Thursday, 11 October 2012

Inquiry - Reading, Writing, Thinking...

Inquiry learning is not just the part of the day where you used to write Social Studies or Science on the timetable and you now write Inquiry! I always feel bothered when I see schedules where the week is filled with Maths, Reader's Workshop, Writer's Workshop, Spelling, various specialist subjects and then there's a couple of 45 minute blocks where Inquiry is fitted in.

For myself, when I am required to display a schedule, I have long blocked out times which I call Inquiry/Reading/Writing for want of a better label. When my students are working in a inquiry/project approach they are combining all elements of language. 
At any one time, students will be reading while others are writing or discussing, working alone or collaborating with a partner or two. They may be using books or their laptops or each other or teachers. They may be planning, asking questions, researching, gathering data or information, creating oral or visual presentations in a variety of formats and media or reflecting on the process.

(Of course there will be times when the reading and writing has nothing to do with the unit they are studying.....)

In their book, Comprehension and Collaboration, Inquiry Circles in Action, Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels talk about inquiry workshop rather than Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop. I like this idea very much!

Even when we are in the stages of a unit where the study is more teacher directed, language arts are integrated with the science or social studies and the various skills are explicitly referred to.

Here's a couple of examples from our grade 5 team:
In our Feeding the Millions unit yesterday and today we have been looking at what hunger and malnutrition are. We discovered a most useful website for teachers from The Food and Agriculture Organisation,  Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger, with some great lessons, which we have modified for our use. These have the same focus as our Enduring Understanding and some of our Essential Questions.

Lesson: What are Hunger and Malnutrition and Who are the Hungry?
In pairs, students used the sheet of information about food being essential to life and a list of foods that show the vitamins and minerals they provide.
The Task was to read together with a partner, discussing any difficult vocabulary, each on their own copy underlining with pencil, information he or she already knew and highlighting any information that was new.

Then, with the partner, they studied a drawing with a variety of foods in groups. This task was to see what foods they could identify and select some that would make a nutritious meal, based on the food information they'd read together.
The next part was looking for information from a world map provided by FAO which showed countries where 30% or more of the population are hungry or malnourished. They studied the map and used atlases  or online maps to name some of the countries with large percentages of hungry and malnourished people. 

They discussed why there was a large concentration in Africa and low concentrations in Europe and North America. This map was dated 2000, so they talked about how accurate that information was. Students searched the World Food Programme site (in the LiveBinder  Causes of Hunger and Malnutrition ) to find good recent information which they compared with the FAO map to see if any country's category had changed over 12 years.

Lesson: Causes of hunger 
One of our team put together 5 reports of causes of hunger, each with several short paragraphs. The paragraphs were cut up for a jigsaw activity. Each group of 4 students got a report to reassemble. Students had to think of a strategy to tackle the task. They needed to read the paragraphs and get the big idea behind each one. These notes they wrote in their books. 
They had to interpret the transition words at the beginning of the paragraphs to give clues as to placing them in order before sticking on a sheet.
Each group used their big ideas to present orally to the whole class the important points. After listening to everyone, groups were reformed to include one person from each of the first groupings so that the new groups could create a mind-map of the causes of hunger with detailed notes. 
Our EAL teacher was there also to work with a group who needed more assistance with the vocabulary.

Throughout, students were encouraged to write questions and wonderings down....

During all the different parts of these lessons, teacher modelling and student reflecting on how and why they are learning is also a major focus for our students.

Photos are my own.

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