inquiry

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:

brainstorm list

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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dry-erase boards

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.

Additional resources:

 

Toward More Strategic Searching with Presearch Strategy Mapping

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Earlier this week, I shared how we used Think, Puzzle, Explore as a fun and meaningful learning structure to ignite student interest in a topic and to build prior knowledge as we started a unit of study on sustainability with 11th grade AP students.  Those of you who work at the high school level and with AP courses know that carving out sufficient time for research projects can be a challenge when so much of the course hinges on the AP courses as well as other state or district assessments administered in the spring of the year.  We know that helping teachers feel comfortable in devoting more in-class time for research projects often happens in baby steps; like many of you, we always are excited when we co-plan a research unit and are able to incorporate learning activities we know will grow students’ information literacy skills.

As we negotiate concerns and tensions about budgeting time and the constraints that inform those challenges, we also have conversations about how to slow down inquiry processes.  How can we provide students time and opportunity to dwell, wrestle, and grow as searchers who can develop effective strategies and techniques for finding information and using that information to narrow a topic?   How do we help students learn techniques for cropping and focusing a topic area?  While we have been advocates for pre-search for a long time, we are excited that we seem to be getting more of our fellow teachers excited about this aspect of research and inquiry processes as well.

In reflecting on our inquiry work with Sarah Rust last semester, I wondered if there might be a better way to get kids to think more intentionally about their search terms and to build some prior knowledge for an initial round of topic focus prior to the work with modified KWLs and annotating I’ve done during pre-search and then mindmapping with both Sarah and other projects I did with teachers while at Creekview High in the past.   After revisiting the work of my colleague Tasha Bergson-Michelson and a great post from friend and colleague Carolyn Foote, I decided to adapt Tasha’s search strategy mapping technique for our sustainability research unit with Linda Katz and Elizabeth Hollis.  After running my ideas by Jennifer and doing a little brainstorming together, we decided we would adapt Tasha’s technique to help students map their first round of pre-search strategies to help them find a path to a more focused topic area of sustainability.  I actually went through the process and worked for about two and a half hours off and on doing search and creating a model I could use as a think aloud with students this week on the first day of formal instruction in the library.   I began with the topic of urban garden (food sustainability) and wound my way to a more focused topic of food justice.  My first version I did in a freehand fashion, but I replicated it using Mindmeister to show students what their maps might look like if they used a free online mindmapping tool.  I felt it was important to draft models related to their area of study and that would hopefully be accessible to our students.  Here are my drafts:

Pre-search strategy retro style

 

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This past Monday, I modeled the process for students each period while sprinkling in some search strategies and tips for specific databases; this part of the lesson took about 10-12 minutes.  I showed them how I began by skimming and scanning 3-4 articles from sources like databases, search engines, and TED videos.  For each place I searched, I noted key vocabulary words, terms, and concepts that seemed important and/or new to me.  I showed them how I then incorporated new terms into my running list of search terms/phrases I was trying out and how that helped me discover new articles.  I shared how my discovery process kept building on each search effort and what I was getting from the reading and how that led me from a topic of urban gardening to a more focused topic of food justice.

We encouraged students to skim and scan at least three articles from three sources to find vocabulary, terms, and concepts that could help them grow their search terms; just as I had done in the think aloud modeling, I told them to keep a running list of search terms/phrases they were trying . Because we did not want to overstructure the mapping process, we told students to not worry about citation or identifying specific articles or web resources although they certainly could capture permalinks/bookmarks/URLs for resources that seemed notable.  We provided students plain and colored paper (they love choices) as well as Sharpies for those who wanted them.  We made sure students also had access to digital and hard copies of my drafts so they had a tangible model to see once we finished the lesson.  While we were not able to secure the same timeline Tasha uses with this approach, students did have a day and half to work on the maps in the library (the submission deadline established by the teachers was the end of class on Tuesday) although some students might have benefited from an additional half or full day to work on their search and maps.   We, along with the classroom teachers, told students to use Monday evening to try and make progress on their maps and search as well.

Yesterday, we spent the entire period with Katz’s classes since she was away due to a death in her family.  We were available to answer students’ questions or to serve as a sounding board when they wanted feedback or needed to think through their ideas; Ms. Hollis interacted with her students in the same way.  Since Jennifer and I had not worked with Katz’s students prior to this project, we felt we needed them to also complete some sort of quick reflection on their search/mapping work to submit with their maps.   We devised a “lightning reflection” to help students to share a little of their process and to help us better understand what we might be seeing in their pre-search strategy maps:

lightning reflection

We asked students in each of Katz’s classes to complete this form and then attach it to the mapping work they had completed at the end of class yesterday.  Jen and I then struggled to think about an effective yet fast way to give them some helpful feedback today since we had anticipated returning the maps either today or Thursday.  After much trial and error (and some additional revising to add some comment checkboxes related to the search term notes—we noticed after assessing one set of student work, some students were noting more facts than terms and vocabulary, and it was time consuming to write the comment repeatedly), we crafted this form thinking the checklist and “green, yellow, red” status indicators would help students think about next steps in class this week.

After looking at their green reflection sheets and maps, I spent this morning completing the feedback form and providing written comments as needed.   Jen assisted me in this process, and we enjoyed seeing patterns of their thinking as well as gaps as looking at student work helps us to better understand what students know at this point and where they may need additional help or instruction.

student work

Ms. Hollis was able to share these completed forms with Katz’s afternoon classes today and start a conversation about the feedback that Jennifer and I will finish tomorrow as we help the students more forward with additional pre-search now that most have come to a point where they have narrowed their topic and can continue searching and gathering information before they do some mindmapping of what they have found.   We also plan to share some of the exemplar work with students tomorrow to both celebrate the interesting ideas and thinking of our students while giving those who might need more scaffolding some additional models to examine.  You can see a sampler of these exemplar maps embedded below:

While we will probably do a little fine-tuning with our next efforts, but overall we are very pleased with the quality of work and thinking we saw from our students!  We’re excited that this strategy worked the way we hoped it would and impressed by how the students used the strategy to move from Point A to B in a thoughtful and more deliberate way with their search strategies and terms/phrases.   It was also exciting to “feel” the student interest in their topics and their discovery process as some of them made some really interesting moves from broad topics to more focused subtopics.  We cannot wait to see where they go next as they refine these newly focused topics! If you are using this technique or something similar, we’d love to hear how you are incorporating it into inquiry and research processes with classes.