsky’s “more knowledgeable other”
Don’t be afraid to use buddies for fear that the buddies learn nothing as the big buddy. They can be modelling, improving language, opening and closing questions. Big buddies should come out of their learning with as much metacognitive growth as the little buddies. What do we know? How do we know that we know?
7. Provide more think time
Slow down. I have been trying to ask all students to reflect before anyone has a chance to share. I find this gives time for everyone to find an answer and for those with a quick answer the time to reflect on it and improve it. I ask students to give me a sign when they are ready to share; sometimes this means put up your hand, sometimes it’s just a nod, sometimes I tell the students I am a very good lip reader (I’d say I’m pretty average, actually 😉 and have them “say” without making a sound.
The authentic purpose for language is communication! Students MUST share their learning in order to give inquiry and language purpose! Blog, tweet, host a learning fair! Don’t let the best part of the learning stay in the classroom!
I would love to hear how others are supporting additional-language learners. I think ELL teachers and immersion teachers have a lot to teach each other in this area. I’m still looking for good resources, so if you have anything to share please let me know!
Inquiry is a way of approaching classroom learning not a box to check off in a long list of classroom “to do’s”. I think the quote is mine but I have done so much reading lately that I may well have appropriated it without realizing it. This post is a reflection on my year as we draw to a close, in which we imperfectly inquired and I learned as much as my students, although we learned decidedly different things.
(A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger, P214)
There is a false impression that when teachers engage students in inquiry all we are doing is a free for all, unplanned, lesson. This is not the truth; what I may have written in the day book is short hand for the deep planning we’ve already done. Planning for worthwhile tasks leads to a day book entry that just says “ask questions” but that doesn’t mean that there was not deep, careful planning before undertaking inquiry with students or careful scaffolding of the skills both the teacher and the students need. In inquiry-driven instruction the teacher must “be willing to give up control to allow for more questioning” (Berger, p6)
What if we brainstormed in questions instead of answers?
Berger quotes John Seeley Brown in that “‘what if…’ questions tend to free up the imagination because they allow you to see things other than as they currently are.” The following questioning process by Rothstein and Santana for K-12 classrooms (p65) proposes an interesting process for guiding questions towards those most worthy of spending real time investigating:
I have attempted to use the process with my students together with a guide for asking more interesting questions, which I originally learned of from @frank_ferrante:
Google “question chart” and you’ll find lots of tips on this, where the green questions are level 1, the red level 2, the blue level 3 and the purple level 4 (careful not to equate these with the 1, 2, 3, 4 on CBE’s current report card), but I’m still attempting to track down the original source. (For the record, can we state Pinterest makes it really hard to track down original sources?!)
We have been using the chart to help create questions but I have been finding that questions become a little forced that way as every student aims to ask a million dollar question. A better way to use it might be to ask authentic questions as they occur to students and then to sort them out into where they fall. Berger suggests having students work with their questions to boil them down to what it really being asked. Open the closed questions. Close the open questions. Sort them and group them until students determine what it is that is really worth the effort to pursue.
It has been interesting to watch my students become questioners and to watch them interact with one another’s questions. It has become common for students to state that they “think they know the answer to that question” and to back up how it is that they know it. The metacognitive piece has been an interesting bit to grow with students – and yes, they sure do know the word “metacognitive” and “distributed cognition” – will they remember it in a year’s time? I doubt it. But I hope the habit of questioning and of thinking about thinking sticks with them.
Berger suggests that questioning “why” without “what if” and “how” is just complaining and that to move toward actionable questions and research that questions move to “why, what if, how”. This has been a habit we have tried to develop especially in our science work lately to make for rich “maker challenges” in which students are really thinking about the why of their work.
“I’ll ask the question, a few of you will answer and we’ll pretend this is the same thing as learning.”
– Fischer and Frey, 2007
I have long been a fan of inquiry in the classroom but getting students to ask questions is not easy. The best part of learning occurs when we identify the gap between what is known and what we want to know. This is not territory that should be owned by the teacher.
I used to start with: what do you wonder? Then I moved to using a provocation like a short video, a story, or an article and then asking: what do you already know and what do you want to know.
Then the child has to be able to, somehow or other, realize that language is a tool for shifting stuff from that person to them
– Paul Harris
This lead to “the wonder wall” where students started with headings: what I think I know, what I want to know, what I have learned or verified, where I found my information, and ideas that turned out to be wrong. I still struggled with getting students to ask good questions. Moving beyond questions that can be answered yes or no or can be settled with a quick google search like a late night bar bet is a challenge.
Recently, I started using this template shared by @frank_ferrante with my students:
I struggled a little with translating the format into French but we made it work (look ‘ma… we learned the grammar of forming a question at the same time as provoking good questions! This was a rich place to start conversations about what a verb is, why it changes spelling, what is a subject, and how a question is formed. This is how we use language for authentic purpose.)
We used see, think, wonder to guide our inquiry (observer, réfléchir, se poser des questions). We started with a short provocation of looking for any information we could find about topics related to Tunisia (food, buildings, celebrations) and connected to what we knew about Calgary and the two countries we have already studied: Peru and India. Then we started asking questions. The book On the Way To School and the film by the same name provided powerful inspiration for asking questions.
The ground rules were:
1. Every question is a valid question
2. Listen to the question that comes before you speak and try to build it out so that it opens up
3. Aim for purple questions
The conversation was interesting to watch unfold as they pushed questions open by including more of what they already knew. An example of a question that grew(I have translated here but the conversation took place entirely in French):
“What do houses look like in Tunisia?”
“Why do houses in Tunisia look different than the houses in Calgary?”
“Why do they use the building materials they use?”
“How might the building materials they use depend on the environment in Tunisia?”
Of course the formula doesn’t work in every situation. Consider the question: What is truth? It falls into the yellow category, which might be considered a less interesting question but it is a deep question. The formula is just a starting place to get students moving beyond “googleable knowledge”.
Coming to deep questions is a long process but I really think the resulting learning is so much deeper and as students use questions to collaborate on a shared work product they will have the opportunity to learn from one another.
I’m currently working my way through this book and looking forward to asking better questions myself and to helping students ask better questions.