Inquiry Lab: Teaching Students to Nudge Each Other Toward Deep Learning

This is a Science Anchor Chart…but I’ve used variations of it in Language Arts…and in Social Studies…and in Math!

Welcome to the Inquiry Lab!

In this series, we’re thinking through how we can use the workshop model to teach inquiry work, in any subject (writing included, of course).

For the last year or so, I’ve been rethinking the way we teach into group work and partner collaborations. To that end, here at Moving Writer’s, a common mantra is, “What would a writer do?” Today I’d like you to ask yourself, “When it comes to inquiry work what would a good collaborator do?” because a lot of good teaching is grounded in knowing what success will look like!

Good Partners Do/Don’t

Math teachers who use Joe Boaler’s mathematical mindsets activities have been on to this for a while. At the beginning of the school year they ask kids to talk about good and bad partnerships. The ask students to finish these sentences: “Good partners do…” and “Good partners don’t…”

Here’s how some of my students answered the prompt:

If I don’t have a document camera, write this up on the board or display it on an anchor chart. When the activity begins, as you bounce from group to group, you can reinforce what you noticed students they are doing well from the “Do” column. By the way, you can use this to set up any group activity. And if you just want your kids to focus on being better partners, you can give them some kind of challenge like, “Here’s a poem. Here’s the recycling bin. Here are some glue sticks. Using only these materials, create something that represents what the poet is trying to get across. Remember, what you create is icing on the cake. What I’m looking for today is partners who do these things (point at “Do” column), and partners who avoid these things (point at “Don’t column).”

As students work, if a group is struggling, you can point at the chart and ask them with part of it is giving them a hard time. From there, you can coach partnerships up with a quick demonstration or ask leading questions, if you think the students might be able to figure it out on their own.

Teaching the More Nuanced Stuff

Here’s the thing: you can do all the things from the “do” and don’t all the things from the “Don’t”…and still be a crappy collaborator. I have been in staff meetings where I tried to do all the things (or so I thought), and I still grated on people’s nerves! These soft skills are so complicated and nuanced!

I can help to reframe what a good inquiry partner is. Really, they are more like a good teacher than they are a classmate. A good teacher doesn’t do the thinking for their students. Rather, they nudge them toward their own potential. Therefore, maybe we can ask, what do great teachers do when working with kids?

Well, they encourage them, for starters? They see the potential in kids and they remind them every chance they get. For example, the first thing we do in a good writing conference is point out something specific that the student is doing well, right? So, we should probably add noticing specific successes in order to encourage partners to the list.

Another thing I’ve seen good teachers do is this: instead of telling kids the answers…or even voicing a criticism, they flip it into a question so that the students are doing the intellectual heavy lifting…So, there you go! Throw it all up on an anchor chart, and you’ve got yourself a mini-lesson!

I recently taught this as a mini-lesson in Science class. Some groups were struggling with where to go with their mood ring experiments. So, I taught this lesson, partnered them up, and hopped from group to group, listening, coaching, and pointing at the anchor chart as groups gave each other feedback. Three different groups were able to get unstuck…because of something a classmate said! Now, imagine doing this kind of thing with writers. I can say from experience–both as someone who’s taught the lesson and someone who’s used these strategies in an actual writers’ group–that it works!

The great thing is, after that initial activity where you’re just focusing on kids practicing this new language, anytime you have kids working on a collaboration, you can check in with them, point at the anchor chart, and ask them how they are… or how they are planning to… use the anchor chart in their group work today.

Nothing is easy, and there are no quick fixes. You can expect at least half of your kids to struggle at first. This is why you teach it like a workshop, and this is why it goes up on an anchor chart you can refer back to.

If you keep at it, and come back to it from time to time, you’ll be amazed at how much your students grow as collaborators. And when kids grow as collaborators, they push each other to grow as learners.

Today, we’ve only skimmed the surface, but next month, I’ll be running a 60 minute PD where we’ll go deeper with these strategies, introduce a couple new anchor charts, show ways to track progress, and do a little Q&A! I hope you’ll join us. If you are interested, click here for more details: Inquiry Workshop – Raising the Level of Talk with Student Collaborators

If you are doing this kind of work with students, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment below, or Tweet me @MrWteach. And if you haven’t already be sure to join the @movingwriters community on Twitter and Facebook!

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