Tag Archives: ILP

Starting Over

16 Feb

A new semester is upon us, and because there’s something that keeps me from doing the same thing with each class, I’m switching things up a little bit this quarter. In the past, I’ve grounded my American Literature classes around literary movements. Even though students asked entirely unique questions and they may have each selected different books, they were always exploring those things under umbrellas like Romanticism or Modernism. And, that’s always worked fine. But I noticed that they weren’t doing as well as I would’ve liked on the common final exam, which is a synthesis essay defining what it means to be an American. So,  I’m pushing myself into something new this quarter with my American Lit class–a new structure to better prepare them for a common final exam, to help them more aptly synthesize what they learn, and to allow them more time to reflect and prepare a course-level “So What?” artifact. I ask my students to push themselves outside of their comfort zones to work on skills that are challenging to them; why not challenge myself with something a little new, too?

The class began with a diagnostic unit, kicked off with a personal response piece that answers the final exam question–what does it mean to be an American? Next, I split them up into small groups, each assigned a single literary era to study. I maintained a lot of control over this mini-unit–assigning an essential question, the standards, the activities, and the assessment. However, students still documented their process through an adapted Inquiry Learning Plan template, and they were in charge of creating guiding questions as well as choosing their texts. Each group presented their findings to the class (a diagnostic for a few speaking and listening standards), and all students noted their greatest takeaways from each presentation. The kids took us through information they discovered from various texts about their literary eras: Colonial, Enlightenment, Romanticism, Realism, Modernism, and Postmodernism.

Afterwards, I handed out a list of thesis statements from their diagnostic essays–a sampling of voices from our contemporary literary era. I asked them to determine what their theses say about us now. Then, we applied their guiding questions to our experiences as Americans including:

  • What important events took place?

  • Who were the important authors?

  • Who were the most influential people?

  • What is the general tone of the period, and/or what emotions were expressed?

I recorded their responses as they spoke, and that became a basic list of themes or topics from our contemporary literary era. Our next step is to develop essential questions from those topics that will lead students into our first theme-based unit for which they will select one text from each era to study the theme’s treatment and/or development over time.

I will be posting periodically throughout the unit to let you know how it’s going. If you have any questions or thoughts on the process, please post in the comments below. I hope you will join us on this exciting adventure! I’m very much looking forward to learning in a new way with my students, and I welcome any feedback you might give.

Boston Bound

20 Nov

We’re very excited to be heading up to Boston this weekend for the NCTE Annual Convention! It’s always fun to catch up with and learn from other English-teacher types, and there are tons of great presentations we’re looking forward to.  I know I’ll be checking out Michael Smith’s presentation on close reading, and I’m hoping to make it to Peter Smagorinsky’s roundtable session, “Writing to the Community.” Meg will be attending a panel discussion “Teaching to the Future: Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s World” with Jim Burke, et al. Both of us will be at NCLE‘s session with the Institute of Play from 4-5:30 on Friday in the Sheraton’s Ballroom B. 

If you’re looking to meet up with us, Meg and I will be presenting a couple of times this weekend. On Friday, we will give an overview of the ILP at 9:30am in the Hampton Room at the Sheraton. During that session, we will give the background and pedagogy behind the ILP. The real stars of that presentation are the students, parents, administrators, librarians, and teachers who will share their stories of success and struggle. If you want to know about the benefits and challenges of the process, this is the session for you! For those looking to see the ILP in action, we will also do a classroom demonstration on Sunday morning at 8:30 in room 210 of the Convention Center.  Participants will get a feel for how we help students make sense of the CCSS, develop guiding and essential questions, and create activities that support their skill progression and their understanding of the content. This is a chance for you to experience the process through the students’ eyes. We invite you to participate and provide feedback.

If you’re attending the conference this weekend, what are you hoping to see and learn? Let us know which sessions you’re attending. We hope to see you there!

Reflection on #AASL13: Importance of Student Voice

18 Nov

On Friday, November 15th, we presented the ILP to a group of educators at the AASL 16th National Conference & Exhibition in Hartford, CT.  As part of our presentation, we shared video reflections from students who have experienced the Inquiry Learning Plan, which is one of our favorite parts of the presentation to share with others.

It always brings us joy to watch our students reflect on their learning through the ILP.  The video we shared of students communicating their experiences in developing questions, confronting new information, and making decisions about what to study demonstrates just how mature they are in their thinking.  On Thursday evening, we listened to Tony Wagner speak about the importance of critical thinking and adaptability, two of seven essential survival skills for today’s learners and workers.  When re-watching this video of our students, we can’t help but see the connections between our students’ learning and the message Wagner so passionately articulates.  Our students are unpacking language in standards to identify skills they need to address.  They are choosing information sources responsibly and synthesizing these sources to address the divergent and convergent questions they are crafting.  They are deciding which activities best allow them to practice and master the standards, and they are reflecting upon these activities, which ultimately leads to a final summative representation of their learning.  Our students are charged with the responsibility, the curiosity, and the perseverance to undertake this learning process. This is the core of critical thinking.  This is the core of rigor.  And we—the teachers and librarians—provide feedback, ask them questions, connect them with texts and information, and suggest methods for piloting each stage of the ILP.  We help them learn not just the content of the curriculum, but how to navigate the landscape of learning and research, with all of its twists, turns, and bumps in the road.  This is the spirit of adaptability, and such experiences help students build confidence and skill as researchers. Continue reading

Reflections on AASL

16 Nov

This weekend, Cathy, Marci, and I were lucky enough to present our ILP at the American Association of School Librarian’s National Conference in Hartford, CT. Tony Wagner, the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, was the speaker at the Opening General Session on Thursday and delivered a powerful message centered around his seven survival skills. During his discussion on innovation, he talked about the importance of failure as a learning tool. Our schools have been built on a system of rewards and punishments in the form of grades, and failure, unfortunately, is too often an option that doesn’t lead anywhere. When a student fails an assignment, they move on to the next one, without the opportunity to learn from the previous experience. Continue reading

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

Feedback and Assessments

12 May

One thing that I like about the course is how we do an activity based on a standard first to get feedback before we receive a grade on that standard. I like this because it gives us a chance to improve our work before we are graded on it. –10th grade honors English student

At the heart of the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) is individualized discovery and the goal of improvement. We want students to feel comfortable enough to take risks in areas that are historically weaker for them, and rather than punish them when they’re trying something for the first time, we want to make sure that their grades reflect what they’re capable of after learning takes place. That is why we use a lot of formative feedback; we give ungraded responses to student work that is designed to help them improve in specific skill and/or content areas while they are learning. Summative assessments–graded work that measures student knowledge and skills after learning–only occur at the end of each of our inquiry units. With the ILP, we use summative assessments to evaluate the final attempts at each standard. 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

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