Many thanks to my colleagues at UC Boulder for the opportunity to participate from afar in your symposium today! Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of your day of learning and sharing.
Links of Interest:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
Students then presented in their groups using our Steelcase Verb dry erase easels and the written work of their write-around.
Students also took notes as they listened to their peers and jotted down key ideas to revisit.
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.
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!
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
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
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.