A few weeks ago, I blogged about the beginning steps of our new unit of inquiry in Media 21, a book tasting for students to self select books related to war and veterans.    After a week long winter break, we returned February 27 to more formally kick off our new pathways for inquiry by introducing our research pathfinder for this unit and the concept of a personal learning environment (PLE) and how/why we would cultivate a PLE to help support our paths of inquiry for the next eight weeks.

I did wind up giving students a “chunked” version of this document to help them better visualize what information sources might go into their PLE whether they chose Netvibes or Symabloo as their information dashboard.  We then took time to explore and discuss the menu of learning choices and options that will be part of the overall inquiry experience into a student selected research topic (which they will flesh out into three major research questions through pre-search and then create a research design proposal to reflect questions for investigations and mediums for learning).  As you can see, we tried to incorporate choices for learning tools and learning products; students will finalize these choices in a few weeks in the research design proposal.

We then took about three days to let students browse samples and working guidelines for the final learning product, a research-based composition of their choice from the menu below:

I linked to examples of each medium for composition through the LibGuide pathfinder and the daily class agenda; in addition, I had folders of  hard copies of examples of multigenre texts and multigenre elements.

We also used this “explore” time to answer individual questions or to listen to student suggestions for possible variations on some of the composition options.   I genuinely enjoyed having the 1:1 and small group interaction to hear student ideas and questions for the composition options and to listen to some of the variations they had in mind.  Most students are interested in the multigenre options (specific details are on this LibGuide page), but some are also interested in crafting digital texts (VoiceThread, Prezi, or Presentation Zen style video); a few have indicated they want to do a traditional text research paper.

In addition, we also took time to let students begin brainstorming possible topics for research (some were interested in topics that came out of the study of All Quiet on the Western Front, and some students had already started reading their books they selected in February in the “book tasting”); however, we made it clear this was just a working list of topics that was fluid and still open for crowdsourcing through the next few weeks.  Finally, we used the first week to do a light introduction to Evernote and Netvibes.

This past week (March 5-9) was one more focused on getting traction with our book study.  Students spent Monday with Ms. Lester discussing a menu of graphic organizers to give them some starting points for conversation and thinking points for our first Fishbowl meeting that we held today on Friday.   On Tuesday, students mapped out their reading plan in order to finish their self-selected books by the end of our final Fishbowl meeting later this month, and Ms. Lester helped organize new Fishbowl groups and subgroups around the two major wars dominant in the student readings: World War II and the conflicts with Iraq/Afghanistan.   Students had class time on Wednesday and Thursday to read and work on their mindmaps for today’s first meeting.  We had our first Fishbowl discussion today; as we have all year long, Susan works with one group, and I work with another—getting to enjoy small group time is truly a pleasure, and today’s discussion was rich as students explored book structure, characterization, and emerging themes as well as wonderings and favorite or meaningful passages.  We’ll need Monday to finish our Fishbowl discussions, and then we’ll do a light review of WordPress during the second half of class.  What struck me today is how so many  students expressed a real love and attachment to their books—it was truly so heartening to hear students share how much they “LOVED” their books and were enjoying them.   Susan and I are elated that the students are so engaged with their texts!  Here is a sampling of today’s mindmaps from both groups:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next week is a short week for all of us due to two district furlough days, so we’ll spend Monday-Wednesday reading and having Fishbowl meeting 2.    We’ll conclude our books on Tuesday, 3/20/12 with our book based Fishbowl meeting and then move into pre-search on March 21.  This will be our time to explore familiar information sources, introduce new streams of information, review how to evaluate and analzye Wikipedia articles, introduce EasyBib, and start building our PLEs; as we endeavor through these skills and mini-lessons, students will use our new and improved pre-search graphic organizer (see this week’s post on the value of pre-search) to begin narrowing down a topic choice and developing major research questions (how, why).   We’ll wrap up the final week of March by submitting the research design proposal before we leave for Spring Break; when we return April 9, we’ll be going deep into our more formal research, formative learning reflections,  and subsequent content creation.

Right now, the excitement that seems to be building with the students about their books and final products they’ll create is palpable and energizing for us.   I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to support some meaningful and new kinds of learning experiences for our students that will give them more points for collaboration and participation between now and the beginning of May.  I’ll be providing regular updates and interviews with the students as we now start wading deeper into our project!  In the meantime, I’m enjoying the opportunity to:

  • brainstorm with the students as well as Ms. Lester
  • create instructional handouts and materials to support student learning
  • craft our class daily agenda and LibGuides page
  • create and assist in formative assessment of student learning
  • be the facilitator for my Fishbowl group
  • conference with students 1:1 and in small groups on their ideas and questions
  • serve as both a content and transliteracy coach to our students

This kind of collaboration allows me to utilize my talents as an instructional partner, teacher, and information specialist.  Although we may not always agree on every single detail of instructional design, we do share a vision of student learning and know that our collaborative efforts with the feedback of our students is greater than anything any of us could accomplish alone.  I look forward to documenting and sharing our students’ narratives of learning this spring!