Friday, January 30, 2015

Disengaged Learners

     I apologize if my post seems short. I really feel I am just jumping in to this with first grade. I am learning how to be a first grade inquirer right along with the kids.
     Our group is called the All Inclusives. We are composed of three first grade teachers and intervention teachers. Our over-arching topic is how to motivate disengaged learners of all types. We are curious to understand and pursue a means to include all students who are reluctant to join the process of inquiry. Our group discussed students who are perfectionists and are afraid to be wrong, students who believe they are already right, students who are struggling or have struggled and those that have learned helplessness.
Our beautiful question is: How do we engage disengaged learners?

     We are in the beginning of collecting information. To simplify the research process we divided into subgroups to research the many types of learners. My research subgroup is about learned helplessness. Our group created a Padlet to share our information with one another. On Friday we added some articles we have found. 

    In regards to what I think about my inquiry, I believe every child can learn and wants to learn. I think it is not easy to get every child to that place they want jump in. I think there are many tools we have, but it is always a challenge to remember, connect and even pair them with the child(ren). 
     There are many questions that roll in and out of my mind as I sift through the process of inquiry and the thought of engaging all my students to their maximum potential. I realize there is one question that stands outs again and again; Will engaging all students to their greatest capability in an inquiry process require sacrificing group collaboration? 
     My question leads me to what I want to further explore: collaboration tools. I feel I need to explore potential tools I can provide my students to not only be successful in collaborating, but to also have to build that community of open discussion. As first graders, their world is still very self centered and I need to provide them all the right elements to understand how to work as team to learn, yet still allow everyone their individual opinions, interests and styles in learning.

     My class is just getting ready to launch into our inquiry. We have been studying non-fiction text features and understanding how they help us to read and understand topics. 

Mini (or not so mini) Inquiry

I'm proud to be a member of 'The Weavers'. We're trying to weave our standards, inquiry, thinking strategies, and routines together to provide opportunities for our students succeed. Our beautiful questions that we're pondering is, "How do we integrate the standards into inquiry?" All of us feel like we've attempted, or at least dabbled in inquiry, but we struggle knowing that we are meeting all of our standards and curriculum mandates. I've felt like there is so much to teach within a inquiry study. There is the process of inquiry (how we answer questions, reliable sources, synthesizing information) as well as the content.

Last Friday, I had a lot of thinking to share, although I didn't actually bring any of the artifacts. A little over three weeks ago, I launched into what I thought was a mini inquiry study around nonfiction. I've been very unsure of how an inquiry study looks in literacy around the genres. In the past, I've always approached units through an inquiry lens by immersing ourselves in our genre and noticing characteristics, but I've only continued through the inquiry lens a couple of times.

So, after looking at nonfiction texts for two days for 'threads that weave through nonfiction', I asked  students what they're wondering. I expected to hear crickets, but boy, was I wrong! The students came up with amazing questions. Some questions shocked me, and some of them were very similar to where I wanted us to go in order to address our standards. (Immerse)

As much as I wanted to go back to how I'd envisioned this unit unfolding, these questions were too good to leave unanswered. So, into inquiry we went. Students chose a question they were passionate about, attempted to find answers via Google, interviewing 'experts', and finding examples to support their thinking. (Investigate)

After way longer than I had intended to spend on researching, some students felt super successful in answering their questions, and some are still grappling with some ideas. Regardless, of where they were with their thinking we used Connect, Extend, Challenge to help us synthesize our learning. (Coalesce). 

We're now in the process of writing our findings on our blog in order to share our learning and add to our schema by reading others' posts. . 4th Grade Thinkers Blog (Going Public)

Think, Puzzle, Explore
After going through this process again and having the opportunity to converse with my group, I think that I am integrating the standards more than I feel like I do. Eventhough I felt like I focused mainly on the process and not the content, I was teaching standards. I also need to keep my mind open in terms of reading, writing, small group instruction. I'm doing all of that within our inquiry studies, just for a different purpose at different times (writing to learn vs. writing to share, conferring vs. guided reading, etc.)

One thing I'm still wondering about is what the most effective way to teach kids how to find information on the internet. If that is my mini-lesson, how can I make sure I'm successful? Over the next couple of weeks I plan on taking time to reflect on what standards I addressed during our inquiry study. My hunch is I'm addressing many standards informally, so how can I explicitly teach the skills? I need to know what I'm doing and not doing in order to begin bettering my inquiry instruction.

Lynn Burnham- January Post

I was a late-comer to the Weavers, but am so excited to be exploring the beautiful question of "how do we integrate standards into the inquiry process?"  We all come from different grade levels, different content areas, and there are a few of us who aren't currently  in a classroom. It is fascinating to me that we call still come back to this central question:  If we teach through an inquiry-based approach, is it still possible to meet the standards to which we (as teachers) and our students (as test-takers) are being held accountable for?  So at this point in the inquiry process, I have lots of questions, so I apologize that this post is mainly stream of consciousness....

I believe teachers are superheros...And Super Human.  Unlike our fictional friends, we don't have the luxury of made-up problems, or beautiful, fairy tale endings. It is a struggle as a teacher to try and do everything, and to do it all WELL and with intention.  More than ever, (especially this year) our feet are being held to the fire.  We have been inundated  with new district initiatives.  We are supposed to be at the level of full implementation of Common Core.  New tests, delivered via a new platform, are knocking at our door.  We are being evaluated through a framework that is broad, and by peers who have little, if no, "schema" about us.  We struggle with the balance between providing differentiation yet making sure all kids are proficient on grade level skills.  And yet we have to still deliver all of this while keeping in the mind the DPS virtue of "FUN."! Hmmm... like I said,  SUPERHUMAN!  Despite the to-do list above, we are still diving in, feet first, to explore this idea of Inquiry! Maybe this is our path to fun?

The inquiry question my group has chosen to explore has created many new puzzles for me:

  • Can a truly inquiry-based classroom be standards driven?  This question has opened a can of worms for me
  • If we are planning an inquiry unit, do the standards go by the wayside while we allow students to let their own questioning take off ? Or are Standards always the foundation for the plan?
  • Do I always have to plan with the end in mind, or with a standard in mind?  Or is it OK to reflect upon the lesson in hindsight and figure out what standards may have been covered?  This seems to allow for more flexibility in terms of the kids driving the direction of the inquiry based upon their authentic questions.
  • If I plan around a standard, is this still allowing enough freedom for the inquiry process to drive itself?  OR does this lead to a "guided" inquiry?
  • And then, is it still inquiry if I guide a lesson or guide my learners in a particular direction?
  • Workshop and other instructional structures:  where does they fit in?  Can you blend inquiry into a workshop model?  can you still deliver differentiated instruction in the midst of Inquiry? What does this look like?
  • What does Inquiry look like in an intervention setting?


So I guess my next steps would be to immerse myself in my questions!

1)  I am fortunate that the first grade team has been open to sharing their planning and classrooms with me so that I can have a group of guinea pigs to work with!  This has been an incredibly fun, fun, fun time for me to connect back in to the classroom, and witness the incredible work our teachers are doing!

2) I am going to attempt to take a risk and try inquiry with an intervention group!  NOT AT ALL SURE what that will look like!

3) Attempt to answer my questions surrounding inquiry and standards!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mini-Inquiry for Spelling Language Standards

 Overarching Inquiry

  Our inquiry group is the Weavers and our beautiful question is "How do we integrate, or weave, the standards into inquiry?"  All the members on our team are fully immersing ourselves into inquiry with our students.  We are searching for more information from each other, observing other teachers, researching literature, and relying on our students as our teachers.  Our formal work right now...
1. Being mindful of the standards we are weaving throughout our work and create a list
2. Teaching to the standards side by side with our inquiry "process" lessons
3. Exploring different ways for students to share their learning that broaden the authentic learning and will hold everyone accountable for understanding
4. Continuing to pursue inquiry as an integrated process of learning concepts versus inquiry as a project
5. Wondering, "What skills do kids need to be READY for inquiry?"
6. Continuing to bring inquiry work to discuss and reflect upon
7. Using
8. Planning a visit to Logan with the lens of standards woven throughout a practice of inquiry

Case Study: Personal Exploration

of Spelling Inquiry with Students

   At Friday's PLC, I brought my mini-inquiry of word endings (beyond Words Their Way).  It is nerve-wracking because I've never used inquiry directly with spelling, but I am also infinitely discouraged by my current practice of spelling instruction that yields very little transfer into daily writing/spelling.  Therefore, I am completely willing to try inquiry to see if the spelling rules will "stick".

The standard is CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.3.2.F Use spelling patterns and generalizations (e.g., word families, position-based spellings, syllable patterns, ending rules, meaningful word parts) in writing words.

My question (I know it is supposed to be theirs):
In concert, my students immediately changed my question to their own... "How do word endings affect words?"  Of course, their question is much more to the point!
As we embarked upon our journey of discovery, I struggled with how much to give them, how much to guide/facilitate, and how tangential their wonderings should be "allowed" to run.
I wanted my students to notice patterns of word endings that we could translate into rules for future spelling.  This is a glimpse what they discovered on their own within the first 20 minutes...
But then, we had more questions.....
Then this happened....
-ly, -less, -er, -ness, -s, -ies, -or, -ful..... and many many many more....

AHHH!! Back to teacher directed! Our immersion and wonderings were out of control!  How would we coalesce and understand what we were diving into?  

So, I focused our attention onto JUST the -ed and -ing.  I am hoping for them to discover the doubling rule, the add rule, and the drop the -e rule.  

In the end, we will coalesce our understandings with these reflective pieces:
  1. What are the key (important) understandings/strategies/points to remember and use?
  2. How can I use these ideas in the future?
  3. How did my understanding change?  (I use to think… now I think…)
  4. What did I find most interesting, confusing or difficult?
I am still unsure how we will "Go Public" other than writing stories with exceptional spelling that can be shared and celebrated.

PUZZLE: I know that my students are gaining a deeper understanding of word endings.  I know that my students will authentically write everyday using that understanding in a classroom of raised spelling expectations.  BUT, I am afraid that I will just end this whole spelling inquiry with worksheets to practice the rules that I already know I want them to know. Rules that require a lot of practice to master.  Will the inquiry have been in vain?  So,  I search for inspiration...

EXPLORE:  When I think about this quote, I recognize my love of inquiry AND my need for "control".  Control of the process, control of the outcome, control of the standards/skills taught, etc.  My personal goal is to embrace my need for control, create systems of inquiry that I am comfortable with and then allow the natural process of inquiry to further develop my students' understandings.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Inquiry in ECE with The Creative Curriculum

Our group is the TS Golden Girls. Members include the 3 ECE teachers. We formed our own group because we are grappling with how to stay true to our philosophical underpinnings of providing a developmentally appropriate and enriched classroom based around inquiry while working with a prescribed DPS curriculum. On the upside, The Creative Curriculum is inquiry based; yet we cannot help but feel that once something morphs into a set curriculum it becomes less authentic. And while we strive to collaborate with colleagues from other grade levels, things just look so different in ECE and so we formed our own group. Our beautiful question is "How do you make a prescribed curriculum albeit it even an inquiry based one, feel authentic to your students?

On Friday, I would have brought my artifact from The Explanation Game we played recently. I used this thinking routine several times last year and liked it's flexibility. I thought trying it again would enhance our unit of study by reinforcing some of the big ideas we wanted our students to understand. Similar to last year, I used the routine this time to recap our clothing study...even using the same a picture of 2 figure skaters ice dancing where the male is holding the female in the air; the other a picture of 2 hockey players checking each other. While I showed students the figure skaters, my para showed other students the photograph of the hockey players. The following day, we switched groups allowing all children to view both photos. We were exploring the essential question, why do people wear special clothes? Since we were studying clothes, I wanted them to notice what the skaters were wearing and come up with possible explanations as to why. While these photographs and ideas seem obvious for us, for 4 year olds who lack background knowledge, I thought this worth trying. We followed the protocol of quietly examining what we saw, then naming it, then coming up with our explanations. I facilitated the discussion by asking open-ended questions about what they noticed people wearing and what they might infer about the environment in order to support their understanding of why the people were wearing the clothes they were wearing. Given the placement of this activity towards the end of the unit, most children were able to explain hockey players wore jerseys because they were identified with a team and they wore pads for safety. My goal however was for them to contemplate why the figure skaters despite the tricks and danger of their sport, wear so little. A few children were able to make this connection, but it took a lot of modeling and questioning from me. This probably makes sense given this was my first attempt with this routine with these students.

To me, this demonstrates I am becoming more comfortable with several routines and experimenting where to place them within a unit of study. Most importantly, I want my students to walk away understanding their thinking is what drives their learning...even if they can't really understand that now.

Obviously the thinking routines align with our focus on inquiry. For me, it is now taking all of these prescribed curriculum as well as the thinking routines and strategies and blending them together to enhance inquiry all while feeling authentic to student interest and developmental level. That's the puzzling part to me. It would seem easy to work within the framework of the naturally curious 4 year old mind...and yet sometimes the curriculum and routines feel forced in a room full of 20. The curriculum also feels superficial at times.

My goal now therefore with my group is to explore a variety of resources to help us take our prescribed inquiry studies deeper or even modify them so they are authentic to our current students and what they want to inquire about. I personally would love to find an ECE teacher who effectively uses this curriculum beyond a surface level.

January Post

My inquiry group is called the Strategizer Bunnies, and we are focusing our learning on the thinking strategies.  Our beautiful question is:  How do we encourage kids to naturally use the thinking strategy vocabulary throughout all content areas?

I brought my students map inquiry folders to PLC on Friday.  Last week we were in the thick of researching our map questions and facts.  The students were having guided groups with me around their own inquiry questions.  While they were not meeting with me, the students were discovering their own facts about maps (these did not have to revolve around their question) or marking any questions or wonderings they were having (using sticky notes in books).  At the end of the morning we would share something new we learned and share questions we had and an expert in the classroom (sometimes me and sometimes another student) try to answer the questions.  Today we are  in the final product stage/going public.  The students are creating wonder bubbles to share their learning.  The students will then present them to small peer groups.

I THINK (really know) I know that my student and I are using the thinking strategies all day long.  What PUZZLES me is using the language throughout all content areas and classroom rituals/routines  naturally.  I don't want the thinking strategies to be "token" words I use randomly.  If I am going to use them I want to commit to them and use them throughout the day.  I believe that if I am using them naturally throughout the day, my kindergarten students will begin to experiment with the words and also use them (eventually using them correctly).  I also struggle with using them naturally.  Right now I am not totally comfortable with them so it feels unnatural.  I want it to be a natural part of my vernacular throughout the day.  I have been EXPLORING with mainly the language in my classroom.  I started towards the beginning of the year to teach each thinking strategy explicitly.  In my class you can find a huge anchor chart with each thinking strategy with a definition and visual cue to help the students remember what it means.  This process took the first half of the year.  Now I am TRYING to use all the language throughout the day.  I check for understanding and remind students of the vocabulary by using the anchor charts when needed.  Also part of my EXPLORE is observing other classrooms.  I am just listening for more examples of natural use of the language by teachers and, of course, it is always amazing to hear the students using it naturally.

January Post – Jessica

Our inquiry group is the Research Rats. We are focusing our work around the first two stages of inquiry: Immerse and Investigate. Our overarching question is, “What are the skills necessary for students to conduct successful research during inquiry?” To help us answer this question, we are going to familiarize ourselves with Symbaloo,  a space for teachers and students to add relevant sources. After recently feeling the roller coaster ride of inquiry, I’m hoping this work will streamline the process for my novice yet eager researchers.

Last Friday, I brought student film documentaries to share with the staff. I included on student example below. In class, we recently wrapped up an inquiry unit exploring the role of government in our community. Their goal was to tell a story that demonstrated how a policy, law, or action by either the executive, legislative, or judicial branch has affected them or their community. Using the chalk talk protocol, we generated a list of 25 topics students were interested in, and groups chose within those ideas. With parent permission, they chose from a wide range of laws, including: No Camping Ban in Denver, Amendment 64, Texting and Driving, Dangerous Dog Law, Animal Cruelty Law, Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage, Trash/Littering Laws, and the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act. During the two month inquiry, students self-directed their research, set-up interviews with adults, created storyboards, wrote scripts, led filming and voiceovers, and edited their documentaries using WeVideo, a Google app they were able to download onto the Chromebooks. 

I am so proud of their works, and they were truly engaged throughout the whole process, but we did hit some speed bumps along the way. After debriefing as a class, we all agreed that the research phase was one of frustration and trial and error. They brought up some valid points that truly made me rethink and understand the research stage of immersion and investigating.

In many ways, I want my students to be savvy researchers and understand how to navigate the black hole that is the internet. At the click of a button, they are able to access thousands of resources in a variety of formats: videos, photographs, infographics, articles, graphs/charts, blogs, encyclopedias, ect, ect. It is truly a gift and a curse for their generation. It’s at this point that I have to take a deep breath, step back, and focus on the essentials they need to feel successful. Some of the guiding questions that emerged during our mini-lessons included:
  • How do I narrow the focus of my research question so I can narrow my key word searches?
  •  How do I determine the most important sources?
  •  How do I know if my source is credible? How can I verify the information?
  • How can I diversify my sources, so I am not relying on one source type? (They love videos!)
  • How do I find sources that are appropriate for my reading and maturity level?
  • What email and phone etiquette do I need to understand and practice before contacting an adult for an interview?

In some cases, students groups that had prior research experience were able to tackle these questions and tasks appropriately. But in most cases, it was an overwhelming feat in which I had to jump in and admittedly “rescue” them. At the time, I knew we had a deadline to submit our films to the CSPAN competition, so I only allotted 2 weeks for this process. In hindsight, I would have stretched the time out longer. I know inquiry is a slow process, but I often forget how slow, and it varies depending on the topic. During our debrief, students also mentioned their need to break the research up into small chunks each day. When we immersed ourselves into full days of research, they expressed they were overwhelmed and started to shut down because the research was challenging and they needed to process it at a slower pace. To keep them engaged, we concluded that they needed a singular goal and no more than a 45-60 minute time slot to achieve that goal. Anymore, and they were quickly checking out.

Moving forward, I am struggling with the question: How can I slow down the process to honor their needs as researchers, but also create a reasonable time frame around the each stage? We could spend a whole trimester or even the full year researching one question!  To explore this idea further, I am going to take their feedback and the Symbaloo site to add new guiding questions to our upcoming unit. Just as a brain dump of ideas, our new mini-lesson questions may include:
  • What research goal or task do you want to achieve today? How does this goal support your long-term needs?
  • What is Symballo? How do we navigate it as a resource for our inquiry question?
  • Which source is the most important for your work today? How can we deeply understand one source?
  • What smaller questions stem from your overarching question? Today we are going to focus on finding the answer to one smaller question.
  • How is it going? What are you doing well? Where are do we need to problem solve?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Immersing in Math and Science Inquiry

Our inquiry group is the Weavers.  We are weaving inquiry into the curriculum that we are expected, and held accountable for teaching.  Our overarching question is, "How do we blend required learnings in literacy / math / content with inquiry?"  We are really struggling with the balance between teaching to the standards, and throwing the scope and sequence out the window to make our instruction more inquiry-based.  I think that we all have a basic belief that our kids really prefer an inquiry-based approach.  It allows them a chance to dive deep into topics and question that they are passionate about. This will also create a place where students retain much more because they have much more ownership around the topic.  I am going to focus my study this year on Math inquiry, because I don't know that I have seen examples of this in action.  I have changed over to an inquiry approach in science and social studies, but how would I do it in math?  We have chosen a book called Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry and each of us is going to read a chapter that we find relevant to our practice. I scanned the book and didn't find anything riveting about inquiry math.  I am finding more information when I simply Google the topic.  I found a good resource here that I may use to light my path.  I am thinking that it would be worth my time to find some resources from people who have already done this, try it and adapt as I go.  In fourth grade, we are exploring fractions right now, so I am thinking that we will do some mini-inquiries around fractions and I will continue to reflect on that process as we progress through the year.

On Friday, I brought some artifacts around our unit on Space.  Right now, I am building background knowledge around the standard:  Earth is part of the solar system, which includes the Sun, Moon and other bodies that orbit the Sun in predictable patterns that lead to observable paths of objects in the sky as seen from Earth.  We have been watching videos and reading books about the Moon, then the Sun and now 'other bodies' and collecting our questions as we Stop, Think and React to what we are reading or viewing.

Our collection of Moon questions as we explore resources.

Student moon questions.

Students Stop, Think, React to information they
find in videos and books
(from Comprehension and Collaboration text.)

Students will engage in a mini inquiry as they focus in on a particular question that they or someone else in class has asked.  Again, I want to see what I can do to connect what I have done in science to what I can do in math.

Vitruvian Man
I THINK that I want our math inquiry to be student focused, I want it to have a real context for them.  What PUZZLES me is, if I am creating the context for them, will they be as engaged as when they create their own context? For example, I found a website called that has an activity call Vitruvian Man, where students take measurements of different parts of their body and then record fractions and ratios and see if they match the fractions and ratios discovered by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio and drawn in his honor by Leonardo da Vinci.  Sounds great, but if I choose this activity (experience?) then will it be relevant to them? This is the focus of our group... how much of the curriculum should I throw out?  How much do I let fourth graders be the guides to their learning?  How will they learn everything they are supposed to about fractions (equivalence, adding, subtracting, comparing) if I allow them to determine what direction they go in their exploration of fractions?  I would like to EXPLORE more resources from people who have done this before, thinking about how to achieve a balance between teacher and student control over the content.