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So What?

29 May

Too often, students don’t see the value in what they’re learning–there can be a disconnect between the meaning we want the students to walk away with and the meaning these incredible individuals make based on their own unique views and experiences. As students begin to take more control of their learning, it becomes impossible for us to design each student’s final assessment and absolutely vital for students to determine why their learning experience is important, not just to them but to their community, both local and global.

We call this final step of the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) the “So What?” and it serves as a way for students to apply knowledge and content and reflect back on the unit or class. You can see in the questions below that they’re really looking at the bigger picture of the unit–what is the essential lesson they’ve learned and how do they want to share it? Continue reading

Reflections Part II: The Standards

9 May

The other reflection that students complete after each round of activities is about their progress towards mastering the standards. Like the EQ reflection, it allows us to see what successes students are having, and it allows us to help our students through the frustrating early stages of the inquiry process. When one of my students wrote, “I really dislike this reading standard, because I feel like it would go a lot better with poems than with texts,” I was able to step in and remind her of a full-class DIDLS activity we did for Matthew Arnold’s “The Definition of Poetry.”  She could then reattempt that standard with a clearer focus and direction.

By requiring this reflection, students are forced to keep the standard and all its components in mind as they complete their activities. Another student of mine reflected on how an analysis tool helped him work through a poem and meet his standard:

My reading standard asks to analyze the way the authors writes, rather than what it means. This means going in depth and looking at why the author chooses certain words or themes and how their sequence affects the text. A TPCASTT accomplishes this standard because analyzing tone and connotation really analyze word choice–which is a key part of this standard. Also, the paraphrasing and title steps in the process analyze why the author chose those words–another major part of the standard.

It also allows the student and teacher to see growth over time. When our students work through the ILP, they aren’t only experiencing the inquiry process to answer their EQ, but they’re also experiencing it as they figure out how to fulfill their standard. One student wrote: Continue reading

Student Post: Refining an Essential Question

6 May

I can’t tell you my name, but I am a junior in Ms. Donhauser’s Honors British Literature course. I want to talk about my experience with the Inquiry Learning Plan and my search for an essential question; through my irritation and sense of utter defeat, I broke through to find something worth studying. It began in class with me being consumed by my despair; I had no good essential questions on my learning plan and I was stressed that my activities were due with no real EQ that seemed useful. The only question I had was “How dangerous is humanity’s thirst for knowledge?” The only problem was that I was dead in the water with my question; it was more of a guiding question rather than a good topic to study. I felt this question was specific to my text; it didn’t relate to what I wanted to pursue in this unit. I had to continue my research for a more overarching question but I felt hopelessly lost in my texts…until… Continue reading

Reflections Part I: Essential Questions

2 May

After each round of activities, students complete reflections on their essential questions and their standards:

The EQ reflection explains how the texts or research are helping the student answer their questions; it provides specific evidence for the student and teacher and serves as a synthesis piece, which can be a hard skill to master. During the first reflection, students may be focused on only one or two texts, but in order to develop a more useful understanding of the time period or theme, they must look at how multiple texts interact with each other to answer the questions. Ultimately, students want to ask themselves, how do the texts of the unit relate to each other and create a unique argument?

Perhaps most importantly, the EQ reflection aids students as they work through the inquiry process–it helps them work out their confusion and have really fabulous a-ha! moments. To do this, they have to determine what they’ve learned and what new questions are arising. Where do they go from here? One of my Brit Lit students writes this as part of her first reflection:

When I started this unit, I figured that with so many female authors, females would have gained respect and position in society. When I started reading pieces written by males, however, I found the same stupid views of how weak and second-class women are. Wilkie Collins wrote several derogatory comments a paragraph, such as “do all a woman can (which is little, by the by)” or “I am inaccurate as women usually are.” No wonder there are so many essays from the time by women angrily protesting men! As I move forward I would like to try to find a text that is by a woman written from the point of view of a male, so that I can find out whether or not women would sneak comments into the dialogue of male characters like Collins did with his female characters. In the future I think I will probably stick with this question, because I like tracking how the answer changes from time period to time period. Continue reading

Activity Design

25 Apr

After the excitement of choosing texts and developing questions, students sometimes hit a rough spot with activity design. In some ways, it’s an act of synthesis: create and complete an assignment that tries to answer a question, practice a standard, and analyze a text. Like Cathy mentioned in a previous post, a key step to activity design is understanding what the standard is requiring the student to do and create. The first time we have students tackle design creation, we usually do it as a class, though it’s not always a success. Based on the diagnostics, my Brit Lit course chose to complete the Reading: Lit Standard 11-12.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain. After rewriting the standard, they brainstormed potential activities as we read The Canterbury Tales. Here’s their first attempt:

  • Visualizing with media
  • Get quotes from the text and draw what it means
  • Hollywood Squares- people are contestants and the authors are the people who get asked questions
  • Draw with friends!
  • Telephone game
  • Skits based off of text
  • Board Game
  • cooking
  • Check your understanding squares
    • What happened
    • What does it mean
    • Establish a deeper connection
    • Create a conclusion

Obviously, these don’t really fulfill that standard (seriously, cooking?). Luckily, this helped us discuss aspects of activity creation. Yes, technically, you can do whatever you want for an activity but it must fulfill the standard.  So, when we went back to this list, we ultimately decided to do the last one, a type of graphic organizer for students to “cite…evidence to support analysis” and make “inferences…including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.”

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The Plan

1 Apr

While the first iteration of the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) was similar to a blank UbD template, we’ve spent the last three years reorganizing and refining the plan (we’re actually on version 8.0!). As Heather and Marci explained in earlier posts, the plan uses elements of the ISP and Guided Inquiry, and it’s also a tool that helps students organize their thoughts and examine how their inquiry progresses. The plan is divided into four sections, the first of which is where students outline the materials they will be studying.  Depending on your discipline, this first section could contain mathematical theories or artistic movements.  Over the course of one unit in my current British Literature course, students have to read five texts from a time period; one is a long text and one is a piece of non-fiction, but the remaining three can take on any format, including poems, speeches, works of art, etc. We also require that students use supplementary resources to aid in their inquiry; for our students, these range from Wikipedia entries to literary criticism.  As a result, section one contains a variety of sources – some that serve as the object of students’ inquiry and others that support their inquiry.

The next section is titled “What I Will Learn: Desired Results” and has students identify essential and guiding questions for the unit. We’ll discuss how we help students come up with these questions in a later post, but this step can be done in conjunction with finding texts or after reading a bit of the core text. In this section, students will also list the standards that they choose for the unit; my Brit Lit kids attempt at least four standards: a reading, writing, speaking and listening from the CCSS, and other standards possibly from AASL, NCTE, or another category from CCSS. These standards are chosen after students reflect on their diagnostics, something Cathy will explore in a future post.

So, these first two sections of the ILP really serve as a cover page of sorts, to let teachers, librarians, or anyone else who is reading the plan see what the student is attempting to learn. The majority of the work for the unit will be completed in the “Student Growth” section of the plan. Students generally complete three rounds of three activities and reflections; these activities are based on at least one standard and should help the students answer their guiding and essential questions. The reflections are crucial for students to stop and assess what they’ve learned and what they see as holes in their understanding. What will they need to do in the next round in order to improve their skills? What information do they still need to find?  Although reflections provide insight into future improvements and needs, they also show students how much they’ve learned.  This ability to monitor their own learning is crucial for today’s students.

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Giving Students Control

14 Mar

Over the past week, I have read numerous emails, blogs, and tweets about personalized learning, many with links to student samples or courses that teachers are redesigning so that students can have more control over their learning. Each time I navigated to these sites and saw what others were doing, I was reminded that my own students are achieving some pretty incredible goals in my current Honors Brit Lit course. For the last two and a half years, my students in my Brit Lit (and this year my English II courses) have designed their own curriculum. They choose their own texts, develop their own questions, design activities, manage their time–they control nearly everything in that classroom.

So, to help keep my students focused and organized, I developed an inquiry-based learning plan, inspired by Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process and Grant Wiggins’ UbD template. This site’s purpose is to share with you that plan and many of the resources and strategies that I–and my incredible friends and colleagues Cathy Stutzman, Heather Hersey, and Marci Zane–use to prepare students for rigorous, individualized, responsible learning. The plan is to have students, teachers, librarians, administrators,  and parents contribute to this site to share with you the struggles and achievements of this type of learning.

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