I have to thank our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, for the fantastic alliteration in this blog post title. I was so excited about our Social Studies Evaluation Activity today that I had to share the success story with her during bus duty, and she provided me with the perfect phrase to sum it up: passion + persistence = perfect practice.
For those that have been following my blog this school year, you’ll know that I’ve really focused on the use of inquiry in the classroom. I love what inquiry has done for my students. They’re better thinkers, problem solvers, independent workers, and cooperative learners. For all of these reasons, I wish that I tried inquiry before this year!
That being said, one of my biggest struggles is with inquiry and evaluation. I have lots of formative assessment. With so much small group work, students constantly receive feedback and use this feedback to make changes. I find that I’m giving students fewer marks though, and since I still have to give a mark on the report card, I need/want evaluations prior to this. That’s where Kristi’s blog post on evaluating “process versus product” became so powerful for me.
Last weekend, I developed a “process evaluation” that I was very excited about, but for various reasons, the activity did not go according to plan. I reflected though, and today, I tried again. What’s wonderful about blogging, and especially blogging about inquiry projects, is that there’s so many educators out there that are willing to share their feedback and offer words of advice. I had people do this on my “failure post,” and it was actually Kristi’s words of advice on this post that resulted in an even bigger change for me today.
My initial modified plan was to write the three questions (from the last evaluation activity) on chart paper, and have the students Chalk Talk about the question that interested them the most. Then we would have an inquiry circle to expand on these ideas and create some new learning. As I was writing the evaluation questions out on chart paper this morning, I thought back to Kristi’s comment comparing my initial activity to the three-part lesson. It was the words, “three-part lesson,” that changed things for me. Maybe I needed to scaffold the learning more for my students. For students to see the link between the topic that they researched and the question that they answered, possibly I needed another step.
So as I was preparing the activity this morning, I made yet another change. Instead of writing the questions on chart paper, I wrote the topics on chart paper. My new plan was to put these topics out, and let the students pick the topic that interested them. Then they could use their notes on the topic, as well as additional research, to share their learning with each other. Using Chalk Talk, they could ask questions and answer each other’s questions too. My thought was that this would help the students think more deeply about the topics that would later act as “evidence” for their questions.
Chalk talking to share learning about the fur trade. pic.twitter.com/oh7Xwgp2f9
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) November 29, 2013
Once I wrote all of the topics on chart paper, my plan was to type up the questions that students would need to choose. I was going to use the questions from Wednesday’s activity, but as I was typing, I changed my mind again. I started to think about Kristi’s comment regarding “question stems,” and I wondered if what the students needed was a gradual increase in the complexity of the questions. Instead of typing up my initial one question, I wrote two questions on each page: one was slightly more complex than the next one. Students could then choose the “group of questions” that they wanted to answer: even choosing between the two questions on the page, or using the one question to lead to the next one. Again, students would Chalk Talk their answers: using questions to help push each other’s thinking forward. We’d then end with an inquiry circle, where students would further explain their thinking, and we could make links between the topics.
Reflecting on questions based on various Social Studies research. pic.twitter.com/mcSrojQjN9
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) November 29, 2013
While this activity took longer than expected — and we’ll need to finish things up on Monday — the changes worked. Students all shared lots of information about the different topics, and then they used this information to answer at least one — if not, both — of the guiding questions. The first question on the page helped the students with the second (more difficult) question. Reviewing the vocabulary first, also helped. As a class, we took the time to go through the rubric together as well, which helped students understand the requirements to get the marks that they wanted.
I joked on Twiter that it took until “attempt 463” for inquiry to work, and while this is certainly an exaggeration, it’s true that I had to make a lot of changes before things started working well. Even this morning, as I was prepping for my changed lesson, I was making more changes. Change is good! As teachers, we need to be willing to make changes, try, fail, revamp, try again, and repeat this process many times … hoping, praying, and believing that success will happen. And it will. This is teaching. This is learning. This is inquiry.
How do you maintain that practice and persistence to ensure that you get to this “perfect practice?” I’d love to know more.