Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Questioning is Essential - End of Unit

What did I do?
This year, I used questioning guidelines from Making Thinking Visible for our inquiry circles.  Each group's questions were either "Definition" (What is happening?) or "Consequence," (Why does it matter?).  In addition to their group charts, they had individual journals that also had their group's questions, as well as space for any Action questions (What can be done?).  Work begins this week on synthesizing our learning and designing/creating our group projects, to be presented to parents.

Why is this important to me?  My one theme this year has been to s-l-o-w   d-o-w-n with everything:  planning, materials, modeling, instructions, interventions ... I have followed my mission to the point that ants (not literally!) have taken over the creative room in our curriculum.  This same creative room at this time of year is when we create poetry, followed by poetry night at the Mercury Cafe.  No Poetry Night for 1st grade this year ... A hard pill to swallow since I think it's one of the best things we do all year.  I know it is the right decision because they wouldn't have nearly enough time to explore the genre and practice performing.  

YET, I'm proud that the flip side is we have taken our time with the ants research, halting it if not enough adults available; scrambling to be flexible and work on it when adults are unexpectedly available.  I am looking forward to seeing their group projects, yet to be designed or created!

Why is this important to me?  I am focused on guiding my kids to deeper understandings:  more depth in the process than product.  Inquiry Circles are so complex because of the behavioral dynamic kids are working through in a small group setting.  Likewise, using adults as role models and volunteers was/is absolutely necessary.  I think it is so important for kids to see parents in the classroom, teaching and learning right along with us.  I am hyper-fixated on guiding my kids to developing good communication skills - especially when things go wrong.  Small group work is the perfect (painful!) venue for this.  I tell kids repeatedly that half the reason we do ants inquiry circles is not to learn about ants, but to learn about how to get along when we disagree.

What did I learn?  In previous years their group research charts were created with question webs, but the kids often didn't make connections between the questions.  I, too, found them hard to follow.  With the sorting of questions by "Definition" and "Consequence," kids were quickly making connections between the two:  (Definition:  What do ants do in tunnels?  Consequence:  I wonder why ants dig in tunnels?) and encouraged to bridge the two with a line connecting similar questions.

How did this experience impact my work?  In previous years I have been somewhat disappointed with the lack of cooperation, level of detail, and presentation of some group's big idea through their group project.  Determined not to experience that this year, I decided to start with the Art Rubric (created for our Ezra Jack Keats' characters) and tweak it with the kids, helping them to identify language, behavior, and product that will best represent their group's most accurate and meaningful learning.  

How did this experience impact my students?  Through reading and writing nonfiction over the last three months, they have a good understanding of how to research questions using nonfiction features  (TOC, chapters, captions, diagrams, labels, fact boxes, index, and glossary).  

More importantly, deep in the process several kids began asking "Action" questions (What can be done?), which is the third tier of questioning from Making Thinking Visible.  As I understand the big picture of inquiry circles (in the truest sense), kids are to follow their curious questioning through research, definitions, and understandings, which hopefully prompts them into action.  This is tough for first graders, however, if even some kids are inspired to be researchers, or work with animals or (best yet) not to ever stomp on or squish an ant again, then the process is working.  

How will I use my new learning in future practice?  Next year, I will continue to strive for fewer, more appropriate questions per group, while making sure they are asking a consequence question for each definition question. I want them to dive deeper into fewer, important questions.  Even though I posed the Overarching questions (below) for the unit at the beginning, I need to be better at posting them throughout, guiding with them, and making connections with them, so it becomes part of the kids' daily language.  

How do animals impact people?  
How do people impact animals?  

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