To finish off my week I want to discuss the change I made in my instructional practice that I believe made these two units two of the most authentic Guided Inquiry Design units that I have been a part of. For these units I implemented the use of the Question Focusing Technique (QFT) to assist students in generating authentic questions. The premise of QFT is that students will respond to a focus or prompt with a list of questions and stay within these guidelines in their groups: 1. Do not stop to discuss or judge the questions. 2. Write down every question as it is asked. 3. Ask as many questions as you can. 4. Change any statements into questions. Students then move on to identify questions as opened or closed. An open question being one that will require authentic research to determine an answer or solution. A closed question being one that can be answered with a simple yes, no or fact. As I reflected on the GID units I had been a part of at the end of the last year I easily realized that the Identify stage was one that I struggled with and as a result one that my students struggled with. So, last summer I read the book Make Just One Change: Teach Students To Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana as my PPD. That would be Poolside Professional Development. A 4th grade teacher and I tried this technique in the fall with a unit he was teaching on waves. For me this was a difficult topic to work on because I do not know a lot about waves. This led to me not being able to fully develop a focus and being able to explain how students should develop questions. The students did follow the four step QFT strategy well, but their questions weren’t any better that those I’d seen developed in the past. Skip forward to January and we used the technique again with the same class and they knew the process and the topic was one I was well acquainted with and the questions that were generated were so much better.
In fourth grade we used one session to generate questions. Students worked in groups of 4-6 with the classroom teacher, myself and a teaching assistant monitoring. Students were given 5-10 minutes to develop questions. We then moved on to identifying questions as open or closed. The next time we met students selected questions they were interested in researching or modified one to fit their inquiry question. The list of questions students generated can be found on the following Google Documents: Section 1 and Section 2. Section 1 had not participated in the QFT before. Section 2 is the class who participated in the fall.
In second grade we again used one session to generate questions. I introduced the process to the students and the teachers. Then the classroom teacher took half the class to one white board and scribed questions and I did the same. Later we would switch to observe the each others questions before coming back together to discuss. These students generated so many authentic questions. To view the questions generated by one class of students in less than fifteen minutes you can follow this link to a Wakelet collection.
A note of caution to you all and myself. The questions that students generate are the questions that they are interested in. I often forget in assisting students in this process that they do not possess all of the background knowledge that I possess now or that I think I possessed at their age. From these units forward, I am going to be certain to take time to honor their questions as they are asked. If a 2nd grader wants to know how many rooms the White House has? Go for it! In that search they will find out about the executive branch, freedom of the press, diplomacy and more. If a 4th grader wants to know why people ride the subway? Go for it! In that search they’ll find out about population differences, congestion and things I can’t even think of. If a 2nd graders wants to ask why the Liberty Bell has a crack in it? Go for it! In that search they’ll find out why colonists fought for independence, why abolitionists spoke out against slavery and what liberty is. Come to think of it, GID is a lot like how I’m reflecting on these questions and instructional practices. You just have to go for it! You will make mistakes. You will change things. Most important though, we have to continue going for it!
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