What a week! I’ll write about my fantastic trip to Boston with members of our Socials Department, my Librarian colleague from our Jr School and Leslie Maniotes in another post, but while I was away, the Social Studies class that I had written about previously was working hard in their Create and Share phases. When I returned, we moved into the Evaluate phase.
Let me preface the Evaluate discussion with a comment about how poorly we had implemented the Guided Inquiry (GI) framework with this unit. Our initial motivation was that we had a unit that we had done for two years that had worked well, but we needed to shake things up. I was reading the Guided Inquiry books and talking to Leslie in anticipation of the aforementioned trip to Boston. I said to my partner in crime in this unit, “Let’s try Guided Inquiry!” and explained why I wanted to get my hands dirty and understand the model more deeply. We had 8 classes and there are 8 phases to GI, so it made perfect sense.
In reality, GI does not work well with only one period per phase. There are certain phases that simply need more room to breath and students need the opportunity to work, to a point, at their own pace. We ended up extending the unit and using a progress mark for the second term reports. We also needed a more consistent student:teacher ratio. GI talks of Learning Teams of at least three teachers. At best, we had two, and for a number of classes, for good reason, we were down to one. There were many times where I felt frustrated by not being able to give all of the students the individual attention they needed. And, as we were muddling through the process for the first time, there are many activities that we felt like we were flying by the seat of our pants and would do differently with our new level of experience.
But we’re talking about Thursday’s Evaluation session. I have to say that I’ve never been part of such a positive, open and honest reflection with students before. We set up the Evaluation with an extension of the Share session. The students had all published their assignments to their blogs and we gave them time in class to read and comment on at least three of each others posts. We introduced a framework for our ensuing discussion to keep in the back of their minds as they read and wrote.
We defined product as the basic curricular goals of the unit. For them, this was related to Canadian identity and how immigration has related to that identity over the course of our history. The process ended up being more about GI itself and how we implemented it. Once they’d had enough time to read, we got into a large group (full Inquiry Community) and had a Harkness inspired discussion. We gave very loose prompts, essentially pointing them to one of the four quadrants in our chart, and let them take control of the discussion.
To be honest, we ended up spending the short time we had on the top half of the graph and didn’t really get to “What Next?” But the “So What?” discussion was brilliant! Here are some of the ideas that came out of that discussion:
- There were many comments that pulled together ideas from multiple projects. The students were aware of and could speak intelligently about the relationships between each others research.
- There were many comments that took a big step backwards to see how their research fit into the course as a whole and the study of history in general.
- They spoke of their connection to their individual topics, but it was interesting to hear how those connections manifest themselves. In some cases, research came out of a specific family’s immigration story: “Where did my name come from and why did this group choose to leave their homeland?” or “My father had issues with this aspect of his coming to Canada.” In other cases, the interest was of a more intellectual nature: “What troubles did this particular group experience as enemies in war and immigrants post-war?”
- They universally loved that they had been able to choose and define their own direction for their research. I found this interesting as we have had a number of different approaches across our school where students have been allowed to define their research, but I have yet to see a group so universally in favour of this approach. While they admitted to being challenged by this, they still embraced the idea. As a librarian, I will often run in to students who are disaffected by or simply frustrated by the freedom of the choice and claim to “hate” a particular model or approach that is being used and labelled by the teacher. It feels like GI supports that decision making better than other approaches that I’ve seen so far. (even when the teachers don’t implement it that well!)
- What was particularly interesting was the lack of discussion around the fact that we delayed the discussion about the parameters of the assignment. They certainly didn’t see this as a concern.
- They were truly engaged by the process. This was less evident in what they said in the discussion and more evident in how they spoke of the project. Perhaps the evidence here was when it was announced that we would use the GI approach once more this year, there were smiles and fist-pumps!
Both the teacher and I are looking forward to how we all respond to the next GI unit. I know that we will have more ideas on how to structure and pace each phase of Inquiry. The students will also be able to predict the phases better and respond appropriately. I hope that we can make better use of Inquiry Journals and Logs and structure the Identify process better.