We Keep Learning and Innovating: Next Level Adaptations

Keep on Learning!

This is a little late coming- I wanted to add some student data to this post, but it was harder than expected to obtain it.  So here are my reflections from our conversation.  Heather, Morgan and Carol and I met so I could hear a recap of how this unit went during the most challenging year of teaching ever!  Unlike many schools, they were face to face with most kids for most of the year 2020-2021, but they were socially distanced and that made some aspects of the unit challenging.

A few big changes to the unit this year were necessary due to Covid restrictions. For example, they couldn’t have the local author of Dreamland Burning come to the school to do her half day workshop with the students. Inquiry Circles, and collaboration structures, as well as how they did the Gallery Walk were also impacted.  But these bright teachers kept an inquiry mindset about the unit and found ways to workaround the barriers with some great successes! And of course this was a different group of students so the topics were greatly shaped by the times, the students’ interests, and their strengths.

The Teacher Learning and Development

One of the things that I love about providing professional development, workshops in Guided Inquiry Design, and coaching on design and implementation is that through the process teachers and librarians continue learning and growing their practice with each implementation cycle.  It’s not that you do GId once, and then you know how to do it and you’re done!  Just like the art of teaching, you continue to grow and learn from each iteration.

My post-implementation coaching sessions always conclude with a clear next step for implementation and a road map to making the unit more manageable for teachers and students, for the deeper use of Inquiry Tools, with tight connections to the intention and true form of GId as it was originally meant to be implemented.  These conversations are much like the student conversations in the Evaluate phase.  If we don’t have the conversation and reflection the learning may not extend into the next iteration.  The open reflection and cognitive thought about the changes enable them to take form and move to action.

So what did this team learn? What will they change for next time?

This team of middle school teachers used the reflection at the end of the unit  in Evaluate as described in Guided Inquiry Design (page 159).  It was disseminated using a Google form to their 100 students. The form made it easy to analyze and see individual responses as well as trends in the group.  From the trends, we discussed these three areas of concern

  1. Should the students use the terms for the Inquiry Tools?
  2. How can we create structures that facilitate the process for middle schoolers?
  3. What if students have a clear focus that is related to the conversations, but not particularly tied to the concept?

What’s in a name?

Should the students use the terms for the Inquiry Tools?

As the author of Guided Inquiry Design, I know that the Inquiry Tools are critical to the facilitation of the inquiry process.  The tools come from the research on what students said helped them process information and accomplish the tasks of inquiry and research. They help students engage and persist through the phases to completion.

The Inquiry Tools of Guided Inquiry Design are

  • Inquiry Journal,
  • Inquiry Log,
  • Inquiry Charts,
  • Inquiry Circles, and
  • Inquiry Community.

Use of these tools used across the GId process accomplish 2 main things,

  1.  The tools help students to move and continue successfully through the phases of the process by
    • engaging deeply,
    • processing information and ideas
    • building their interest to find a focus for research
    • persisting through to the completion of the process
  2. And they help students reflect on how they are learning along the way, not only on what they are learning. (See more in Chapter 3 of Guided Inquiry Design)

At the end of the process we ask students to think back over the entire process and think about what was easy, hard and what they would do differently next time.  (Chapter 11 of Guided Inquiry Design) We have them reflect on the Inquiry Tools to recall how they helped them, which ones were most helpful, and why. Reflecting on the use of the Inquiry Tools facilitates independence in inquiry learning.  That’s the goal here, that students come to know the process as their own, and are able to learn deeply from information in their lives, work, as well as in the school settings.

The tools are all useful but the benefits will vary from student to student.  The more the students know and understand what specifically helped them through the complex learning process, and of course what did not help them as much, the more they will be aware and able to employ and leverage those tools to facilitate their own process in the future.

So, in the final evaluation the tools are named one by one. (See page 159 in Guided Inquiry Design) In this particular group, the students didn’t seem to know the names of the tools, although they used all of them during the unit.  The team may have called the tools different things at different times and not explicitly called them by the GId name, Inquiry Journal, and so forth.  This was evident on the evaluation when a few students weren’t sure if one tool or another helped them, or if they even used that tool!

When we had the conversation with the team I came to the table thinking- it doesn’t matter if the students know the NAME of the tool, what’s more important is that they use the tool and know the value of it for their process, and learning.

When the topic was raised in our conversation, Heather pushed back on that. She recognized and values the benefit of having a common language between teachers and students, across classrooms, projects and even grade levels.  If the language of Inquiry Journal was used in all places, the students would come to know the tool better and how it helps them. If it was called a discussion board in one place, and a journal in another, and a reflection in another, the students would not see it as one tool.  So, the team decided to be more intentional about the use of the terms of all the tools across teachers and maybe even across the school.  Typically, the school librarian can facilitate that vertical conversation because she collaborates with all the teachers in the school and is the perfect person to bridge that connection.

So we puzzled through that one together and although the use of the tools is more important than what we call them, we uncovered together how the name has a lot of power to help students make the connection between which tools are used and how they actually help them to learn.


Valuing The Student’s Experience:

Every Year Will Be Different! Even with the same unit design.

What if students have a clear focus that is related to the conversations from class, but not particularly bound to the concept?

The unit Identify happened, this year,  around the time of January 6th Capitol riots during the Covid Pandemic and while historic events were happening students wanted to know more.  Many of the students with the opportunity to investigate something interesting to them, generated a focus based on those events that were relevant  to our nation and timely.

As a team we discussed, if it was “ok” to stray a bit from the concept of the unit.  For example, what if students knew the direction they wanted but their question or focus wasn’t directly related to the concept assumptions.  Last year the students mostly asked questions about assumptions – what are assumptions about homeless people, what are the assumptions people make about… This year students went beyond that to ask real questions they had about the world that the conversation about assumptions made them wonder.

We realized the benefit of doing research in an English class is that the direction the students take could be wide open  to choose.  The design of the early phases (Open, Immerse, and Explore) helped to set the stage for the kinds of things  that were possible.  Without those early phases to come together as an Inquiry Community, the students would get lost in the wide open nature of the inquiry and may never settle on a focus which Kuhlthau explains led to little learning.  The student in her study said- “I never had a focus and it was the hardest paper to write…”   So although this year not all students specifically examined assumptions, they researched topics of great interest to them that were relevant to their understanding of the world at the current moment.

This assignment gave them the opportunity to dig into something. Going deeper is not something people often take the time to do and so in this class the work was engaging to the students and they learned a lot from taking that deep dive into research.

At the end of the course, the team could return to assumptions and help students to put it all together in a simple conversation. Ending the unit coming back to assumptions ties the bow on the learning and helps students to see the full circle from which they came.  The conversation could begin with a little reflection on the following questions and then some sharing out of ideas as an Inquiry Community.

  • What do you know about assumptions that you didn’t know about at the beginning?
  • What connections can you make from your topic to the concept of assumptions?
  • What did you learn from other people’s presentations about your assumptions and other peoples?
  • What are you thinking now about how our assumptions shape our behavior, attitude and form our own prejudices?
  • What else?

The topics with these 100 students ranged widely- they wanted to examine,

  • the 2nd amendment and gun rights,
  • the capitol riots,
  • art as self-expression,
  • covid-19 and why some people don’t believe in it,
  • how racist is our justice system,
  • how the NBA supports the BLM movement,
  • why competition is good for humans,
  • equal pay for women,
  • why pitfalls are not naturally aggressive
  • and on and on.

Each child had a different topic in the class, a different focus that they wanted to examine. The range is a testament to how GId  helps students personalize their learning in the Third Space and had some roots in the conversations from the beginning of the unit on assumptions.

Virtual Gallery walk – SHARE

As for the QR code Gallery walk – each student made a presentation of what they learned whether a podcast, video(flipgrid or other), google slides, or cava slide show.  Then they had to write a short(paragraph) “teaser” synopsis of their presentation to go with the QR code.
 For the Gallery Walk, they did it virtually.  The kids then looked through them all and had iPads or phones to access the QR code that linked them to the presentation.  The students used the synopsis to help them decide which ones they were most interested in visiting and learning about. This way the students could do the Gallery walk at home, or in class or wherever they were.
Reflection conversations post unit implementation are so powerful to help us all grow with the process as we learn from each new group of students.  These post unit reflections with the learning team work to solidify common understandings, uproot misunderstandings and push our practice forward as we grow and deepen our ability to facility high quality inquiry learning for all students!
I offer these as coaching sessions- if you’d like feedback or a think partner on your post unit reflection- reach out to me. I’d love to meet you on zoom.
Leslie Maniotes, PhD
Author Guided Inquiry Design Series

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