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.
It is the beginning of a new academic calendar year which fills us all with anticipation about the teaching and learning that will be taking place, the relationships we will build and the challenges we will face and conquer. As an inquiry school, facilitating the IB Primary Years Programme, we are currently asking ourselves the question, ‘how can we grow as an inquiry school?’ As a staff, we have begun to reflect on our beliefs about inquiry as well as our current understandings. We are considering our process throughout each stage of the inquiry cycle developed by Kath Murdoch. Our staff are acknowledging what we do well and looking at the areas that we want to improve. As lifelong learners, this should be an annual process and lead us to continuous process improvement at MEF IS.
To better facilitate this reflective process, we are participating in a staff inquiry into Turkey. As the PYP Coordinator, I posed the question, ‘what do you wonder about Turkey?’ This question has lead us into a free inquiry about Turkey to delve into any area of interest, be it historical, cultural, geographical, current events, fashion, economics, cuisine or entertainment. This approach allows for freedom of choice which makes the learning relevant to each teacher individually as all will be inquiring into their own questions about Turkey. As we find ways to answer our questions, we hope to rediscover the process of learning something new through the lens of the learner. If we become aware of the many ways we can inquire into answering our own questions generated through personal curiosity, then we can apply this in the classroom to improve inquiry at MEF IS.
You may be curious and wondering what I mean exactly. I would encourage you to ponder the same question we are considering. What do you wonder about Turkey? Identify your personal curiosity and begin to follow the stages of the inquiry cycle to not only answer your question but deepen your understandings about Turkey and act. Action can be a shift in pre-conceived ideas or it can be to share what you learned with others. Action takes many forms but it always brings change. Pay attention to process you follow to investigate.
What are the ways you inquire? Get to know yourself as a learner again. As educators, we watch our students to observe the ways they learn. This helps us to tailor our learning engagements to meet their needs throughout the entire inquiry process. How can we improve the teaching and learning cycle so that students find learning relevant and meaningful? I believe relevance is so key. It is like selling the why. Why are we learning this - how does it connect to reality and in what way will it help me later in life?
Recommended further reading
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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