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?
My 11th-12th grade American Lit class just finished up their first full unit with the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP). As I assess their work, I have been thinking a lot about the ups and downs of their learning experience. As I expected, there were several points where students met challenges and where they felt uncomfortable. Looking ahead to the next unit, I thought it might be helpful for me to write a few posts about dealing with challenges of the inquiry process and share some of the strategies I’ve used to help students work through those moments of frustration and doubt.
The first of those moments came when they were developing activities on their own for the first time. They were really struggling with the idea that they have little direction about the final product–what they will ultimately work toward. So, in order to help ease their minds and give them a little insight into the philosophy behind what we were doing in this class, I decided to start one class period with a little troubleshooting session. It went something like this… Continue reading
One of the important aspects of using inquiry, and especially in using the ILP, is the opportunity for student choice. In Meg and Cathy’s classes, students explore themes in literature and develop skills around standards, and all of this begins with the texts students choose. In Heather’s latest post, she discusses the ways in which librarians can help students and co-teach in inquiry classrooms. For Cathy’s and Meg’s classes, librarians assist students at the beginning of the ILP process by helping them select texts. One of the ways we do this is through booktalks. A booktalk is a short introduction of a book that we can provide to students as a way to get them interested in a particular text, era, or genre of literature. In giving a booktalk, Heather and I, as well as other librarians, provide students with a glimpse into a text, by either reading a small section or sharing the conflict, theme, characters, or our favorite part. For American Literature classes, Heather and I would organize and provide booktalks around eras: Realism and Romanticism, Modernism & Postmodernism, Contemporary American Literature, among others. While we would share titles belonging to these eras, we would also connect the texts to major concepts and themes from the time period. Cathy and I would “tag team” our booktalks, alternating between the two of us, often like a ping-pong game along a literary timeline. While we were satisfied with the introduction of the texts we provided to students, we always felt that we could never cover enough books to give students a wide exposure to all of the possible literature they could choose from.
In an effort to make this part of the inquiry process more student centered, in addition to booktalks, we guided students through a browsing activity using a curation tool called a LibGuide. This web-based program allowed us to collect various websites and databases, as well as print books available in our collection or electronic texts found online. Our LibGuide for American Literature optimized a student’s ability to browse for texts. Instead of simply listening to a booktalk with books the teacher and librarians have chosen to highlight, now students could explore the multitude of resources on this guide to not only learn about eras and authors more thoroughly, but also to explore as much as possible of the literature America had to offer. This LibGuide has certainly grown over the past few years. We’ve added websites that students have discovered in their learning, ebooks that the library has purchased, and our own documents that serve to guide students through the ILP.
And when Cathy began talking about altering the structure of her class this time around, we saw the need to add even more material to this guide. While we still offer the opportunity for students to browse by era, this guide leads students to explore major playwrights, novelists, and poets across eras. It links to lists of American literary awards by year, as well as resources on American art and music, allowing students to see the connections between literature and other arts. We’ve offered sites on American culture and American history, and knowing that students don’t need to find just long texts and can explore supporting documents and materials, we’ve aggregated resources that contain primary documents from our nation’s history.
In some of the specific eras, we have linked to certain Google documents that highlight either the texts that our school library has, titles that Cathy’s classroom library contains, or books that students can find in the public domain on the web. Cathy and I have used these documents for specific browsing activities where students list their top three choices and explain why they are interested in reading the text and how it may connect to the themes they want to explore or the essential question they want to answer.
By combining all of these different types of approaches and exposing students to as many resources on American literature, writers, culture, and history as possible, we truly desire to create an open opportunity for them to explore–to wander around the resources, making connections and creating pathways for their own learning. We’ve even created a space for students to upload resources they find in their own browsing and searching online, giving them ownership of this class resource as well. And as we monitor this LibGuide, we can examine the usage statistics in the site’s “back office” to evaluate which sites are frequently referenced or which ones may be underused. Such data can give us insight into how students are using the guide and may help us determine what, if any, changes need to be made in the future.
And we haven’t just used LibGuides to help students connect with texts for literature classes. Teachers in other disciplines have teamed with the librarians to create guides in their disciplines, including Global Studies and Environmental Science, among others. By using resources like LibGuides and providing the time needed to deeply engage with the material in the beginning stages of inquiry or research, we are honoring the act of discovery and immersion as well as the importance of student choice, which all contribute to successful ILP and learning processes.
Please let us know if you recommend any resources for the American Literature LibGuide, or any of our other LibGuides, that we can share with our students. We welcome any feedback you may have and certainly would love to hear how you honor student choice in your classroom or library.
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
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