inquiry

Frameworks for play / inquiry / research

"We have a responsibility to introduce children to things they don't yet know they will love." -- Edith Ackermann

Dr. Edith Ackermann came onto my radar this summer.   (See my previous blog post on "Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014" for the context.)

Such a charming, thoughtful expert on play and learning.  And such credentials! -- she worked with Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, and has been associated with MIT for years (as well as other universities).

She loves Reggio Emilia schools, Steiner/Waldorf schools, Katie Salen and Quest schools, and Freinet schools.  A true educational radical (or realist) -- depending on where you stand.

Read this recent interview with her on creativity, talent, and intuition -- in a journal aimed at architects.

I wish I could find her CMK14 slides online.  I took basic shots into my Penultimate notes, but they aren't good enough to reproduce, e.g.,
The part of her talk that interested me the most was her description of the iterative cycle of self-learning, which she outlined as:
  • Connect -- Wow! I can't believe...  -- the inspiration - the imaginarium
  • Construct -- hands-on -- the atelier -- immersion and innovation
  • Contemplate -- heads-in -- mindfulness -- the sanctuary or secret garden
  • Cast -- play-back -- re-visit -- stage -- dramatize -- experiment
  • Con-vivire -- the sharing -- the piazza -- the agora -- expressivity
She stressed these are just guidelines for what happens along the way in different ways -- that the stages should never be used prescriptively. 

Our school is just settling on some common terminology around a research model -- one that will be differentiated for Infant (K1 to Grade 1), Junior (Grade 2 to Grade 5), Middle School (Grade 6 to Grade 8) and High School (Grade 9 to Grade 12).

A midway meeting ground has been agreed, e.g., here is a standard arising out of the articulation of the middle school curriculum:
The blog "What Ed Said" (Edna Sackson) recently had a post on her frustration with expected slavish commitment to an inquiry cycle model.  I agree.  You might as well insist everyone follow the same sequence for falling in love or grieving over death.  It's useful to appreciate typical stages, but impossible to expect everyone to adhere to them.  NB:  Kath Murdoch, referenced by Edna, is a frequent professional visitor to our school, and her phases of inquiry were key inputs to our process -- see here:

Edith was talking about Play -- and undoubtedly about Inquiry.  But our school is talking about Research.  Are they all the same thing?  Just at different age levels?  We'd like to think so.

Research, for middle/high school students, is just a game with adult rules (e.g., alluding to the ideas of others in a constructive and respectful way) -- and our job is to alert them to those rules and to convince them it's a game worth learning (after all, research is a form of adult fun, yes?).  As Edith put it, students must learn to add value in the process of borrowing.   They must become adept at massaging ideas until they are their own, rather than just functioning as an information broker, passing on ideas.  To ride others' ideas until they can feel in solo mode, not fusion mode.

I particularly like Edith's "Cast" phase, with its implicit theatrical connotation.  Something between our "Reflect" and "Communicate."  It's the part that implies the iterative nature of the process.  That you, within your own mind or in the presence of others, re-think what you have, try it out, and ask if it's sufficient, if it's enough.

(I'm also partial to Design Thinking as a basic research model; see my previous blog post: Carol Kuhlthau Meets Tim Brown. )

Other things Edith commented upon....
  • re MOOCs and online learning: 
    • the double standard:  it's the new entrepreneurial elite, who are educated onsite with constructivist methods, who are promoting education online where "others" struggle alone;
  • re today's learners:
    •  growing older younger, and staying younger older;
    • the tension between temp and "forever" work
    • the tension between professional mobility and lack of security;
  • re the role of the eye and the senses:
    • away from Piaget (the rationalist) to Papert (feeling the materials);
    • the real practitioners (e.g., architects) are always tricking people to get a different perspective;
    • to crawl out of the old ways of thinking;
    • tricks to get us off our own beaten path;
    • using objects creates resistance; 
"Learning is all about moving in and out of focus, shifting perspective, and coming to 'see anew.'" -- Edith Ackermann

Carol Kuhlthau meets Tim Brown: Guided Inquiry {Design} Thinking

Two books have been guiding my thinking about research & inquiry cycles for the past couple of years.
a)  Change by Design -- by Tim Brown, of IDEO "design thinking" fame.  His framework is not explicitly educational, though IDEO have published a toolkit of design thinking for educators.


b)  Guided Inquiry Design: a framework for Inquiry in your School -- by Carol C. Kuhlthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari.  Kuhlthau is the grand dame of teacher-librarianship and the one who first recognized the emotional element involved in the ISP (Information Search Process) back in 1991.

For me, the most important feature they share is the recognition of that emotional element in research.  We all get discouraged - or should.  If you don't experience any dip in confidence, then it means you're not really pushing yourself in terms of researching.   Tim's sketch illustrates Carol's original insight very well.
Tim's design process is an incredibly simple iterative cycle between Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation (below is my sketch) -- but I think it works just as well in terms of research.

Carol's latest framework is more expansive, incorporating 8 "verb" steps (mirroring her older ISP "noun" stages - shown in parentheses) :
  • Open (Initiation)
    • Invitation to inquiry
    • Open minds
    • Stimulate curiosity
  • Immerse (Selection)
    • Build background knowledge
    • Connect to content
    • Discover interesting ideas
  • Explore (Exploration)
    • Explore interesting ideas
    • Look around
    • Dip in
  • Identify (Formulation)
    • Pause and ponder
    • Identify inquiry questions
    • Decide direction
  • Gather (Collection)
    • Gather important information
    • Go broad
    • Go deep
  • Create (Presentation)
    • Reflect on learning
    • Go beyond facts to make meaning
    • Create to communicate
  • Share (Presentation)
    • Learn from each other
    • Sharing learning
    • Tell your story
  • Evaluate (Assessment)
    • Evaluate achievement of learning goals
    • Reflect on content
    • Reflect on process

Carol's book offers plenty of practical suggestions for implementing inquiry in schools, e.g., she stresses the need for an Inquiry Journal (a workspace for individual composing and reflection) as well as Inquiry Charts (attempts to visualize ideas, connections, questions, etc.) and an Inquiry Log (a record of sources consulted), but one of the most important points she makes is the crucial distinction between the Explore and the Gather stages.

The Explore stage is about browsing, scanning, and skimming.  "Dipping in" means you need to relax, read, and reflect.  Sources should just be tracked in the Inquiry Log at this point.

The Gather stage is about detailed note-taking, comprehensive searching, and "going deep".  This is also the stage when you need to thinking about citing, quoting, and paraphrasing. Too often students think they have to take detailed notes on a source the first time they encounter it - before they have decided on an inquiry focus.

Again, Tim has a simple distinction which I think epitomizes the difference.

Here I have added just two extra descriptions:  Finding Out vs. Sorting Out (a la Kath Murdoch)
When talking to students, I now like to have them clarify which mode they think they are currently in.  And the emotional dip of uncertainty is often a sign that's time for the shift.  What a metacognitive skill -- to know how much first stage searching is enough to work with -- to have enough choices.

This is Carol's Identify stage -- which is about focusing and establishing a meaningful inquiry question -- when the thinking shifts from divergent (broad) to convergent (deep).

Tim Brown insists all ideas (i.e., research questions) must be analyzed in light of three criteria:  Desirability (personal interest/passion), Viability (for Tim this means "makes business sense," but in the educational realm it translates to "fits the assignment or criteria" and satisfies the big "so what?"), and Feasibility (the time and resources to actually complete the project).
Similarly, Carol asks students to consider their question in terms of the assigned task, their own interest, the time available, and the information and resources available.

I think Tim's four basic illustrations concisely convey the key stages of research better than Carol's more elaborate theory.  I still want her book on my shelf, but, until I can get more teachers to read and absorb it, I'll be using Tim's ideas and images in conversation.

Improving the inquiry process

Photos from Flickr: istlibrary
Learning from peers is powerful -- in the classroom and in life. I often get my share early on a Saturday morning, thanks to Skype and Beth Gourley, my friend and fellow teacher-librarian. When our video cameras come into focus, the difference in our locations is obvious. Beth, up in Tianjin, China, at this time of year is wearing a thick bathrobe and huddled under a duvet, while I, down in Singapore, lounge in sleeveless nightwear, cooled by a ceiling fan.

This week's treasures from Beth included an article she wrote last year for KnowledgeQuest called "Inquiry -- The Road Less Travelled" (Vol. 37, No. 1, Sept/Oct 2008) and some related photos. Unfortunately, the article is not yet available online, but should be eventually (and you could always write Beth and ask her to send you a copy.... )

In the article she describes the International School of Tianjin (an IBO school) and how the teaching team there has worked on improving inquiry in the classrooms and library, starting with a group exploration of inquiry and information literacy models.

The result was a model adapted from three major sources: the spiral of making personal meaning and understanding from Barbara Stripling (2003), guiding questions from Jennifer Branch and Dianne Oberg (2005), and language from Kath Murdoch (2005). The secondary school version is shown above, and they have a similar one with simplified questions for the elementary school.

I especially love how teachers use the model as a framework for documenting the units of inquiry. Here is an example from one of their Kindergarten classes (click to enlarge):


When Kath Murdoch came and worked with their teachers last year, they did a reflective exercise on their implementation of inquiry. Here is a partial summary of the remarks collected (also taken from the article):

They go on to create the list (below left).

Nothing radical there -- everyone struggling to improve their inquiry will recognize the items as common goals. Still it's good to be reminded of them.

Beth is also working on a wiki called Research Story, based on their inquiry model (which I trust she won't mind me sharing). Like all wikis, it's a work in progress. But I know it's made me want to go back and re-organize my own grade-level wikis around an inquiry model.





NB: The inquiry cycle image at the top was developed at the International School of Tianjin (IST) in 2007.
Sources for the image compilation-- as taken from the IST Flickr page:
Stripling, Barbara K. 2003. “Inquiry-Based Learning.” In Curriculum Connections through the Library, ed. Barbara K. Stripling and Sandra Hughes-Hassell, 3-39. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited. Murdoch, Kath. 1998. Classroom Connections: Strategies for Integrated Learning. Ar-madale, Vic: Eleanor Curtain Pub.Branch, Jennifer, and Dianne Oberg. 2005 “Focus on Inquiry.” IASL. (accessed 6 May 2007).

Adult as Inquirer, or, where did those cannonballs come from?

Don't miss the three-part blog report in the New York Times by Errol Morris which documents his investigation into two photos taken during the Crimean War of "The Valley of the Shadow of Death".

“You mean to tell me that you went all the way to the Crimea because of one sentence written by Susan Sontag?” My friend Ron Rosenbaum seemed incredulous. I told him, “No, it was actually two sentences.”

So begins the tale of how Morris, a documentary filmmaker, is intrigued by a statement by Sontag and subsequently seeks to prove which of two photographs was taken first -- theorizing along the way how and why the photographer might have changed what the camera shot. Though it may sound boring, it's not.

It's also exactly the kind of dogged inquiry that we want our students to experience....

Questioning projects and assessments

The importance of generating good, meaty, essential questions, especially for student projects, is something everyone agrees on. However, those of us in a school with an explicit inquiry-based learning framework in place often feel ahead of the game.

For example, at Doug Johnson's EARCOS 2007 pre-conference workshop for teacher/librarians on Designing Projects Students (and Teachers) Love, those of us at PYP schools felt his 4-level Research Question Rubric -- where Level 1 asks for simple recall, Level 2 asks a specific question, Level 3 asks for personal response, and Level 4 includes a call for action -- simply reflected different stages in the inquiry process.

Using Kath Murdoch's inquiry cycle model, a Level 1 question is equivalent to Tuning In, a Level 2 question might be Finding Out or Sorting Out, a Level 3 question reflects Going Further or Making Conclusions, and a Level 4 question falls under Taking Action followed by Sharing/Reflection. So, while he was trying to get us to generate a Level 4 question to assign to students, we all felt the rubric was just a spiral students would move along themselves in any one project or unit of inquiry.

When the question of appropriate assessment (or assignments) came up at the IBAP conference, Prof. Stephen Heppell had a few great substitutions he threw out to us (likes scraps to hungry animals) -- especially after the IB Diploma students participating in the forum complained about two years of effort being assessed in a 2-hour handwritten exam worth 80% of their grade.
  • ~ instead of an 80% exam, why not require a 3-nation collaborative task for students?
  • ~ instead of assigning a 1,500 word essay, why not require either a) scripting and posting a 3-minute podcast, or b) managing an online discussion for a week, or c) annotating 10 website links?
  • ~ instead of bemoaning the availability of "free online essays" for students to pinch, why not assign the task of choosing 4 "free online essays" and critiquing them, and then improving on one of them?
I mentioned this to my daughter and a friend, both of whom are about to take the IGCSE/GCSE exams, and they leapt onto the last idea, saying how useful it would be for them to critique other people's essays -- to internalize the examiners' rubric and understand more fully what it is they are being asked to perform.

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Pre-search, or look before you leap

presearch
pre•search
n.
  1. The initial, guided investigation of topics, themes and main ideas for schoolwork before delving into the deeper research process.
  2. An activity sincerely appreciated by overworked librarians, offered by Answers.com.

This is clever marketing aimed at librarians on the part of Answers.com.

"Presearch" isn't a term explicitly used in well-known research models like the Big6 or the NSW (Australia) Information Process, but it was definitely a focus of attention in several workshops I attended at the EARCOS and IBAP conferences (see previous posting).

Most people agreed that "Define" as step one implied a big first step that students find daunting. They need to be encouraged to take their time.

That's why I like the first step in Kath Murdoch's inquiry model -- which is called Tuning In (followed by Finding Out, Sorting Out, Going Further, Making Conclusions, Taking Action, and Sharing/Reflection).

Tuning In is also more in line with the first step of the revised Bloom's taxonomy (in which Remember replaced Knowledge as the lowest level; another revision was to switch the positions of Synthesis and Evaluate -- putting Create as the highest order):

1. Remember
2. Understand
3. Apply
4. Analyze
5. Evaluate
6. Create

Remembering is a good way of tuning in -- asking what we already know before we start finding out. It also reflects the level of just being able to spew out undigested facts.

At the IBAP conference, Cathy Hill and Yvonne Hammer introduced me to a new model: Parnes' Creative Problem Solving model (which they say is frequently used with gifted and talented students, based on the belief that creativity is a set of behaviors that can be learned).

* Clarification stage:
1. Mess Finding (e.g., brainstorming)
2. Data Finding (collecting the facts, acting as a camera while looking at the "mess" -- a major evaluative tool)
3. Problem Finding (prioritizing options, speculating, focusing, and finally forming a statement or question)

* Transformation stage:
4. Idea Finding (generating ideas and feeling responses, elaborating, more brainstorming)

* Implementation stage:
5. Solution Finding (evaluating, re-examining the focus, identifying leads, and analysing views of the problem)
6. Acceptance Finding (considering the audience, target the priorities, developing a plan of action, editing, presenting work)

I particularly like the word "mess" as the place to begin -- because that's exactly how I feel when I start off on a new project. I create a big mess of information and have to sort through it.

Perhaps "digging in" is a better phrase for that first step -- as it combines the idea of "tuning in" and making a "mess".

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