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Friday, October 30, 2009

Guided Inquiry Equals Inquiry Circles at the High School Level?

In a earlier post, I mentioned that a group of teachers from Livermore Falls High School, engaged in a 3 year literacy initiative, are reading and implementing the instructional framework from the new Harvey and Daniels book, Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.  While this appears to be a huge leap for most high school staffs, this group had been working on implementing literacy strategies for 2 years and this text organizes the strategies and takes them to the next level - guided inquiry.

"Inquiry helps kids to think creatively.  When you capture their imagination they begin to think creatively and creativity solves problems for life."   taken from Guided Inquiry, Learning in the 21st Century.

We decided to take on this challenge for two reasons:  1. the literacy team's proven expertise in the area of literacy strategies and 2.a need for increasing student engagement.  We viewed this approach as a way to invite students in and make the mandated curriculum pertinent to them by teaching them how to make connections as well as ask and answer real, individual questions.  WOW! what a tall order and a lot of work!

Early on, I followed the conversations on the English Companion NING book club it became apparent that implementation of this format might look different at the high school level.  However, the staff decided to give it a go and on October 28, 2009 I coached 4 teachers.  Using the following framework from Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.

"Students gain competence by being guided through an inquiry process by teachers and librarians...Guided inquiry is grounded in sound research findings and built on solid professional practice.  Through Guided Inquiry students gain the ability to use tools and resources for learning in and beyond the information age while they are learning the content of the curriculum and meeting subject area curriculum standards."

_ Immerse   _Investigate     _Coalesce     __Go Public    

__Student Voice and Choice
__Questions and Concepts
__Collaborative Work
__Strategic Thinking
__Authentic Investigations
__Student Responsibility
__Interaction and Talk
__Teacher as Model and Coach 

__Cross-Disciplinary Studies 
__Multiple Resources
__Multimodal Learning
__Engaging in Discipline
__Real Purpose and Audience
__Caring and Taking Action
__Performance and Self-Assessment

Following is a brief summary of three excellent lessons demonstrated as we start to implement this new instructional framework.  Stay tuned as we follow our students and teachers.

Guided inquiry to Teach Theme?

The first lesson I observed was presented by Sarah F.,  English teacher.  One of the challenges all teachers face is how to teach students to how to infer/interpret theme.  During our pre-conference Sarah stated clearly that she believed her students had to be able to connect literature to their own life or it was a meaningless experience for them - so she had devised a plan for them.

Students were given the overall framework of the lesson which consisted of: 
  1.  Students broke into small groups.
  2. Each group received 4 Aesops fables to read.
  3. After reading the fables, each group was to do the following:
    1. using a quote from the fable, state what the theme is
    2. rewrite each theme in modern English
    3. brainstorm and list at least two modern experiences (per fable) that can teach the same lesson as the fable
NEXT Groups were asked to:

  1.  Think about four lessons and the experiences that today can teach us the same lesson
  2.    As a group, decide which theme is most relevant and universal and come up with an argument to prove it
  3. Report and support your decision as we debrief
As students worked, Sarah moved around the room asking clarifying questions and supporting the group process.  Students were held accountable for their interactions as a group, following many of the guidelines outlined for inquiry circles.

__Listen Actively
__Speak Up
__Share the Air and Encourage Others

__Support your Views and Findings
__Show Tolerance and Respect
__ Reflect and Correct

Students moved through this process smoothly.  Groups were heterogeneous.  This is an example of immersion.  Sarah was clear with her students regarding the purposes of this lesson: 1.  reading books this year, would focus on theme and 2.  theme comes from one's life and experiences.  The lesson was a great success.

Social Studies/Research Meet in a Guided Inquiry Unit.

Michelle B.


 Cathi H.

introduced a 9th grade social studies class to a guided inquiry unit on countries.  The lesson was very well written and taught. 

 Michelle and Cathi balanced teacher choices and student choices extremely well.  For example, Michelle chose the countries while she allowed the students to choose 10 topics from the ABC's of World Culture poster. Both teachers modeled think alouds, prioritizing, webs, etc. - a number of pertinent literacy strategies.

Next Cathi previewed types of books available to the students, modeled how to locate information on
MARVEL, choose the just right level for them, and then reviewed the boxes of books prepared on each topic.  By framing her comments around what was just right - as well as Michelle supporting her by reiterating what just right is - students were comfortable with the idea of differentiated reading materials.

Michelle then turned the last set of decisions over to the student groups.  Each group was allowed to choose a country to research - based on what number they drew.  However, every team member had to agree.  This worked well for all but one group.  Next, students were set to the task of writing contracts for group expectations - re: responsibility, behavior, conversations, etc.  Michelle collected the lists and agreed to write rubrics based on this information for students to use during the project.

This lesson was a powerful example of slowly releasing teacher responsibility and turning decisions over to students.  It is also an excellent example of teaching students the basics of information literacy - starting with how to locate and choose information accessible to themselves.  We need to remember that information literacy is a new concept - especially when combined with technology - and most students come to us with little or no background regardless of grade level.

Math and Guided Inquiry

Robin M.  demonstrated guided inquiry during the last period of the day.  She focused on providing a learning opportunity to all her students to develop a structure for small group work.   The format she used was PALS, where two students review the problem solving process regarding a particular equation.  Students take turns as student and instructor.  Questions and responses are scripted.

Robin opened the class by explaining why the students learning this process and then proceeded to scaffold them as they practiced the strategy.

This group has presented a number of challenges, therefore, Robin tried this format to see what the results would be.  As we watched, students became more comfortable with the process and said it had helped them with their review for the test.  The team then reviewed the demonstration afterwards and brainstormed ideas to assist these students.

This is a clear example of how to prepare students for guided inquiry by beginning where they are and taking them to where they are capable of going.  Contrary to many misconceptions, students are not all at one level when they move up to the high school and the staff needs to be receptive to individual differences.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Literacy Fair at Mt. Blue High School

On October 21, 2009  Mt. Blue teachers shared literacy strategies during a early release day.  Teachers involved in the literacy initiative displayed lesson plans and student samples based on effective literacy strategies they were using in their classrooms.  One teacher even had a student attend and talk to teachers (see at the left).  What a great experience for this young man!

During the 45 minutes session,  fellow teachers visited their colleagues, asked questions, discussed the use of strategies in their own classrooms, and posted comments.

The conversations were rich, individual, and relaxed.  The enthusiasm was obvious - as was the volume!

The session was brought to closure with break out sessions chaired by groups from the literacy initiative.  Teachers were asked to bring ideas and lessons to these sessions and discuss plans for their individual classrooms.   Together, colleagues collaborated by exploring options for strategy use, tailoring strategies to individual classrooms by focusing on content and student need, and locating resources.   Bravo for a productive, teacher - friendly  staff development!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Can a group demonstrate habits of mind?

I chose this image for this post because, like many people, I often understand concepts through images and the interconnectedness represented here helps me clarify my thinking about my answer.
It reminds me of the language pathways or neurons in the brain where electrical energy (we know as ideas) move along pathways, sending messages and eliciting responses. As responses become habituated, the neuron thickens, making the response quicker and smoother.  

Sometimes as I sit "outside" of a group and watch the interaction, I visualize a big brain.  If the synergy is good and the group is functional, the ideas ping around the group, gaining meaning, clarity, and engery as they move across the members.  Harvey and Daniels address this in their book on Inquiry Circles. 

As an agent of change, I have often analyzed groups and tried to focus on what it is that makes one group or staff more productive than another.  This year I have worked with the Mt. Blue year two teachers, our study of Costa's habits of mind has intersected with some of my group observations.  I am beginning to speculate that people who practice habits of the mind carry them over into their group interactions.  Here is an example.

Last Thursday we met as a group to review the literacy fair the staff participated in on October.  It was a pretty intense day and the different levels of buy in were apparent on this day.  As in all schools, every staff comes to a point when change is moving ahead and some teachers are hesitant.  How they handle this varies.

Clearly, this is a vulnerable time for any implementation, so we decided to address the situation during our debriefing - first thing.  

We began by reporting out separately.  We slowly recreated the day and identified our challenges and successes.   Next we analyzed the dynamics of the "change landscape."   We were soon into our problem solving mode, trying to formulate a plan for addressing the elements we had identified.

Here are the traits I identified at work in our collaboration.
1.  Persisting= Everyone was engaged and committed to formulating an effective, doable plan. 
2. Listening with Understanding and Empathy= Each of our team had different experiences during the early release day.  As they shared, everyone respected and supported the other's experience.
3. Thinking Flexibly= Moving through our options, we looked at all of the suggested solutions - building a model together =Thinking Interdependently.
4. Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition) and  Managing Impulsivity =We carefully thought through our options and were sensitive to those present and those not present  - playing out a variety of scenarios = Striving for Accuracy,Questioning and Posing Problems, and Applying Past Knowledge. The level of reflection - emotional and cognitive - was shared freely, honestly and was received in a respectful manner.

5.  Remaining Open to Continuous Learning=The final solution we came up with came from the material that had just been introduced to the group.  However, the group took it in a completely different level, from a new perspective= Creating, Imagining, Innovating.
6. Taking Responsible Risks= After examining the proposed solution thoroughly, we devised a plan to put our solution  in place.

7. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision= the first part of our plan would be to present our idea to the faculty and then to gather input from them in order to work with them as part of a team.
8.  And of course as always, we laughed all the way through our time together=Finding Humor.

I am aware that this is a surface analysis of an indepth, complicated situation. This is my starting point, my basic thesis and I will be trying to categorize my observations in this manner, looking for confirmation or eventually reshaping my ideas or disproving them.

As my time with this group increases, it will be interesting to see how automated their problem solving becomes.  They work well together, always in a similar format and always ending with a solution or a next step that works. 

Stay tuned!  It will be interesting - and as always - join in the discussion. 

Literacy Strategies at Jay High School

On the day I visited Karina, she was working with a group of students at the high school, who were faced with challenges in the language arts area.  Since the support Karina provides for these students is linked to classroom activities, she was working on providing assistance with biology notes.  The plan of action they decided on was to meet with each student for a period of time and have each one take notes on key concepts using text features and then summarizing.  She began with the first statement with, "Without reading anything what do you think is happening in the diagram?"  As the student explained his understanding of the diagram, she supported him with clarifying comments.  Next, he read the first paragraph silently.  Throughout this section of the chapter, they talked back and forth, students summarizing their understanding at the end of chunks of meaning.

As students progressed through this process, Karina created class notes on large chart paper to allow students access to the information - to share later, but also to summarize for each student as they began their section of text.  Students appeared engaged throughout the process, one exclaiming, "This is easy! I thought it would be like 25 minutes."  Obviously, students were able to comprehend ideas several grade levels above their reading level - well supported with research.

Pairs of students worked around the room, relaxed and focused.  Karina provided support as needed.