As a concept-based inquiry teacher, I am fascinated with ways in which we can guide students to use their critical thinking skills to find the big idea or produce their own unique generalizations to express understandings about the unit of inquiry. While working with grade 5, I explored the use two different tools to draw out those understandings. I wanted to know if they could produce a generalization that extended the central idea since they had already been exposed to it. Secondly, I wanted to know if they could generate a generalization about the transdisciplinary theme, How We Express Ourselves.
To address my first goal of extending the central idea, I gave each student a concept wheel (see figure 1). Because this was their first experience with this tool, I guided them through each step. Together we decided on the concepts we had learned about and used those as our categories around the concept wheel. I observed the students thoughtfully engaging with the engagement which meant we had reached that synergism of thought connected to the 3D curriculum (see figure 2). They were able to write a variety of statements, demonstrating both conceptual understandings and knowledge gleaned from our inquiry around the question posed in the center of the wheel. I then asked them to write a big idea using the concept wheel as a starting point. This was too difficult and I got a lot of thoughtfully confused looks. So, I wrote the central idea on the board:
People express ideas, emotions and reflect social issues through their art.
But I challenged them to extend it. I asked them the questions, why and so what? This resulted in some nice generalizations but it would have been better if they had never seen the central idea in the first place. I would like to try it again without the central idea on the wall and see if we come close as a class to writing the intended understanding. I will repeat this exercise with grade 5 at the end of this upcoming unit to see if there is a difference.
The following day, we thought about our transdisciplinary theme and how it related to each student personally. I developed a tool with questions drawn from our central idea and lines of inquiry with our TD theme at the center (see figure 3). This was also the first time I tried to draw out their new understandings of the TD theme. I am still in the process of developing my own understandings about the best way in which to do this. I realized some of my questions were difficult to answer for some of my students. I realized it is important to continue to develop metacognitive thinking skills in order to learn and know more about themselves. so not all of my students were using enough reflective or metacognitive thinking to be able to interact with the graphic organizer. It will be a skill that I would have to continue to build with them.
What is my take away? I see that learning to use these types of tools and becoming a CBCI teacher is a learning curve that takes practice. Each time will get better and as I learn to scaffold the thinking better, the results will get better. It also means more collaboration with other teachers pursuing the same approaches to learning. Discussing our attempts, reflecting together and finding ways to improve together is much better than trying alone. I encourage you to make connections with others who are also working to improve their skills and understandings about CBCI.
"The Big Idea," Global Women Network, Eva Smith, 2014.
Erickson, L, Lanning, L. and French, R. (2017). Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom, 2nd ed. Corwin: Thousand Oaks.
During our staff orientation, we decided to look at building a common understanding about teaching and learning through the question of why. This approach to analyzing our beliefs, our school's belief and the International Baccalaureate's (IB) beliefs enabled us to write common belief statements and became a part of our staff essential agreement. Simon Sinek's idea of changing the order of thew way we sell things from the what we do to the why we do what we do is far more sellable (2011). This approach to building a common understanding strongly appealed to me for several reasons. When we, as educators, agree to work at a school, in essence we are agreeing to promote the mission of that school. In addition, when that school is IB PYP, there is an additional agreement to consider and that is the mission and vision of the IB. Finally, every educator has his/her own philosophy of education which is a strong influence on pedagogical decisions about teaching and learning. I saw this approach as the means of bringing the three ideas together.
We began this journey by using a Venn Diagram with three circles to collaboratively analyze the following:
MEF IS beliefs
IB PYP beliefs
The step was for the staff to discuss their personal beliefs about teaching and learning together in collaborative groups. These beliefs were recorded on the circle for personal beliefs. Then I asked them to read the MEF International School mission statement and vision to identify the beliefs of our organization. Afterwards, everyone read the mission statement of the IB. When all the beliefs were identified, I asked them to begin to find the common themes and write those in the center. From those ideas in the center, I asked them to write one big idea statement. These belief statements were recorded and posted in the center of our concentric circle under 'why.'
Throughout the remainder of our orientation we reviewed the school's expectations about teaching and learning, policies and procedures as well as the nitty gritty of teaching. Details about 'how' and 'what' were slowly added by the staff as an exit ticket each day. Below you can see how our draft appeared at the orientation as well as the Venn Diagrams. It was a worthwhile process from which we were able to create a printed version for everyone to post in their classrooms as a reminder of what we believe about teaching and learning as a staff. It strengthened our commitment to implement both the school and IB mission statements.
Sinek, S. [Tedx Talks]. (2011, April 6). First why and then trust [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VdO7LuoBzM
Tunguz, T. (2015, July 13) When selling, start with the why [Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/when-selling-start-why-tomasz-tunguz/
As an international educator, I work with colleagues in my local and global network regularly to implement inquiry through concept-based approaches to learning and teaching. It is a journey of discovery, learning and growing our own understandings about the ways children learn.
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