End of the Week Reflections

This is my last post on 52 Weeks of Guided Inquiry.  I hope that it has been of some use to others.  It has been fun to think/write about GID in this way and I’m looking forward to writing my final post.  This post will be most like much of the writing I do on my own blog in that, as I write the opening to this post, I have a vague idea of where it will head, but blog reflections, to me, are more about working out my own thinking on a topic than anything else, so I don’t really know where I will end.  I plan to move over to my own blog after this and follow up on a thread that Leslie and I touched on via Twitter this week on student thinking.  That idea has been resonating with me and I’m looking forward to exploring it further.

But, the meat of today’s post is around connections with GID from other places.  I touched on the power of protocols within GID and I will explore that a bit more fully here.  I also have done some research on making (i.e., the maker movement or makerspaces) and it’s relation to inquiry and I will introduce some of that here.  I also look forward to introducing some challenges that I have had in using GID and hope that others can help me work through them.

Protocols and Routines

I have recently become exposed to the idea of using more regimented routines within my teaching to make certain kinds of thinking more visible or to focus students on a particular type of thinking.  At first, I found these protocols to be artificial and overly restrictive as they typically focus thinking by restricting thinking in other areas.  Over time, I realized that these structures are ultimately freeing and powerful.  A simple example might be the popular Chalk Talk.  This protocol/routine gets students to respond to a question written on a whiteboard, chalkboard (if you still have one!), or chart paper.  The students are only allowed to write their response.  No discussion is allowed.  The last time I used this, I divided the students into 3 groups to respond to 3 questions and I set a timer for the amount of time that they had on each question.  The result is that the discussion occurs in a more visual manner with written statements being agreed to, connected to other ideas, or contradicted on the paper through the use of words, images, stars or checks (for agreement) and arrows.  The discussion is powerful and recorded so that it can be reviewed later.

There are many protocols that are good for exploring new ideas.  The Affinity Protocol mentioned in my last post allowed students to explore very broad questions.  In that particular experience, we had students answer our broad question, “What does it mean to be human?” post-it notes.  They had to come up with ideas of what attributes humans have that distinguish them from other species.  They did this individually and silently.  They then took those notes and stuck them on a piece of chart paper and spent the next block of time sorting the notes, without speaking, in small groups into categories.  It wasn’t until the sorting was done that they were allowed to speak to each other in order to come up with titles for their categories.  Again, we restricted some forms of thinking and communicating in order to get the students to focus their thinking in a particular way.  When the students presented their charts to each other, the explanation of what human attributes are and how they are organized allowed another view on the thinking and opened up all sorts of questions around a purposefully huge topic.

Tuning protocols are also popular methods for people to get feedback on their work.  Toward the end of the Create phase, I see an opportunity for students to present their work to each other within a structured routine to get feedback.  Without going into the specifics of this particular protocol, the routine focuses the feedback around a particular question that the presenter has about their work and structures the conversation around that work to be positive, focused and highly effective for the person presenting their work for critique.

The protocols that I’m most familiar with are from the National School Reform Faculty.  They have a 5-day certification program that is well worth the time and expense.  Like GID, the NSRF protocols are most effective when understood thoroughly and adhered to completely.  I have given you a taste of 3 protocols, but I haven’t really gone in to the detail necessary for them to be truly powerful.  I would recommend finding a way to either attend one of their open training sessions or get your school to bring in one of their staff to do the training.

Their is also a great book by Ron Ritchhart that talks about a very similar idea of thinking routines, Making Thinking Visible.  His routines are generally a little less structured and focus on bringing the thinking to the surface.  There are a number of routines that are the same as the NSRF protocols and it is interesting to compare how they are described by each author.  This book is definitely worth checking out.

Making

The maker movement is something that has been surfacing in conversations in so many ways, especially in the library world where it seems to be “the new thing” to have a makerspace in the library.  I was given an opportunity to conduct an action research project exploring making and it’s relationship with inquiry, specifically within a library context in a single-gender, boys’ school.  I delve into this topic  more on my own blog and in a chapter of the upcoming book on GID for High Schools, but there are some important comments that can be made here.

Both making and inquiry exist on overlapping continua.  In inquiry, we typically start with a question.  That question gives us the direction as we explore and learn and then eventually share the results of our inquiry with others.  Making on the other hand, often starts with the end result in mind.  We are going to build X.  What do we need to know to be able to do that?  We constantly work toward a known end-point.  All inquiry that is to be shared with others, requires that something be made in order to communicate our learning out.  And all making requires the investigation of questions that allow us to build the knowledge and skills in order to complete the making.

I see a sweet spot in the understanding of this relationship that we can use in designing GI units.  We have the ability to focus student attention on the kinds of thinking that we need them to do.  If we care more about the actual content of the inquiry most, then we can delay discussion of the mode of sharing of our knowledge.  This frees the students up to spend their time thinking about their inquiry and developing their story before they figure out the most effective way of communicating that story.  If the mode of making is important, such as introducing a new tech tool to a class or working specifically on essay writing skills, then the focus can be put in this area instead of the actually content of the inquiry or time can be allotted to addressing those skills at the appropriate time in the Create phase.  Perhaps the inquiry is around the making itself such as coding or communicating through infographics, in which the entire design of the inquiry unit is focused on the Create phase.

Regardless of how you use making in your GID, you do need to give it some thought as the making itself colours the entire nature of the unit.  As we have all experienced, that research essay that starts with, “you will write a 5,000 word essay on…” focuses student thinking entirely on the number of words of the essay and the content of the essay is relegated to a position of lesser importance.  The same project approached from a, “we get to explore…” which is followed some classes later by “… and we need to share your research through a formal academic paper, 5,000 words in length.”  Is a completely different experience.  We also need to ensure that we allot enough time for the making, especially when we are looking for creative, student-directed modes of making.  If we want students to push boundaries and take risks in their making, they need the time to learn the making skills required and be given time to recover from initial failed attempts.

Challenges

Finally, I have observed or experienced a number of challenges implementing GID that I’d love some feedback on.  As Leslie observed in her comment to my last post, GID is an evolving model and no two implementations are going to be identical.  New situations, challenges and experiences emerge each time even when doing the same unit with a new group.  This is what makes GID truly responsive to student needs, and more challenging than the old paradigm of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” defined research question approach.

Cross-discipline units are hard to design.  One struggle that I’ve had is the paradox between GID isn’t about content and it’s completely about content.  I love the fact that students blaze their own trail through the broader content, but the broader content has to be well-defined.  The challenge comes when we have a cross-discipline project that doesn’t necessarily share the same content needs.  An example is the “What does it mean to be human?” exploration that I wrote about previously.  This question looks completely different when viewed with a Social Studies lens than it does with a Science lens than it does with an English lens.  How do we assess something like this in terms of it’s content?  Our group asked students to attempt to draw connections between the subjects.  That was moderately successful, but depending on the topic, some of those connections were truly a stretch.  Even getting the various subject teachers on the same page as to what they need/want to see out of the unit can lead to some interesting discussions.  When you have a Science teacher faced with a curriculum that has many very specific content items that need to be “covered” and an English teacher who’s curriculum is much more open and skill-based, it can be an interesting discussion when trying to find common ground.  I know that this particular unit is not unique in this way and I’d love to hear perspectives on this.

Speaking of teachers…  It is also interesting to see where teachers’ comfort levels are with student control over content.  Even the most open and “cutting-edge” teachers I know have admitted that when  push comes to shove, giving over so much control to the student in selecting the content of the inquiry is uncomfortable.  We all grew up in a paradigm of the teacher controlling the distribution of content and we still live in a world where standardized tests are the measure of success in learning.  No matter how vehemently we believe that these paradigms are simply wrong, to do a complete 180 is tough.  When a teacher has taken the risk and experienced a GID unit, most of the fears subside and they realize that much of the content (sometimes all) takes care of itself.  What isn’t addressed in Immerse often surfaces somewhere in the students’ own work.  But how do you convince your colleagues to take the leap?  How do you tell that teacher in a content heavy course with a Provincial or State exam at the end, that everything will be OK (maybe even better)?

 Conclusions

That’s all, folks!  Thanks to Leslie for allowing me this opportunity to reflect and share.  I hope that my writing has been of some use to someone.  I look forward to reading the others who are sharing in the coming weeks and hope that conversation around each of the posts grows over time.  See you ’round!  And come visit me at my blog!