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!

The Deskless Classroom

Next school year I am planning something a little different to greet my students: in the past I have taken pride in a Pinterest Perfect Classroom but this year my students will be in charge from the outset. I’m planning to start with design thinking from the beginning. With the support of my admin, I’m hoping to open the doors with a bare bones classroom and have students design it to meet our learning needs.

We will spend day one designing our space. I will have furniture ready to move in and the fine details will be put on with the help of students. I feel like this will set the tone for our learning space.

I have spent some time planning and of course I have a few ideas…

My master class this term is about designing technology-supported learning environments and I have done some reading in The Third Teacher. As I had a few hours on layovers on my way to and from ISTE, I have done a lot of thinking about how physical environment can support learning.

I have long toyed with the idea of a deskless classroom, but it’s funny… When you google this term, mostly what shows up are images of classrooms full of tables. But that’s not what I mean. Going “deskless” is not just about the absence of desks, it is about what replaces it. Our classroom will favour collaboration not just group work. I want a classroom that feels completely different so that my students know from the outset this space is meant for fully engaged learning.

Step 1: Ditch the teacher desk. 

I still need space for my stuff, but that’s going in a closet now. My admin has provided every classroom with a u-shaped table. This will serve as space to meet with the teacher and will be my “home base”.

Step 2: The Genius Bar

The Genius Bar is a large lab desk I picked up last year and painted with whiteboard paint. Students use it as a stand-up learning space and I like the collaborative nature of it. Because students can write directly on it I find that it leads to risk-taking in learning that students might not take on paper. Write and erase becomes easier. While it’s not perfect, I’m hoping a fresh coat of paint or a plexiglass sheet on the top will make it even better.

Step 3: The Collaboration Cafe

I plan on bringing a coffee table and a couple of sofas into the classroom. This space will have a homey feel and lighting that students can control. Honestly, when I work at home I rarely sit at a desk anymore. Even this blog post was composed on an iPad while sitting in a café while my kids were at day camp. All the tools I need are at my fingertips on the iPad; dictionaries, Internet, word processing, images.

Step 4: The Studio

I have long wanted a studio, so I’m going ahead and putting one in the closet. This will be a semi-quiet space where students can record audio and video evidence of their learning for their portfolios, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts. I’m hoping to host a weekly news show from our classroom. We’ll see if this idea gets off the ground…

Step 5: The Stage

I have my admin’s blessing to bring a set of risers into the classroom, which I’m hoping to use as a meeting place and a stage. I think especially in immersion classrooms that students need the opportunity to speak. I’m hoping to integrate the stage with the puppet theatre and studio and to turn our classroom into a production studio.

Step 6: The Dojo

In our classroom, there will be tables that take up most of our learning space. This will be the dojo where I expect there to be 4-5 lessons going on at the same time. Students will be in charge of the learning in these spaces like in a dojo where there are several different lessons with several levels of practice going on at the same time.

Step 6: The Offices

Even in a collaborative space, I think teachers need to respect the need for some students to find some alone time and space. I want there to be a couple of quiet corners.

Step 7: The Walls

The wonder wall will continue again this year and I plan to make the walls more interactive by using QR codes and augmented reality targets. But for that matter, I hope to flatten the classroom and make the wall disappear by inviting Skype experts and using international projects like The Snail and The Whale.

I’m excited about putting together something new this year and am feeling open about designing the space and the learning activities together with my students.

Looking forward to posting images as our space comes together and looking for peer feedback. Anybody have tips or tricks for me?

Edited to add:

I wrote more about my experience with the deskless classroom here and here.

Genius Hour

Genius hour has been around for a long time and it’s a project that has had several different iterations in my classroom over the past few years. This year I would say has been one of the most successful for me.

I introduced it by reading a couple of picture books, which I think work well at every level. The first, one of my latest favourites, Rosie Revere, Engineer, is about a girl inventor who’s inventions turn out to be a “fabulous flop”, but she doesn’t let failure intimidate her.


The other, What do You do With an Idea?, was shared with me by my Assistant Principal @shafinad about a child who has an idea that keeps niggling at her until she pays it some attention.

We read the books together and talked about how genius hour might be an extension of the inquiry work we had already undertaken as a part of the BP Energy project we had undertaken as a school.

Every student, in consultation with the teacher, wrote an inquiry question that would guide their work. We were clear at the start that this might be a research project or it might be a different way for them to demonstrate energy and natural connections to empowering learning.

As a class, we brainstormed a rubric that could be common to all projects. Because I couldn’t guarantee that all projects would fit into the science curriculum, I was more comfortable pulling objectives from the language arts curriculum and in integrating some work from the new ministerial order.

Students were given one hour per week, which has quickly become their favourite hour! Many have chosen to work in Google Slides and to share their work with me online. An unexpected benefit to this was that students are able to see each other’s work in the shared folder and have jumped into providing each other with positive feedback and edits. A little surprising to me is that we have not had a single incidence of students vandalizing other students’ work, which tells me that we did a good job at the outset of the year talking about digital citizenship.

Other interesting projects include a student practicing a violin solo, a representation of our school in Minecraft, a stop-motion book trailer, and a tri-fold poster.

Many students are inspired by other projects they have seen and are excited to take it on again next year. I have not had students balk at having to go back over their project and edit or revise and some students. Who were initially reluctant to engage have taken on interesting projects like Chemistry in the Kitchen, which I personally cannot wait to see!

Looking forward to sharing links when we have some completed projects to share!

Permaculture/ Community Garden Project: part 2

I really had a lot of fun teaching today and just want to reflect on the successes we had in the classroom today.

My teaching partner organized a guest speaker today who is the grand-parent of one of our students. He put a lot of time into organizing our guest for the day and preparing the links to King George’s community garden/ ecology project.

We started off our inquiry by asking a question: what do bees contribute to our ecology?

As soon as students entered the room there was a different energy as they noticed that many artifacts had already been set up around the room. Our guest speaker was a francophone, so it was interesting for students to hear another new accent and learn lots of vocabulary.

While Burt presented, Robert and I took notes in a way that students are accustomed to seeing: on chart paper.

After the presentation, students had the opportunity to explore the artifacts and taste fresh honey.

They took a short break for recess and were then ready to organize their ideas. We began with an open reflection in their visual journals where students were invited to reflect through images and words about what they remembered or most enjoyed.

After the initial reflection, we gathered students to reflect together and to organize notes into 4 student-chosen categories. They colour-coded their notes and organized them into a concept web, which they will use in the following days to write a well-organized essay.

Part of the purpose of this modeling is to guide students in their genius hour work. While we had only planned on an hour for the presentation and reflection, the lesson actually extended all morning and unfolded rather organically. It was so much fun to play off of each other’s strengths and to build a lesson that was so rich for our students.