inquiry

Mindmapping Our Presearch Notes: Seeing Patterns and Gaps

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For the last month or so, I’ve been working with a section of Honors 9th Language Arts (hopefully, another more comprehensive post coming on this endeavor later in the spring).   After completing a class study of To Kill a Mockingbird, the students selected a motif of choice and began presearching a topic of choice related to the motif.   After completing a presearch search term map and arriving at a narrowed topic (which I’ve blogged about earlier this semester), we moved forward with another and more focused round of presearch while using EasyBib to capture information sources and take notes.   After approximately two and a half weeks, most students had a body of notes on their focused topic.  However, after many 1:1 student conferences and a formative assessment of collecting and reading their notes, the teacher and I realized many students were struggling with:

1.  Recording relevant information from their information sources.

2.  Taking notes in “bite-sized” portions.

3.  Being discerning about information that would help them go beyond merely reporting and instead, help them dig into the higher level thinking and questions that we wanted to anchor their inquiry.

After addressing some of these challenges with a mini-lesson and small group or individual conferences, we felt the students needed a more concrete way of discovering the patterns of information as well as the gaps in their notes. We asked students to print out their e-notes from EasyBib and gave them supplies (Sharpies, markers, large/oversized  sticky notes) to help them map out the information they had collected up to that point in their notes.  We discussed some strategies for identifying major topics and subtopics as well a sample mindmap of notes. Students were assigned a working area with a partner so that they had a “research buddy” to help them think through their process as needed and worked on their maps about a day and a half.

We wanted the class to have an opportunity to look at their peers’ maps and provide feedback; we knew our students would need a little scaffolding to provide meaningful peer feedback, so we took a few minutes to review their peer review activity guidelines with them.  We spread out the maps and placed pads of lined sticky notes at each table of notes mindmaps.  We asked students to write their feedback on these sticky notes and to include their name, their feedback, and the feedback category number (see the handout embedded below).  We discussed ideas for meaningful feedback (including a list of idea/conversation starters) that were numbered so that they could include the “feedback category” ID number on the sticky note as an extra layer of clarification.

As students walked around giving feedback, we also instructed them to keep a running record of the maps they were reviewing and quick notes about what they were seeing (see page 2 of the document embedded above).

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We initially thought the students could complete the activity in 12-15 minutes, but in spite of our best efforts to be proactive, we had about a quarter of the class that had difficulty staying on task, participating, or making a legitimate effort to provide meaningful feedback.  Because our studio space had been reserved for another activity the following day, we had to adjust our plans to complete the activity in the teacher’s classroom, a space that really was not conducive to the activity or an ideal learning environment for this kind of activity.  However, we had no choice, so we had to adjust as best we could.   I hung some of the maps on whatever wall space I could find; for the rest of the maps, I had students place desks together in pairs and utilized that surface space for the remaining maps.  We thought they could complete feedback within another ten minutes, but some of the very same behavior issues that plagued us the day before were again problematic even after we enlisted the assistance of an assistant principal to conference with some of the students outside of class as part of our efforts to address the previous day’s issues.  However, we stayed the course and tried to redirect students as needed so that we could get as much helpful peer review for everyone as possible.

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Once we brought the peer review to a close, students paired up once again with their research buddy and used the Making Thinking Visible learning structure of Compass Points to help students reflect on the mindmapping process and peer review activity.  Each pair received a graphic organizer to complete their ideas they were to share and discuss.

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After having 5-7 minutes to discuss and record their observations and ideas, we asked each pair to do a quick share of their notes with the large group.   Students noted effective map organization strategies as well as what constituted “good” or quality information from the notes in the maps.  However, many students noticed that quite a few maps lacked depth of information; others noted that better organization was needed in structuring topics and subtopics. In spite of some of the challenges we encountered, we felt most students truly benefitted from the mapping activity itself as well as the peer review.

When we returned from spring break, we returned maps to the students along with the sticky note feedback others gave from the peer review activity.  We then asked students to think about what they had in their notes and maps that was helpful and what was missing.  Students then had the class period to complete two thinking/reflection exercises:

1.  The question lenses activity that I borrowed last semester from my friend Heather Hersey (and blogged about; also see Sarah Ludwig’s awesome adaptation of this thinking exercise–I would have totally done her version if we had more time in our schedule for this project).  We framed this thinking exercise as a way of addressing gaps or “struggle areas” of their mindmaps and as a means of thinking about next steps for our new round of additional research for the week.

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2.  They then had time to complete  mindmapping reflection questions via a Google Survey embedded in the project LibGuide.

We collected the hard copies of the question lens activity; I downloaded the responses from the Google Sheet as an Excel spreadsheet and then ran a mail merge so that the teacher and I both had easy to read hard copies of the student responses.    Common feedback ran along the lines of these statements:

  • The mindmapping process helped me better organize my ideas.
  • The mindmapping process helped me realize I didn’t have enough information about my topic.
  • The mindmapping process gave me new perspectives I had never considered.
  • The peer feedback helped me rethink one of my subections and a new direction for research.
  • Organizing my topics and subtopics was harder than I realized.
  • The mindmap challenged me to make sense of my notes (more intentional thought as opposed to just randomly taking notes).
  • I realized some of the information I had taken notes on really did not fit with my narrowed topic focus.
  • Mindmapping helped me visualize how my pieces of information fit and relate to each other.
  • Writing in short phrases or brief key ideas was challenging for me; I wanted to copy my notes as they were in complete sentences.
  • Mindmapping was challenging because categorizing my ideas and information into subtopics was difficult.
  • The mindmapping process helped me to see I need to slightly change my topic focus from A to B.
  • I realized the notes I have are lacking in meaningful detail.
  • The mindmapping process has allowed me to see/find a deeper personal connection to my overall topic.
  • The mindmapping process has helped me to see I need to go deeper with my information and further develop the topic.
  • The mindmapping processes helped me better see the strengths and weaknesses of my research and better refine my subtopics.
  • The peer feedback helped me to see I need to regroup my ideas on my map.
  • The question lenses activity helped me to look at my project from a different point of view and to rethink what information I should now focus on gathering.

I’m happy the mindmapping activity and peer review provided students the opportunity to wrestle with their notes and the information they had gathered during our first round of presearch.  My hope was that the process would nudge their thinking because it was clear within the first few days of working with the students that they were used to reporting information as opposed to researching, a distinction my colleagues who blog at Letting Go have made in previous posts.  I know that for some students, the uncertainty and our pushing them to think more deeply beyond shallow, surface level work has been uncomfortable, but we have tried to give them as much support as we can to help them develop new strategies and resilience in this inquiry focused project.  I think it is especially important with freshmen to provide and scaffold these kinds of learning experiences, particularly if they have had few or no opportunities to develop these kinds of information literacy skills and processes.

Their teacher and I are proud nearly every student has either had the confidence and persistence to move forward this past week wherever they have been on the spectrum of the quality and depth of their work.  Several have regrouped and have been digging in to act on the next steps they identified from their insights and reflections on their work.   It takes grit on the part of students, teachers, and librarians to grapple with these kinds of challenges, but it is so gratifying to see the individual growth and forward momentum for each student.  They are now starting to sketch out their multigenre products, and we’ll be moving forward with creating those artifacts and the supporting notes narratives/compositions.

Bridge to Presearch and Growing Student Understandings: Connect, Extend, Challenge

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One of our ongoing goals this academic year as instructional designers has been framing the importance of process in research projects and emphasizing the frontloading of presearch experiences as a critical point of helping students select and narrow a topic of authentic interest.  As we tried to collaborate with our 11th Language Arts teachers earlier this semester, Jennifer and I wanted to experiment with the learning structure Connect, Extend, Challenge to see if we could nudge student thinking about the overarching research theme of The American Dream. We decided to do a modified written conversation read and discussion starter that incorporated Connect, Extend, and Challenge.  We were able to schedule Linda Katz’s two classes for the activity and felt they would be a great group to pilot our first efforts since they had spent some class time discussing and brainstorming as a group what they felt The American Dream meant and individuals or events that might represent some aspect of it.  Below is their initial conceptualization:

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After seeing their list, Jen and I wondered if we could use the activity to introduce some contemporary issues related to The American Dream through the critical lenses of socioeconomics, class, race, and gender to push their thinking beyond contemporary individuals and to broaden their event/issue menu from the initial list they developed.  In our minds, we thought the activity would help them focus on a timely issue and hopefully be inspired to inquire about it.  It took me about a day to find articles I felt were a right fit, and I organized them into eight folders (one for each table).  Each folder contained two sets of articles:

  • A common set of readings that usually was an overview of a working definition and explanation of The American Dream.  These were designed to be quick reads that each group member would read (I envisioned four students per table, so I had four copies of the common read in the folder); they all came from our Gale and EBSCO databases.
  • A set of four different articles so that each group member would have a different article to read.

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Our game plan was for the students to have 10-12 minutes to read the articles; they would then discuss/share out their readings and reactions to those readings. We then wanted them to collaboratively respond to the prompts for Connect, Think, and Extend so that they could draw on the prior knowledge they had started building in the classroom but hopefully grow or expand through the group readings.  Each group would then share their responses on a large sticky note before rotating to another table and set of readings for a second round.  On the day of the activity, Jen reviewed the protocols and helped facilitate the activity; we tried to reinforce the conversation protocols by taping the guidelines on each table.

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The outcomes were a bit mixed.  Quite a few students discovered new information and some different directions for researching The American Dream and contextualizing it from a modern perspective.  Some even expressed surprise, especially around statistics and data, about what they read in the articles.  We were impressed some students developed their own coding system while annotating the articles to tie directly into the thinking/learning structure of connect, extend, and challenge.

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While Jen and I were happy to have put these topics and issues on the students’ radar, many still chose to go with their original focus on how an individual embodied an aspect of The American Dream; others, in the spirit of the research assignment, picked 1-2 concepts from the list and then researched multiple events and/or persons that they thought represented their chosen aspects of The American Dream.  We realized that some students would have benefited from the activity taking place over two days so that they could have had more time to:

1.  Read (the articles were of varying length and complexity, and we noticed some students needed more time to engage with the text).

2.  Share as a small group and then craft their collaborative responses to really go deeper with the connecting, extending, and challenging aspects of the activity.

3.  Share out as a large group and then help students think through the connections of what they had read to their initial class-generated list as well as new possibilities for inquiry.  Dr. Katz agreed that the extra time and the chance for a large group discussion would have been more optimal.

Now that we’ve tried the activity, we know that we might want to build in a longer or extended activity time window to help students immerse themselves in the texts, the conversations, and thinking without feeling rushed.  Jen and I  also realized that because the final details of the research assignment didn’t come together in the original time frame any of us (media staff as well as 11th Language Arts) anticipated, we were not cognizant that the teachers were focusing more on students looking at different issues or individuals through one or more of those class generated aspects of The American Dream.  While the activity did not result in our (Jen and I) goal of generating enough excitement to shift the research focus to a specific present day issue and a deep dive into how that issue related to the viability of The American Dream, hopefully from a critical literacy inquiry stance, we still feel this learning structure has great potential and hope to use it as part of presearch with another project.  What types of presearch learning activities or structures have you tried to nudge students’ thinking about topics related to a particular theme or to grow how they conceptualize a particular topic?

Writing Around Literature Motfis + See, Think, Wonder for Deeper Understanding

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Yesterday we had the privilege of observing and listening to the students of Language Arts teacher Aba DeGraft-Hanson think together and share their ideas around different motifs of To Kill a Mockingbird.    They first began with a write-around the motifs last week; they then met in the library learning studio yesterday to discuss the ideas from the write-around and collaboratively draw conclusions by using the See, Think, Wonder structure from Making Thinking Visible.   Aba’s variation of this learning structure also asked students to include a one-word distillation of their ideas.   As students discussed and worked through the lens of See, Think, Wonder, Aba walked around and conferred with each group to answer questions or to serve as a sounding board.

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Students then presented in their groups using our Steelcase Verb dry erase easels and the written work of their write-around.

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Students also took notes as they listened to their peers and jotted down key ideas to revisit.

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After all groups completed their presentation/share out to the class, Aba led a short discussion with students about connections between the motifs.  She then provided them a graphic organizer to help them go deeper with the motif they had explore and to help students connect the motifs to themes of the novel.

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This two day activity generated rich conversation and some extraordinary thinking with the students!  I encourage to take time to listen to Aba’s narrative of how she blended written conversations with the See, Think, Wonder learning structure and her reflections on how these learning activities ignited student thinking and learning.

We are deeply appreciative of Aba and her students so generously sharing their work and using the learning studio here to practice inquiry and critical thinking.  We also hope their story of learning will inspire you to think about how you might use these learning structures with your students!

 Additional Resources

 

Students Talk About the Value of PreSearch Term Strategy Mapping and Think-Puzzle-Explore

This past Friday I was lucky to sit down and get insightful feedback from Linda Katz’s 6th period AP Literature students who have been one of our pilot groups using pre-search term mapping strategies and Think Puzzle Explore as part of our deeper approach to pre-search and our efforts to help our students and faculty take a more inquiry-oriented stance on research.  I think you will be awed by the insights and honesty of these four students; many thanks for their valuable and feedback as we co-learn with and from them.  If you are thinking about trying these strategies, this firsthand feedback will be incredibly helpful for you.  We hope to have some additional interviews to share with you here on the blog later this week!

Links of Interest

Sean O’Connor Rocks the Write-Around for Collaborative Student Thinking as Part of Presearch and Topic Development with Literary Research

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Last year Language Arts teacher Sean O’Connor was one of our first teachers to help us pilot written conversation strategies that we had learned about from Harvey Daniels.  After attending a Reading the City institute with Daniels, Nancy  Steineke (among other notable literacy leaders) this past January, Sean returned even more energized about the possibilities of written conversation strategies for inquiry and learning.  He decided to incorporate and modify the write around learning structure as part of the pre-search process for his AP Literature students who were beginning a literary research paper; not only did he utilize the LibGuide we created for the assignment, but he wanted to use our Learning Studio area in our library as the space for  the written conversations come to life.

After two days of some initial pre-search, students came to the Learning Studio with some general themes or topics in mind.  Sean tells us the game plan he designed to facilitate their next steps:

Below, watch our video story of what this form of inquiry centered learning looked like with one of his three class sections.  The energy, the depth of conversation, and the engagement the students exhibited in wrestling with ideas and thinking together was exciting and joyful to watch.

Part 1:  First Steps:  Jot Down Ideas You Have For Your Research

Part 2:   Responding to Each Other’s Topic with Large Post-Its and Pens

Part 3:  Forming Birds of Feather Groups by Topics

Part 4:  Talking, No Writing

Part 5:  Post-Conversation—Noting Key Ideas, Narrowing Topic/Research Topic/Thesis Statement and Next Steps Post Collaborative Thinking

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The collaborative thinking and how students played off each other’s input and the group conversations to help them move from Point A to Point B as part of the presearch phase and topic narrowing continuum/process was what made this activity so authentic and meaningful to students.  As Sean said, “My original timeline for the project is shot, but that doesn’t matter.  The students learning in this way is what counts.”   Jennifer and I are thrilled that we can be part of this kind of mindset and collaboration with teachers like Sean and his students.  We are excited to see how they build on Friday’s activity in our Learning Studio and their next steps with their research project!  A heartfelt thank you to Sean O’Connor and his students for allowing me to film and photograph their work.

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