Whether or not you’re using the ILP or some of its individual strategies, approaching learning through inquiry can be time consuming. This is especially true in the beginning stages as students learn how to go through the process and overcome challenges and frustrations. But in order for students to progress in their inquiry, we need to provide timely feedback on activities and reflections which can be overwhelming, particularly when a teacher has 100 students all turning in about an activity a day. That’s not to say that the responsibility should rest solely on the teacher’s shoulders; there are strategies for peer assessment and even group or self-assessment that should be used to prevent the teacher from being overloaded and unable to provide timely feedback. However, when kids need their teacher’s expertise, there are several technology tools that can make this part of the process much more manageable and efficient while also providing easy ways to document student progress.
What we love about this type of student-driven learning is that often, students are making connections to their personal lives and creating meaning in a way that we would not be able to engineer. When we first created and began implementing the ILP, I’m not sure we foresaw how students would be moving beyond content to uncover bigger truths about life and themselves, but since then we’ve realized that creating an open atmosphere for learning allows students the space for these sort of discoveries.
For many students, it isn’t until they to think about the ideas revealed in their activities that they discovered a greater takeaway. By having multiple points of reflection, one student, Miles was able to synthesize multiple sources, develop respect for the sometimes arduous task of narrative writing, and eventually see how his learning during that particular unit taught him so much more than World War I or about Paul Baumer and his buddies in All Quiet on the Western Front. In his final reflection for the unit, Miles wrote that his work helped him to see the need for education reform.
His final reflection, while not especially specific to his progress in answering his essential question or his progress with specific skills, does reveal his understanding of the creative process as well as the dispositions that helped him get to an obviously optimistic and satisfied place by the end of his inquiry. His takeaway of self-guided, “vertical growth” led him to a “So What?” proposal to change the way students are educated at his school, advocating for more of what he calls “free creation.” This call to action about education is not something we would have predicted from a unit about WWI and narrative writing; however, because the content combined with Miles’ unique view of the world, he was able to create something truly individual.
A couple weeks ago, I sat down with one of my seniors to conference with her about her reading activities. I started by asking, “What are you learning?” She dove right in, talking about how the author had introduced the main character and explaining what she thought the theme might be. The ideas spilled out quickly, until she started to question why he included certain details. She grew frustrated, saying, “Well, have you read this book?” I knew she wanted the answer to be “yes,” so that I could come to her rescue and guide her to some understanding about the author’s choices. But I hadn’t the read the book, so I couldn’t ask her the exact guiding question to get her there. I had to think broader, asking lots of “Why?” and “How do you know that?” questions. Eventually, our discussion led her to some resolution and she felt satisfied and prepared enough to move on to her next activity.
In reflecting on this experience, I’m so excited that my student even got to ask that question. When I first started the ILP and my students were venturing into independent reading, they had the expectation that I had somehow read every book; they were absolutely gobsmacked that I couldn’t tell them the answer. But now the culture at Hunterdon Central is shifting to the student as the expert on the text, not the teacher. This speaks to the comfort that my colleagues and our students are starting to feel about letting go of the traditional model that the teacher is all-knowing about the text. This shift started with student choice in terms of reading but is now a part of learning in general. My students are finding information about ideas I know nothing about— how cool is it that I get to learn as much as they do?
Last time, I wrote about one point of frustration during my American Lit class’s first time through the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP)–their first individualized unit where they were designing activities and assessments. About 2/3 of the way through, students hit another snag. They had already completed 6 activities, and we took a few minutes of class to look back at what they’ve done and figured out our next steps for the upcoming round of activities. Students seemed to be in a good place, recognizing that each activity connects an element of content and at least one standard as they aimed to learn more about their essential questions. And, after lots of practice breaking down standards into rubrics and developing activities in small groups, most students were pretty comfortable with designing their own activities during class workshop time. Their comfort was apparent in their self-assessments after their second round of activities. Using Dr. Carol Kuhlthau’s ISP continuum, I had asked students to identify emotions they were feeling about their work at that point. Many said they were feeling confidence and clarity. Several wrote that they had a sense of direction. Wahoo!
The next day in class, I complimented their progress and their resilience as they tried something new. I also spent some time reminding them about the requirements for their last three activities–they needed to use their long text in one of the activities, they had to use any remaining texts (of their original 7), and they had to cover all of their standards. I didn’t anticipate the reaction I got that day. After all, I thought, if they had put effort into their prior activities, and if they had learned from the mistakes that they made to improve for the final round, they would be in great shape.
However, the mood almost instantly changed in the room.They looked scared, baffled, and frustrated. Recognizing the distress, I did some quick conferencing with students. One student told me that he left class the prior day feeling clarity with both the content and the inquiry process. Today, he plummeted right back to doubt. Only this time, he said, he felt lower than when we started the process. A few students admitted that they were struggling to make sense of new source information, and even more were overwhelmed by the thought of coordinating everything in these last few activities. Confusion and frustration were rampant. Continue reading
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.
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.