Yes, Actually, We Can; Inquiry in Immersion

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.

8. Share! 

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!

A More Beautiful Question

(A follow up post to The Wonder Wall 2.0)

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.

Kandinsky: Artist Study

  
Sometimes you run across a book that could easily be extended a million ways but there just isn’t enough time to take it as far as you’d like. This post is a fairly quick share because this lesson is already getting cold in our memories of Grade Three.

  
We used this template to observe Kandinsky’s work and then students were each asked to create their own work of art that represented a feeling and included math.

We read The Noisy Paintbox on the recommendation of a friend and colleague @fiteach. The students really enjoyed the juicy vocabulary and were drawn in to the specific vocabulary used to describe sound. The book includes a short biography of Wassily Kandinsky and they were delighted to learn that he had synesthesia, where senses cross and Kandinsky heard colours.

We extended it to include colour poetry. The book Green by Laura Vaucon Seeger was good inspiration for using specific vocabulary to describe colour. Students are working hard to include all their senses in writing to evoke an emotion in their reader. 

I’d like to note how proud I am that my students know the difference between fiction and non-fiction and they readily discussed how Kandinky’s Noisy Paintbox, historical fiction, married elements of both.

Drama as math provocation

This week my students are putting the finishing touches on scripts they’ll be using to create short films to present a math problem to visiting schools. The plan is for the viewer to watch the film, determine a problem, and solve it using math.

This, my friends, is no small undertaking. I’m nervous but that’s usually a sign that my students are on to something big!

Looking forward to sharing more soon!

Mini Author Study: Jon Scieszka

Students are working on narrative writing this month, so it has been useful to take a look at examples of good writing.

Students got to fall in love with the work Jon Scieszka and have loved discovering his MANY other books. One of the things I love about Jon Scieszka is that his work is accessible on many levels. He has published easy readers, picture books, short novels and long novels. Kids who love his work can find something explore independently and find something that they can read on their own.

How does the author’s voice change the story?


What happens after a story “ends”?


How can perspective change the story?

Students worked on connecting these stories to stories they already knew. There can be many versions of stories we already know.

What strategies do you use when you don’t understand? How do writers use other languages in their writing?


Henry Baloney is full of words from other languages that readers have to sound out. This lead to an important conversation about context. We can not know what a word means and still make sense of what we read.

How do authors create a unique voice for each character?


Laugh-out-loud funny, Cowboy and Octopus helped students to see “voice” as both Cowboy and Octopus have a unique and consistent voice. In addition, students saw that grammar matters. There is lots of interesting punctuation for those that are ready for it: quotation marks, question marks, ellipses…

What is the difference between editing and revising?


As students are working on their own narrative fiction, this was an interesting read. Students got to see that a few small revisions can make a big difference in the stories we tell.

 

How can your knowledge about the real world be used in writing fiction?

We read Me Oh Maya as an audio book and as students listened they created a graphic novel version. We talked about the conventions of graphic novels and how stories are told visually. We drew up a short rubric for our work. This was a relaxed way to listen to the story and to create personalized representations. This year, my students are over the moon about Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi (if you are not already familiar with the series you seriously need to go check it out) and are practically climbing over one another to read the series. They are already familiar examples graphic novels and it was easy to draw out a list of guidelines that we use to build a rubric.


I’ll post some rubrics when I get a chance!

Wordless Books for Inferring

  
We used this book today in ELA to talk about making inferences. It’s a beautiful book packed with rich illustrations that often had students gasping. They inferred using, “I see __________, I know _________, I can infer __________.” It was an interesting exercise to have students slow down and think about why their brains had leaped ahead to making inferences.

Make the walls talk

   

This “little” project actually took a lot of time to put together and the end result is the culmination of a great deal of student effort.

The final project brings together a unit’s worth of study in science and art. We started building French vocabulary in September with a science PWIM. This really is one of my favourite ways, especially in immersion, to help students build subject-specific vocabulary. It gives them a purpose for learning new vocabulary and provides an entry point for every child.

Through out the unit we referred back to our board.

I chose Abby Diamond as an artist study simply because she is an artist whose work I admire and whose techniques work on many levels. Her work appears simple but is actually technically difficult.

The art portion of our work started with two-minute sketches where each student was invited to look for the shapes within an animal photograph and to spend only two minutes sketching it. This work was personal. I told students that they would not be required to share with anyone. While I believe that feedback makes work better, I also believe that it’s important to have time to create without the pressure of sharing that work. Sometimes we need the freedom to just create for ourselves. The work pictured below is shared with student permission. 

    

   
   
After two-minute sketches, we did a five minute sketch of one animal followed by a viewing of Austin’s Butterfly and a discussion about how to provide specific, actionable feedback in the form of two stars and a wish.

   
   
Students created two drafts of the same animal. We spent a great deal of time with CPAWS and at Bow Habitat station discussing animal needs, where our chosen animal might fall on the endangered list and how we might help improve the security of our chosen animal.

  
Students then engaged in further study of Abby Diamond’s use of colour and colour theory and and watercolour techniques and, after creating multiple drafts of their drawings, they painted. The paintings were finally inked.
    

   
 After inking, students reflected on their work and recorded a video in the studio. On a personal note, the studio is a work in progress in my classroom. I think this is an excellent way to get students talking and creating in a second language but there is always a balance between the need for teacher supervision and the need for students to record in a quiet place. We have a pop-up studio that is simply a trifold where students post the materials they need to record.

  

In as much as possible, this work is managed by students. They do the final recording, write the final script and help each other with negotiation of meaning in the second language. I have been enormously impressed with student willingness to create multiple drafts. They watch themselves on video and resize they have missed information or want to improve pronunciation or fluidity and they have another go.

For the purposes of this project, I took the video off the iPad and put video together with image using the desktop computer for the sake of time. The process took me about an hour to upload.

The final product is a bulletin board that is scannable. Using a school iPad, students can scan the art work in the hallway and start a video, extending the learning beyond our four walls.

My goal is to have students create individual tags that will be laid over the art to create feedback loops for learners who will be able to scan and hear the feedback from their peers.

Lessons from this project: students ended up filming one another with screen rotation locked so all of our videos ended up being upside down and had to be fixed in post production. The technical aspects of video production need to serve the learning outcomes and I’m certain this is an aspect students will now check before filming! Thanks to @boyerclay and @mrsmaley for coming to our rescue on Twitter when I couldn’t resolve it on my own 😉 My PLN totally rocks!