Monthly Archives: April 2016

Is planning ahead a restraint to student inquiry?

My biggest strength is my organisation.  You can ask anyone on my team.  I am very organised.  But I am learning how this is a strength, but can also be an obstacle, as I increasingly try to hand over our units to our G2 students.

The question I have been asking myself lately, is:

Should you map out the teaching of writing within units of inquiry months in advance?

My Grade 2 students are nearing the completion of a research based unit, inquiring into how “Communities play a role in preparing for and responding to natural disasters?”.   The writing genre, which has been mapped into our unit since September, is informational reports.  And indeed informational reports have been a relevant genre for half of my class, but not for everyone.

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Students have research question templates, writing templates and peer assessment checklists to ensure high quality and focused writing.

This unit was co-written by the students and their teachers, based on student curiosities, so it naturally invited student inquiry.  The students had lots of driving questions, but narrowed these down and created focus by choosing the one they were most interested in for their inquiry.

I shared the inquiry model with my students to help them monitor their own progression in their inquiry.  During the ‘finding out phase’, my students interviewed members of the ISHCMC community, they researched on kiddle.org (a child friendly search engine) and then they drew their own conclusions from all the data gathered.

Once they had all their data, I noticed that their questions varied largely in terms of what type of writing they would publish.  Take these questions for example:

  • How does a city warn people when a tsunami will strike?

This is a question for an explanatory text, because it will tell us how something happens.

  • What are the best ways to prepare for a cyclone?

This question is best suited to a procedural text.  Procedural writing instructs others how to achieve or do something.

  • How did the communities help after the landslide in Seoul (2011)?

This is research is best suited to be published as an informational report.  Informational reports classify, organise and describe information.

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Organisation: All student questions are colour coded according to research groups (type of naturally disaster) and placed into columns based on writing genre for explicit teaching groups.

 

By allowing the students the freedom to choose their own inquiry questions, I also had to give them freedom in terms of what genre of writing would follow as a result of their question.  During the ‘Making conclusions’ phase of the inquiry, I had three different writing groups and each had explicit teaching into one of these three writing genres: explanatory, informational and procedural.  As a grade level, we prepared three different writing templates to help scaffold the students during the writing process.

Of course, we cannot let our students get to the end of the year and only be able to write one genre, but I believe that there must be a balance.  We must be open and flexible in our planning, especially when we map out our literacy genres across the whole year.  Sometimes units change and so they should, if we are truly basing our units “on each student’s needs, interests and competencies” (Making the PYP happen, Page 10).

An interesting trend that I found in my class was that my highest level writers had more complicated questions, which were most appropriate for the more complex genre of informational reports.  Such as, “What kind of earthquake preparedness systems does Japan have that Nepal does not?”

Whereas, my lower level writers had more simplistic questions, which were most appropriate for procedural writing, which is a simpler genre to write.  Such as, “How can people be safe in a tornado?” Hence helping my students to choose the most appropriate genre for their question was also a means of differentiation.

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