As mentioned in my previous post, DPMS has transformed learning in all of our content area classes through GID by providing students with an engaging, 21st century, research-based learning model. While we are by no means experts on GID, we have spent extensive time this year learning more about the model, rewriting old content area units, and testing out new techniques and technologies. In this post, I will share with you some tips that we have learned along the way from our own successes and mistakes.
First, we always begin our unit planning by outlining every step of the process using a template provided to us at the Rutgers institute. Outlining each step and the essential learning goals prior to beginning a unit is essential for success. The planning process is a team effort consisting of me, Literacy Coach, Peggy Rohan, the content area teacher(s), and other extended team members such as our Technology Training Specialist and administrators. It is important for us to identify not only the essential questions and learning goals, but also the necessary resources and documents that are needed during a unit to ensure that each team member clearly understands his or her role and the learning activities during each stage. To aid in visualizing our planning process, view our plan for an upcoming eighth-grade social studies slavery unit.
Teaching with GID has been a shift for the teachers, and Peggy and I continue to work with them on letting go of the idea that mastering facts and focusing on content is essential to learning in the 21st century. We continue to reassure teachers that what students really need is exposure to the topic and just enough background information to get them thinking about a research topic of interest; students will continue to learn from one another as they share their research at the end of the process. Moving from a “fact-based” curriculum to one that immerses students in inquiry learning doesn’t happen overnight, and through GID we are working to change the culture of learning so that students become critical, analytical consumers of information and effective problem solvers.
Exposing students to content information during the Immerse phase is easy when you consider the many different modern technologies and websites that we have available at our fingertips. When unit planning, I always consider the various tech tools available, and I try to weave in as many real-world experiences as possible. For example, while planning our Africa unit I learned about this awesome new website called Belouga. Belouga provides a platform for connecting students asynchronously with other classrooms from around the world after students answer a series of profile questions on culture, history, cuisine, school, environment, family, and interests. Once teachers request a classroom connection, and once students answer at least 25 profile questions, students are matched with a partner from the connected school, and they have access to their partner’s answers of the same profile questions. Reading profile responses from students in Kenya and Ghana was an eye-opening experience for our students as they were able to read first-person accounts of life on an entirely different and diverse continent. These connections also provided opportunities for rich classroom discussions and ignited student interest in further investigating issues presented by the African students.
Virtual reality is another great way to immerse students in real-world learning. During our Ancient China unit, students took a trip to the Great Wall of China through Google Expeditions. Google Expeditions offers thousands of free, narrated VR tours. In addition, Nearpod is another great source for finding pre-made VR lessons. Even without VR headsets, students still can be immersed in meaningful VR experiences by simply viewing tours on their smartphones or on iPads.
Another important pedagogical shift that we have made involves effectively teaching students how to ask meaningful inquiry questions. In the traditional research model, teachers assign a topic and send students off to try and find basic, often regurgitated facts that answer questions assigned by the teacher (think traditional “country report” where the student spits back facts such as the population, government, sports, etc.). In the GID model, students are responsible for coming up with their own research questions based on a topic of interest. We continue to work with our teachers on the best way to teach student questioning and push them to let go of assigning “criteria” that all students must answer in their final products. In teaching questioning, we have found the QFT model to be a successful way to get students thinking about the difference between open and closed questions. We encourage students to focus on writing “how” or “why” questions to ensure that they are asking only open questions. Once students have brainstormed their questions, it is essential for teachers to confer with students to help them modify and narrow their questions if necessary. Questioning is likely to be a very new skill for students, and many of them will need help with writing a question that is not too broad or too narrow. One final tip: don’t rush the Identify stage. Students need good research questions in order to effectively navigate the process and create a product that leads to new and transformative learning. When we design our units, we estimate that on average we need at least three full class periods to complete the Identify phase with fidelity.
Finally, I want to mention some thoughts about the Gather stage. This is also a stage that must not be rushed. As was often the case in the previously mentioned phases, Peggy and I had to work with teachers to ensure that students were learning the necessary- and correct- research skills that they needed to effectively navigate the research process. Many teachers have the misconception that students already “know” how to research when in reality they have never received instruction on skills such as searching in library databases, choosing effective keywords, ethically using others’ images and music, citing sources properly, or evaluating websites. I will specifically build these lessons into our GID units and either directly teach the lessons myself or provide screencast review tutorials for students. In many cases, the teachers themselves are not aware of 21st-century research tools and techniques, and during our GID trainings, I highlighted the importance of relying on the Library Media Specialist for support and student instruction especially during this phase.
Ultimately what matters at the end of the process is that students are positively impacted by learning through GID. What did our students think of the process after completing a GID unit? I was curious, and at the end of our Africa unit, I conducted a few student interviews to find out. Please view the video below to hear a variety of student perspectives. Please note that the students in the video represent a range of learning abilities from the low to the high end of the spectrum.
While we have worked hard this year to restructure our learning culture, we realize that we still have a lot to learn. We continue to research, read, and review what we are doing as we learn more about how GID can transform student learning.
Library Media Specialist
De Pere Middle School