A Final Reflection

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A reflection of Chapter 7: “Reading and Inquiry in the Content Areas: Using Questioning Schemes to Promote Deep Disciplinary Learning”

In this chapter, Wilhelm really ties the previous chapters together, explaining that inquiry and questioning strategies aren’t extra, but different. Not only are these strategies different, but they promote student engagement and understanding – so it would seem silly NOT to use them. Wilhelm writes, “Several national commissions have identified students’ motivation as a foremost challenge teachers face today.” (p. 153) If motivation is an issue, and inquiry and good questioning strategies increase motivation, the connection seems quite logical.

I loved his explanation of how to hook children and teach them to become readers. He writes: “As one colleague of mine maintains, ‘Kids don’t become readers because they are hooked on the cr blend.’ Kids get hooked by developing real competence that can accomplish real goals. They get hooked by being apprenticed into a real community of practice. They want to be insiders, members of a club.” (p. 153)

By introducing inquiry and strategies like QAR, Questioning Circles, and Hillocks’’ Questioning Hierarchy into our classrooms (in ALL subject areas), we will increase student motivation, engagement, and thus, learning and understanding.

Read with the Author in Mind

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A reflection of Chapter 6: “Considering the Intelligence Behind the Text: Helping Students Inquire by Reading with the Author in Mind”

In this chapter, Wilhelm introduces us to authorial reading, a concept directly connected to the social nature of reading that encourages the reader to interact with the author while reading a text. Through the process of authorial reading, readers use the understandings that the author has put into the text to create a better understating of his/her own. “Vygotskians call this kind of interplay the achievement of ‘intersubjectivity’ in which we take on the understandings of another and make this understanding our own” (p. 134).

When I read this, I immediately made a connection to history, which is one of my personal favorite subjects. Understanding the author’s perspectives and background is important in any reading, but could be especially important when reading historical documents and primary documents like letters and journals. When reading historical documents, it is important to acknowledge and understand the historical context and the author’s specific context within the history. Often authors in the past had a different audience in mind and wrote about things that were viewed very differently than they are now. Recognizing the kind of text is also important because the author’s perspective in a letter or journal may be significantly less guarded than in “official” writing, since the text had a very specific recipient in mind.

Wilhelm presented two different strategies to use when reading with the author in mind: Questioning the Author and Hillocks’ Questioning Hierarchy.
Questioning the Author (p. 135): Questioning the author suggests using “queries” to encourage student interaction with the author through the text. Wilhelm says, “The queries prompt students to engage with one another about the text and consider what the author is attempting to communicate” (p. 136). These queries are different than traditional questions because they encourage discussion rather than asking for a restatement of an idea from the text. In fact, the two types of inquiries are categorized as initiating queries, which open up discussion, and follow-up queries, which guide students to connect ideas (p. 136).

This strategy has five, easy to follow steps that guide a teacher to use it.
(1) Select the text - This text can be fiction or nonfiction, but should be read by the teacher before any other planning takes place.
(2) Segment the text – this requires the teacher to look for places with key information or for tricky spots in the text that may cause issues for the students.’
(3) Develop queries for each segment – this step is the most important planning step. It requires the teacher to develop queries for the students to address that directly apply to the segment. Wilhelm provides an excellent list of suggested queries on page 140. The list is especially helpful because it provides examples. I appreciate this because creating something new is often the most difficult part of using a new strategy.
(4) Read the text aloud to students.
(5) Stop after each segment and pose queries or have students select queries to address from a list of provided options.

Hillocks’ Questioning Hierarchy (p. 141): I found this strategy to be the most interesting and appealing because it seems to combine the QAR and Questioning Circle strategies, but also goes into more detail. This system actually works as a true hierarchy, meaning the lower levels must be completed/comprehended in order to move to the higher levels. Because this IS a true hierarchy, it is easier for teachers to assess exactly where students struggle. The Hillocks’ Questioning Hierarchy is directly related to the inquiry process. Wilhelm even says, “the hierarchy mirrors the inquiry process: inquirers must first understand established meanings and must then perceive patterns and interpret the meanings of various connections. Finally, they must understand the point expressed by the structure of the data, and how to use this meaning to think and do things in the world.” (p. 148)

The question types in this hierarchy are broken down with explanations and examples on pages 143-147, but basically are as follows:
(1) Basic Stated Information: students need to identify and comprehend literal information that is repeated throughout the test
(2) Key Details: students need to comprehend details crucial to understand the text that are only stated in one place (This is harder because the information is only found in one place.)
(3) Stated Relationships: students should be able to identify explicitly stated relationships between two characters, groups, events, etc.
(4) Simple Implied Relationships: students need to recognize the relationships within the text that are implied but unstated
(5) Complex Implied Relationships: students should infer relationships between a large number of details that are spread across the text
(6) Authorial Generalization: students should build on level five relationships by determining their beliefs about what the text implies (This should be done at the end of the reading.)
(7) Structural Generalization: At this level, the students should reflect on the total structure of the reading as well as how the structure guided their involvement with the text. (This should also be done at the end of the reading.)

While these explanations (and the corresponding examples) were helpful, I found the example on page 149 to be especially helpful to me because it is specifically written to be used with elementary students.

While both of these strategies have valuable pieces, Hillocks’ Questioning Hierarchy especially appeals to me because of the progression of complexity and thought throughout the hierarchy. The concept that students have to understand one piece before moving on to the next seems quite logical to me, and I think that adds to its appeal. I also like the ability to assess the levels of understanding and the opportunity to jump in with interventions right away when an issue arises.

Looking at Questions

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

a reflection of Wilhelm's Chapter 5

While reading Chapter 5 of the Wilhelm text, I realized that there is a big difference between questions and questioning schemes – which is something I’d never thought about before. Questions can be simple or complex, but they are singular – one question has one answer (for the most part). Questioning schemes have more of a sequence in place. There are several types of questioning schemes, but the main concept of a scheme is to create a questioning sequence with questions that move students from a very simple “fact based” understanding toward a more complex “applied” understanding. Wilhelm describes three techniques in the chapter:

ReQuest: This is an interesting way of organizing a question series. There are three types of questions, “on the lines,” “between the lines,” and “beyond the lines” – that work together to move students from concrete thinking to more abstract thinking, which helps with the synthesis process (which is a difficult skill). I especially like that this strategy works well when the questions are used before and after reading the text, because I see a direct connection to strategies students can use on the mandated standardized tests. The “read the questions before AND after” approach shows the benefits of knowing the questions before you read (so that you can begin to think about them while you experience the text), but it is also a strategy that students can apply to the standardized tests later in the year.

QAR (Question-answer relationship): This strategy seemed very similar to the ReQuest strategy, but with different names for the questions. The organization of questions in this scheme made sense to me,
but interestingly enough, I think that most classrooms focus on the “right there” questions, which are not only the simplest of the four types, but the kind of questions that require the least thought. The “think and search” questions really appealed to me because they require the reader to look for details and think about the connection between the details. This has been difficult for my students in the past because they aren’t used to moving beyond the “right there” type of questions. They hate thinking until it starts to dawn on them that thinking actually helps the learning process!

Questioning Circle: I like the idea of moving from pure to shaded to dense questions and really pushing students to extend their thinking and make connections. I think that this would need to be practiced a lot in a classroom for it to work successfully, but since Wilhelm’s example (on pages 124-129) is fifth grade students, I believe that my 5th graders should be capable of doing this, too. I think the three circle Venn diagram really helps to organize the levels of questions, but also to show how the three pure components (text, me, and world) really do interact with each other to create the shaded (text and me, world and me, and text and world) and dense questions (text and world and me). It reminds me of the color wheels that they study in art class, so I think showing them a color wheel may help them to see the interrelated nature of the questions.

As I read the conclusion of this chapter, Wilhelm stated what I had realized, but not actually stated in my notes.
“Each of these schemes is powerful precisely because it mirrors the trajectory of the inquiry process: Moving students’ responses from the factual, through interpretative connection-making, to critical evaluations and applications that are valuable in the world. Furthermore, these schemes illuminate how the process of inquiry and design are akin to the processes of expert reading.” (p. 129)

I think using a combination of these questioning schemes in my classroom would help to increase the students’ learning in a very natural way. They may not even realize that they are developing deeper thinking skills, but the ways that the students begin to interact with their learning will improve with these strategies in place.

Inquiry Unit Progress

Friday, July 2, 2010

Inquiry Project Progress as of July 2, 2010

A few days ago, I posted my guiding question, my standards, and an explanation of my final project. Then, in doing more research, I found that I had been referencing the old Indiana standards, not the new ones. In this post, you will find:
* My revised Social Studies standards
* My essential understandings
* A few BDA strategies/activities I’d like to try

Revised Social Studies standards:
5.1.1 Identify and describe early cultures and settlements that existed in North America prior to contact with Europeans. (Core Standard)
Example: The Anasazi and Mississippian culture at Cahokia
5.1.2 Examine accounts of early European explorations of North America including major land and water routes, reasons for exploration and the impact the exploration had. (Core Standard)
Example: The Viking explorations and settlements in Greenland and North America; Spanish expeditions by Christopher Columbus, Hernando Cortes, Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado; expeditions by French explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain; and expeditions for England and Holland by explorers Henry Cabot, Henry Hudson and John White
5.1.3 Identify and compare historic Indian groups of the West, Southwest, Northwest, Arctic and sub-Arctic, Great Plains, and Eastern Woodlands regions at the beginning of European exploration in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (Core Standard)
Example: Compare styles of housing, settlement patterns, sources of food and clothing, customs and oral traditions, political and economic organization, and types and uses of technology.
5.1.4 Locate and compare the origins, physical structure and social structure of early Spanish, French and British settlements. (Core Standard)
Example: St. Augustine, Roanoke Island, Santa Fe and Jamestown

Guiding Question: Who really found America?
Enduring Understandings: At the end of this inquiry unit, I would like for my students to understand that there were a number of cultures involved in the formation of our country. They will understand that a number of Native American groups were here long before European explorers began to “claim” land. They will also understand that a number of European countries had explorers in the “New World.” Because we will be looking at these cultures during our study, I would also like for students to begin thinking about how these different cultures contributed to an American culture (but that will be more of a year long exploration, since they will need to study later history to see the connections).

BDA (Before, During, & After) Activities:
While exploring this week’s readings, I found a number of activities that appealed to me. I found myself thinking of lessons and activities that would fit different BDA strategies, and have started a list to keep on my desk throughout the year. While I found a number of strategies that I liked, I don’t think that using all of them in my inquiry unit is even close to practical. Figuring out the strategies that match my topics and materials is part of designing a good lesson! This will focus primarily on the BDA strategies that I think will work in my inquiry unit (but they aren’t necessarily final).
* Note: I’ll be using a number of books in this project. I found 32 books at the library and I’d like to use selections from the text book, too. Since there are multiple texts, some of the BDA strategies will be text specific. However, some of the “before” strategies will be used before ANY reading occurs, some of the “during” strategies will be used throughout the experience of the unit (I think Wilhelm calls this “gateway activities”), and some of the “after” strategies will occur at the end of all readings. I’ll try to note these things in my explanations.

“Before” strategies:
Anticipation Guide (website): This strategy will be used as part of the introduction to the unit as a whole. In the anticipation guide, I plan to have questions that will introduce students to the topics and establish a base of knowledge that we can return to throughout the unit.
List-Group-Label (page 2): I will be using this strategy as part of the frontloading for the entire unit. List-Group-Label appeals to me over brainstorming because it organizes the information within the brainstorming. I may actually combine this strategy with PreP (Pre-reading Planning – page 3) so that the students can not only organize, but elaborate on their brainstorming as well.
Checking out the Framework (website): I’ll actually be doing a mini-lesson on this strategy before we begin the unit. This strategy really emphasizes previewing a book to figure out how to best use it. I plan on using this strategy with my students, and also encouraging them to use it on their own to make the most of their reading experiences.

“During” strategies:
Key Concept Synthesis (website): This strategy will also take some teaching before students are prepared to do it on their own, but I believe that it will greatly help them in their exploration of texts. Because figuring out the important parts of a text is a difficult skill, this strategy will help students to identify and keep track of key concepts while they are reading, and then their notes will help them to make conclusions after the reading.
Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA) (page 4): This strategy is all about making predictions, then checking your predictions and revising them. I think it is a great strategy to use with students because it makes reading an active process and it makes the kids more conscious of their understanding (because you can’t predict or check a prediction if you don’t understand).
Knew, New, Q (page 10) OR KWL: I say K,N,Q OR KWL because they are very similar strategies. I like the Knew, New, Q strategy because it encourages students to record their new findings and to record further questions that haven’t been answered. Since this whole unit is about inquiry and asking questions, I thought this strategy would be helpful in directing the students throughout their readings. It will help them to see what area needs more research as the “Q” helps them figure out where the inquiry will go next.

“After” strategies:
Entrance Tickets & Exit Tickets
(Wilhelm, p. 95-96): I think that entrance and exit tickets can be used interchangeably depending on the amount of time available in class during that session. I like the idea of using entrance tickets because they allow the students to think things over and write down questions that may guide the next lesson. Similarly, I like exit tickets because it gives the teacher a good idea of what went well, what needs re-taught, and what questions the students need answered the next day. I will be using this strategy after individual readings throughout the unit.
Heuristic Questions (Wilhelm, p. 98): This strategy will also be used throughout the unit. The “point” of this strategy is to encourage students to make connections between what they knew and between what they’ve learned. The reflection involved in this strategy could be done in learning/inquiry journals throughout the inquiry unit.
RAFT (website): I believe that this inquiry process has a design that aligns itself well with the RAFT strategy. While this is an “after” strategy, students will need to be introduced to it and reminded of it throughout their study. When the students are finishing their research and beginning to think about the final project, this strategy will really come into play.

While all of these strategies will be used throughout the unit, I believe that good discussion will be the tool that ties everything together. Wilhelm and Tovani both mention a number of “ingredients” that encourage good discussion, and I will be using a number of their suggestions throughout the unit. I’ve also been considering how to organize students throughout the unit to best encourage group discussion.

What now / What next:
I feel like I have gathered a lot of resources and looked into good strategies to use in this inquiry unit. Now, I need to be more specific in designing my activities and putting them into the timeline of the unit.
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