Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Visible Thinking

The start of 2017 has been incredibly challenging for me.

How many of you automatically thought 'challenging' meant bad?! (Go on, be honest...)

Challenging, indeed, did mean difficult in this case.
 But not a bad difficult. 
A different difficult. 
An uncomfortable difficult. 
An 'out-of-my-zone-of-proximity' difficult. 

A challenging difficult.

You see, late last year I applied for the position of IBMYP Middle Years Learning Leader at my school, and to my utter delight, I won the position. I was totally ecstatic, because as any of you who actually know me, would know my love of the IB and my love of enriching curriculum. And now I was in charge of guiding our Middle School in both of these areas.
But with significant change come A LOT of learning. Not even a steep climb of learning - a ruddy big sheer cliff face of rock climbing learning. But luckily, I have amazing support from friends and colleagues to show me the foot holds and to catch me when I stumble.

But enough of that.

The point of this is to set the background of what I am about to share with you now. As part of my role, I got a Guernsey to be a part of the 'Cultures of Thinking' team that had begun last year. I attended a workshop on this with Ron Ritchhart (OMG total nerd swoon! He is the rock star of thinking and just amazing...) and was totally blown away by the ease in which he used his thinking routines and the way in which he delivered them.
Part of our session was to come up with an Action Research Project question, that we would engage with in our classrooms and collect documentation on how the students are responding to it, and also how our teaching was affecting them. My question, may seem somewhat ambiguous, but after a lot of umming and ahhing, I decided to stick with it.
How would it (learning) be different if we embraced student-led curiosity?
I have been challenged on this by a colleague and found it difficult to explain what I meant by it, until I came across this article by Edutopia (GET ON THIS WEBSITE!) that was shared by them through Facebook and Twitter (@edutopia):
Inquiry-Based Learning: The Power of Asking the Right Questions
This article expressed exactly what I wanted to do and with using thinking routines to help guide that questioning and collect my documentation.

This term, I thought I would focus mainly on documenting thinking from 2 units in particular - our English unit on the novel 'Thai-riffic!' by Oliver Phommavahn, and our Humanities unit on 'Water Ways'. I was also going to collect any other visible thinking from other subjects, but these two would be my main focus.

I always start my units by getting students to map everything they know about the topic/ concept, then all the questions they may have about it. I found this idea which I may try next when introducing a new topic to 'shake things up' a bit...
Create a mind map of questions on the topic - a 'question explosion' if you will. Start with the topic/ concept in the middle, then create your questions about that topic on the first set of 'bubbles'. then record questions that come from the questions on the outer 'bubbles' and so on, until you have a mind map of questions.

I then give them the Statement of Inquiry for the unit, and we unpack what that means and pull out the important vocab needed to understand the statement. We add these words to out 'vocab wall'

 From here, we engage in tasks surrounding the topics.
What I would like to happen, is using thinking routines, do less 'talking' and get the students to do more 'learning'. So not let them go nuts and have free reign, but to work with them to follow lines of inquiry that they have developed on these topics.

Hard when you have common assessment tasks at the end of the unit (just sayin.)


So far in our Humanities unit, we have created individual inquiry questions on the River Murray (they just came back from a 3 day camp there, so lots of connections and links to be made!) I helped them form these with the Question Starts Routine and then guided them in the formation of their guiding questions.

They then needed to produce a 'sketch notes' on the information they were finding in relation to their questions. I will post finished products of these later - they are looking amazing thus far. For those who don;t know what a 'sketch notes' is - here's one a made on the topic of 'Sketch Notes'!

In our English unit, we are studying the text 'Thai-riffic' by Oliver Phommavahn. A fantastic text to study for new transitioning year 7 students to a middle school. They need to analyse the text to prepare for the end assessment - a formal text analysis of the themes and main character. So how to prepare them?
Thinking Routines! YAY!

I made a 'graffiti' wall for my kids to explore Connections, Concepts and Challenges in the book. Whenever they wanted to add something, they were welcome to, even if it was in the middle of reading the story. Having this on the wall for all to see made their thinking visible. This was adapted from the 4 C's Routine - I am aware I only have 3 C's, the 4th one is coming...!

After reading a few chapters, we then conducted a 321 Bridge routine on the main character, Lengy, and changed it slightly to:

  • 3 words to describe Lengy
  • 2 questions you have about Lengy and 2 questions he might have
  • 1 metaphor/ simile to describe Lengy
We will then conduct this 321 Bridge again at the end of the book and compare answers. This in turn will help them answer the analysis question of 'How has Lengy changed from the start of the book to the end?' (Notice the 4th C (Change) creeping in here?!)

I have to share my favourite simile explaining Lengy:
Lengy is like an eraser, he gets and feels smaller and smaller every time he makes a mistake.
*Insert tears of joy from teacher here*

So far, my journey has been invigorating. All I can hope is that the kids are engaged and feel enthused to learn too.

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