Tag Archives: guided inquiry

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

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

The Role of Essential Questions in the Inquiry Process

23 Apr

The best questions point to and highlight the big ideas.  They serve as doorways through which learners explore the key concepts, themes, theories, issues, and problems that reside within the content, perhaps as yet unseen: it is through the process of actively ‘interrogating’ the content through provocative questions that students deepen their understanding.
— Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design

Any question you ask will just lead to more questions.
— Mother, LOST

Good questions call for discovery, which is at the heart of inquiry.  In using the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP), we guide students through the process of developing their own essential and guiding questions for each unit. Essential questions are ones at the center of a topic; they are broad and seemingly timeless.  They also have no right answer, but instead invite all learners to engage in dialogue around the themes within the content.  As we discussed with the concept of “third space” in a previous post, strong essential questions allow for students to connect their life experiences, in addition to content from other curricula, to whatever they are inquiring at the time.  This is the very nature of transfer, and good questions prompt students to consider more than one way of viewing a topic.

The purpose of creating an essential question is for students to develop a focus.  At this point, they have already spent time understanding the broader scope of what they are studying (i.e. a time period in literature, an era in history, etc.). Now, they must narrow their inquiry.  As demonstrated in Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari’s Guided Inquiry Design, students may need to consider four criteria when developing an essential question:  “What is interesting to me?  What are my learning goals? How much information is available?  How much time do I have?”  (pgs. 96-97).  Such understanding connects students to their own information need.  Information need is an important concept in information literacy that suggests learners are thoughtful to what type of information is most significant to addressing their questions, rather than students simply collecting information based on a set of requirements imposed upon them.

Before we have students develop their questions, we discuss with them the difference between convergent and divergent questions.  Convergent questions are those that ask for specific information or have one or a few right answers.  These types of questions are considered low-level questions.  On the other hand, divergent questions do not have a right answer; instead, they are open-ended, provide an opportunity for investigation and argument, and may require synthesis and analysis.  With this understanding, students can aim for creating divergent questions as the basis of their inquiry.

Oftentimes, it takes several tries for students to develop quality essential questions.  For example, students in Cathy’s sophomore English class developed the following “essential questions” on first try:

  • What attributes make Beowulf a hero?
  • Can rumors cause more fear than true events?
  • Who are the monsters and why do we see them as such?

When asked to reflect on this first attempt using the definitions of convergent and divergent questions, students understand that they haven’t quite mastered the task.

As teachers, we can design activities to guide students through this process.  For example, Cathy and I developed an activity called “Musical Questions: Broadening and Narrowing Our EQs.”  Students placed their first “essential question” at the top of the sheet, and Cathy began playing instrumental music.  She instructed the students to move about the room; when the music stopped, students sat in the closest seat and read the essential question on their classmate’s worksheet.  Each student then wrote one question that was broader and one question that was narrower than the original essential question.  After a few rounds of “Musical Questions,” students returned to their seats and read through the questions that their classmates had left for them.  Many students began to see their original question in relation to the others classmates wrote.  When asked to reflect on which ones were most “essential”, meaning most divergent, students were able to identify at least one.  Now, questions read like:

  • What is heroism?
  • What is scary about the unknown?
  • How are social roles determined?

This activity was successful on a few levels.  First, students really understood the process of developing questions.  At the end of the activity, they had not only essential and other divergent questions, but they also had an important list of guiding questions to help their inquiry.  Secondly, students also practiced the information literacy skill of narrowing and broadening an inquiry, which connects with both the Common Core ELA Writing Standard 7 (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7) and the AASL Standard 1.1.3 (Develop and refine a range of questions to frame the search for new understanding).  With a provocative essential question, students will have a strong foundation upon which they can begin quality research and investigation.

What are some other ways we can engage students in developing essential questions?

ILP and Guided Inquiry

30 Mar

Two helpful resources in understanding the principles of Guided Inquiry (GI) are Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (2007) and Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School  (2012) by Carol Kuhlthau, Leslie Maniotes, and Ann Caspari.  Through years of research and professional practice, this team of researchers and educators demonstrates how GI “is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic, or issue” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007).  Students construct new knowledge actively and strive for deep understanding.  Gone are the days of just gathering information for presentation, or copying and pasting information as ways of learning.   GI requires thorough interpretation, analysis, reflection, and synthesis to handle the complexities and nuances of various topics.  The process increases student engagement and invites students to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the world around them.  As a result, students take on more independence and more responsibility since they are constructing their own paths for learning.

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