My students at the 12th are working on environmental disasters since two weeks. The steps I decided to use were the following:
- Starter of the project having students making their own questions about the disaster they chose, following QFT (Question Formulation Technique (for more info about this interesting inquiry routine, follow @rightquestion, @RothsteinDan). We closed the lesson thinking about how the groups would be focusing the research taking into mind their three priority questions: would be the focus on the social aspects, the environmental consequences, the sanitary consequences, the human errors and negligence, etc etc?
Question Formulation Technique: students formulating their own questions, without censoring, prioritizing, transforming closed in open questions in order to have richer inquiry.
2. We worked for some hours on the netbooks and ipads having the groups doing the research autonomously and collaboratively. As in the projects of my students working on prevention campaigns, I used almost the same system for the follow up of the progress. (see my previous blogpost here), having a student documenting in each group.
3. At a given moment and before they began to think about how to present (infographics, digital storytelling, podcast, movie with documentary format, on the news format using green screen, etc), I wanted them to STOP and make some reflection about the message and intention of this research:
WHAT DO WE WANT TO COMMUNICATE THAT IS MEANINGUL AND GOES BEYOND AN ENVIRONMENTAL ANECDOTE, CONSIDERING THAT WE WILL SHARE OUR RESEARCH AND THOUGHTS ?
This question was still surprising for many students, because they are not used to think about an audience different from the teacher and their classroom-peers.
To help the kids find the essence of their message, I implemented two of the Visible Thiking Routines I described in my previous blogpost: Headlines and CSI (Color, symbol, image)
- HEADLINES, as it asks the students to reflect and synthesize identifying the essence of their research. In the book “Making Thinking Visible”, by R.Ritchart, M.Church and K.Morrison, the key sentence that caught my attention in the context of this project-based learning was the following:
“Sometimes is it easy for the activity of the classroom to just continue on and on without the opportunity for learners to consider what is important or central in their learning. However, without capturing the significant essence, it can be difficult for learners to build understanding of big ideas and core principles. They may miss the forest for the trees.”
Asking students to sum up their concepts using a headline, we let know students that noticing big central ideas is critical to understand the topic.
The challenge was to avoid the tendency to find “catchy slogans”. Many -if not the majority- tended to try to find attractive but in the end, superficial headlines or headlines that do not demonstrate the central profound idea of the problem (the environmental disaster).
An example: one group chose the catastrophe of the Dust Bowl that occured because of soil erosion around the 1930´s in Arizona, causing numerous economic losses and health problems to the region. The title they chose was “another bowl bites the dust”. I have to admit that I loved it, I find it funny, creative and attractive (and I love the song). I am sure that it will raise the attention of many people. But thinking about it, it is not a revealing headline, and I missed the opportunity to push the group to go a little deeper in trying to show the most important idea of what they want to communicate.
It was, however, very interesting to circulate through the groups and hearing their discussions, hearing how they were trying to make an effort to understand and agree. Overall, even if some headlines perhaps are not reflecting the process, listening to the discussions between the students gave me the pleasure to think that a great part of my objective was reached.
- Color, Symbol, Image: one step further in trying to capture the essence, in a non-verbal and more graphic and figurative way. It develops metaphoric thinking if properly applied. I am now, documenting, pretty sure that I didn´t applly this routine well. It is better to be used in contents with varous interpretations and meanings. The content shouldn´t be too long, and in the case of the environmental disasters, the information the groups are managing is perhaps excessive, as they still didn´t have the opportunity to summarize.
Having the students assigning a colour, captured less they representantion of an idea, but more superficially they associated black with oil spill disasters, brown with dust bowl, yellow or orange with radioactivity (Chernobyl, Fukushima), etc. Very straight-forward, little metaphoric thinking.
The symbols were sometimes creative and captured the essence of ideas, but students tended to design a logo (that would make company to the catchy slogan from the previous headlines exercise!), and the images were far from being metaphoric representations, but more a drawing of what happened (a ship spilling oil, for the Exxon Valdez disasters).
I think that I need more training in this technique and think carefully about which contents to choose to apply this interesting tools. Most importantly, give clear instructions of what I expect them to achieve in regards to metaphoric thinking and assess the process properly.
Overall, I would say that my objective of “stopping the classroom and making them reflect about the core ideas of what they want to communicate”, was reached. Making thinking visible was less successful, but this only means that I have to improve in choosing situation and follow up of the process and assessment.
You are hitting the nail on the head with pushing your students out of their usual comfort zone to “do school work” for their teachers and classmates. I want to frame your quote “WHAT DO WE WANT TO COMMUNICATE THAT IS MEANINGUL AND GOES BEYOND AN ENVIRONMENTAL ANECDOTE, CONSIDERING THAT WE WILL SHARE OUR RESEARCH AND THOUGHTS ? ” and hang it in every classroom to remind teachers and students that it does not have to be just “school work”, but we can contribute to real “world work”.
I continue to be impressed with you dissatisfaction of “quality work” you are expecting from your students. While some educators would have been satisfied with “doing/checking off” using the VTR, you are always critical in wondering if it indeed deepened the thinking/learning.
Always a pleasure reading your reflection on your students learning and your own teaching!
Dear Silvia, I am easily dissatisfied with some things I achieve in classroom, but also very happy of the progresses. I am not adscribing these “failures” to the student´s efforts, but in this particular case, to my own fault, as guiding teacher trying to get closer and intervening to re-orient their thinking in order to get the best out of them. It is a matter of inexperience, but I am sure I will manage to make it better next time. Übung macht den Meister!
On the other side, the idea of this blog is to be honest with myself and I think the clue to documenting for learning is to make an analysis of what went wrong and what went well. My blog reflects who I am. I hope in 5 years I can read this ancient blogpost and smile in sweet remembrance about that teacher in 2017 making their first efforts in some new challenges, now mastering more things and struggling with new.