Our Grade 2 students are currently learning about emotions and emotional intelligence. They went on a field trip to the cinema to see Inside Out and the movie has inspired some very interesting thinking.
Cathy, one of the G2 teachers, gave her students a blank piece of A3 paper and asked them to draw what’s inside their heads. She got back a combination of ideas from the movie and original ideas developed by the students. This kind of open task brings out creative ideas, misconceptions, interesting language and unique interpretations that can drive inquiry in ways that teachers would not be able to predict. All too often, teachers provide their students with closed tasks designed to elicit predetermined responses that the teacher determines to be right or wrong, good or bad. When they design ways that create space in the learning for the students’ genuine responses, things are very different!
When I saw the drawings, I immediately wondered what it would be like to photograph them, put them in one of our green screen studios and film the students inside their own heads taking us on a trip around what’s inside their heads! This extended the task into new territory as the students stretched their ability to explain their thinking and to coordinate both sides of their brain as they watched themselves live on the monitor!
So, next time you’re trying to think of a way to find out your students’ ideas, thoughts or feelings, don’t design a closed set of questions to which you can anticipate the answers. Instead, design something open that creates space for them to release information that you couldn’t predict – it’ll be much more interesting.
Using strategies to make thinking visible can be incredibly powerful. Their power, however, hinges almost entirely on how willing teachers are to learn about their students.
Far too often, I see visible thinking strategies used as an “activity” or as a way of decorating the walls. In some cases, I think teachers believe that just by doing a visible thinking strategy they are automatically finding out what their students think and that by displaying the results their thinking has been made visible.
However, in order to make the most of the opportunities that visible thinking strategies provide us to delve deep into the minds of our students, we need to be willing to scrutinize their responses. We need to be incredibly curious about the way they are thinking. We need to probe further when we’re not sure a student has responded fully. We need to try different strategies to see if different ideas are revealed. Most importantly of all… we need to be doing all of these things with them.
By showing them how interested we are in their thoughts – and by involving them in the way we respond to their thoughts – we honour them, we give them pride and we let them know their thinking is important. By basing the subsequent planning – ours and theirs – on their responses and reactions, we show them how their learning is constructed… how it builds on their existing knowledge, their ideas, their misconceptions and their questions.
This is inquiry.
So, next time you decide to use a visible thinking strategy, ask yourself if you are genuinely interested in how your students respond. If you are… great. If you’re not… try your hardest to make yourself interested. Its worth it.
Unfortunately, I think that the idea of collaboration is very rarely understood properly by teachers of the PYP. For many of us, student collaboration has always meant “working in a group” and never really progressed any further than that. Part of the problem with this is our misguided belief that teacher collaboration means “planning in a group”, but more on that another time.
Ironically, it is our flagship student experience – the PYP Exhibition – that can be held responsible for our misconceptions about collaboration. It was always designed to be a “collaborative inquiry ” and so, to that end, teachers have been popping their poor students into groups in PYP schools worldwide every year. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, yes, its catastrophic for many of the following types of student:
- those students who end up being put in a group because there wasn’t a group based on their interest
- those students who end up being put in a group because the group they wanted to be in was “full”
- those students who always end up doing all the work in groups
- those students who always fade into the background while others take the glory
- those students who have always let others do the work because they lack confidence or skills
- those students whose interests and styles of learning are never quite the same enough for them to be in a group
- those students who make misguided group choices and regret it later
- those students who compromise their own identity just to be in a group
- etc… have I left anyone out?
When teachers create a finite amount of groups for the PYP Exhibition (often defined by a finite number of pre-determined things the kids can learn about) with a finite number of places in each group they are undermining inquiry from the word “go”. They are also pushing cooperation and not setting the scene for genuine collaboration to happen naturally. They are creating the conditions for conflict, frustration, bickering, divisive behaviour, sulking and competitiveness. We have all seen it.
When you remove this obsession with grouping from the equation completely and allow students to develop their own inquiries… a real, natural, diverse, dynamic and unpredictable culture of collaboration begins to evolve:
- you get partnerships and groups emerging at different times in the process based on a recognition of like minds or similar goals
- you get frequent, spontaneous collaborations taking place as students share information, exchange ideas or help each other with things
- you get collaborations happening between students and adults as teachers, parents and other members of the community get involved in the process
- you get collaborations between the students and students of all other ages who become part of the process
- you get collaboration happening by email, and online
- you get collaboration you never anticipated
Putting students (and all people) in groups and calling it collaboration is a mould that must be broken. We have been breaking that mould for a while now, and it works.
Why not give it a try? There’s no need to wait for the PYP Exhibition, after all… it’s just another unit of inquiry.
This podcast raises some interesting questions about the PYP Exhibition, but also about teaching in general. In particular, the discussion focuses on the problem of making sure that we spend time with all of our students. If we are all honest, we must admit that we have one or two students each year who tend to “fly under the radar”.
What do we do about that?
When talking with the Year 6 Team recently about proofreading, editor’s marks and marking children’s writing in general I brought up the idea of “the edge of knowing”. This something I picked up from a workshop with either Kath Murdoch or Kathy Short.
The idea behind “the edge of knowing” is that, when marking student work, teachers focus only on one or two elements that the student is almost doing. For example, say a student is starting to include dialogue in their writing but does not use speech marks to show that it is dialogue, then the teacher should mark that and maybe one or two other things – maximum! They should then use that as an opportunity to work with that student, and maybe others who are doing something similar.
Not only is this approach much more empowering for students who may be turned off writing by the constant appearance of a page full of corrections, it is also much more time-effective and focused way for teachers to formatively assess student work.
Do you use an “edge of knowing” approach when marking writing?
Could you see how this approach may be helpful in your practice?
Image by Vadim Balakin
This video contains two clips from reading conferences in 4NB. By involving the students in assessing their own work using the Writing Continuum, Nicky has empowered these two students to think about and discuss who they are as writers. The second clip shows that teachers often need to help students to make the connections between what they would normally say about their writing and the language of the writing continuum.
There is a question at the end of the video. It would be wonderful to hear about your approaches to getting students really involved in the assessment of their writing…