Monday, November 14, 2011

How Does Inquiry Mesh with the Common Core State Standards?

WoW! It has been SUPER ages since I've posted, and man, the reasons for such neglect are really good ones, but that's a story for another time and another blog! Instead, let's jump into a topic of interest to Jordan School District (JSD) teachers and possibly some other educators as well.

Once upon a time - not so long ago - Utah's English/Language Arts Core consisted of three strands: Reading, Writing, and Inquiry. With the adoption of the the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers may ask how inquiry fits into CCSS or how the CCSS incorporates inquiry into its objectives.

Carolyn Gough, District English/Language Arts consultant states,
We as a district have tried to help teachers focus on the inquiry process through the use of units that start with an enduring understanding statement and an essential question. The cross-curricular essential question is intended as a compelling point from which students and teachers can study multiple materials that encourage thoughtful investigation and reflection and allow students to explore a question or topic.
To further explore these questions, I am posting some notes I jotted down during a 2-day workshop presented by Dr. Jeffrey D. Wilhelm in early October. I am also including additional research to answer questions concerning what inquiry is; why inquiry is a preferred teaching model, and how to organize inquiry-driven teaching.

What is inquiry? 
Inquiry learning emphasizes active engagement with the subject matter in a way that challenges students to seek answers on their own or with their peers. Teaching, using an inquiry approach, requires a scaffolding that provides ample support for students at the beginning stages of exploration, then gradually removes support as students become more adept at independent discovery ("Engaging Students in Their Learning" 2008).
Rigorous apprenticeship into disciplinary expertise (Wilhelm 2011). 
Why is inquiry important? (Organized from notes taken on Oct. 3, 2011)
  1. It is motivational because inquiry instruction dictates working within students' zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) - learning that helps students develop competence AND confidence.
    1. Motivation cannot be overemphasized.
    2. It is necessary to all learning.
    3. Motivation is defined as 'continual impulse to engage and learn.'
    4. Students are motivated when learning is neither too easy or too hard. Students become frustrated when hard assignments are given without help or scaffolding of some kind.
  2. Students are more likely to regard themselves as readers and writers; thus they will be more willing to read and write.
  3. Learners will be more dedicated to democratic citizenship, work, and service.
  4. Such experiences "rouse minds to life" (Tharp and Gallimore).
  5. Inquiry is the only instructional model that "meets the conditions of flow" - mental state of operation in which a person involved in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
How is inquiry instruction organized? (Borrowed from Dr.Wilhelm's words and works in conjunction with the JSD Curriculum Maps.)

Six Ms: The Inquiry Model ~
  • Motivate through essential questions and substantial front loading
  • Model through gradual release
  • Mentor - teacher does/student helps; student does/teacher helps
  • Monitor to support and to hold students accountable
  • Multiple modalities - use strengths to address weakness
  • Multiple measures - formative assessments

Some Suggestions ~ 

    1. Start with a guided exploration of the unit's theme, enduring understanding statement, and essential questions.
      1. Ex. 9th Grade, Unit 2
        1. Enduring Understanding Statement: Understanding what honor is helps us interpret events and behaviors.
        2. LA Essential Question: Is honor bestowed or inherent?
        3. Cross-curricular Essential QuestionWhat is honorable?
        4. Possible related inquiry questions: Why is honor important?How can honor exist in a society where freedom is severely restricted?
    2. Using materials such as The Giver as well as informational texts, multimedia resources, etc. that support the theme, statement, and questions ...
      1. Proceed to student, small group inquiry about open-ended, debatable, contended issues that relate to the essential questions.
      2. Encourage students to discover personally relevant and socially significant issues that interest them.One of the the most difficult teaching challenges is to "get students to care about problems that are not their own."
      3. Support students in asking those personally relevant and socially significant issues.
      4. Continue work in groups to achieve diversity of views.
      5. Require students to predict, set goals, and define outcomes.
      6. Guide students through research and analysis - searching for patterns.
      7. Require documented research and justified conclusions.
      8. Sustain instruction as it serves as a guide to help students meet their goals.
      9. Groups/students should arrive at conclusions and share those with larger audiences.
      10. Encourage students to take a stand; take action.  .
      11. Create a tangible artifact that addresses issues, answer questions, makes learning visible and accountable.
In the near future, I plan to post some sample lessons that exemplify incorporated inquiry. Stay tuned!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Addressing Students' Concerns about MY Access Online Writing Program

Last February 3 students sent in comments via the district's website to complain about MY Access. Their number one concern was that teachers used MY Access to grade their writing. They were upset about this because they realize that the program isn't perfect in "grading" their papers. (After all, their friends said their writing was near-perfect.) 

The three also feared that their teachers NEVER even read their work to see if they agreed with the MY Access scores.

Although the district could not find the students in our system, I was still asked to reply to these mystery students' valid concerns. (Think they used aliases?) 

In my response, I promised that I would share their criticisms with our district's educators, and so I ask teachers who read this and who use the online writing program review this response and then reflect upon whether or not they are guilty of these practices.

So read on and tell me what you think. I'd love to hear from you! 

Dear H, S, and S,

First I commend you for sending your concerns about the MY Access Online Writing Program to our district. Your emails were forwarded to me because I train and support teachers who use MY Access in their classrooms. Secondly, I am concerned about the valid issues each of you raise, and I hope to address those concerns and correct some of the problems that you mention.

Your concerns are concerns of mine as well. I will bullet those concerns and my responses below.
  • Teachers should grade papers, not a computer.
    • MY Access is not intended to "grade" papers for teachers, but rather it is designed to serve as a tool to "score" papers as part of the feedback for student writers.
    • Because it is a student tool, teachers should train students in how to use the program to improve their writing so that writers aren't guessing or experimenting to improve writing scores.
    • Students should also be taught how to interpret the feedback to determine which suggestions are most helpful.
    • The program may "score" the papers for feedback purposes, but teachers should read and grade the papers. 
    • No scoring machine is completely accurate, but here are some reasons these machines are used.
      • Learning how to quickly analyze feedback suggestions to determine whether or not suggested revisions should be made is an important skill.
      • People do most of their job-related writing on computers.
      • Whether it is Microsoft Word's grammar check or another type of program, writers need to know which suggestions are accurate and which are not. 
      • Your fellow students may be qualified judges of your writing, but they may not. Whether or not their feedback is really helpful depends upon their writing experiences. Most students are still learning the many steps and details required to write well, and so their suggestions may not be helpful.
      • MY Access receives and analyzes thousands of papers. A minimum of 3000 essays need to be hand-scored and the results fed into the writing analysis program before scores are determined and the scoring engine takes over.
      • Feedback for revision can only "suggest" ideas and show examples, but your teacher can AND should share additional revision strategies to further improve your scores. 
    • Online writing programs are a growing part of our computer-driven world.
      • The Direct Writing Assessment (DWA), required for 5th and 8th graders, "machine scores" the essays.
      • A reliable study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) determined that there was little to no difference between the essays that were human scored and those that were machine scored.
      • Future CRT tests will be changed from multiple choice to writing tests that include information from history, science, and language arts. Those online writing tests will, in all likelihood,  be machine scored.
      • Businesses and industry use online writing programs with their employees, including the MY Access, to assess and to support their employees in becoming better writers. 
      • Programs for scoring machines are constantly being improved, and we see and will continue to see better results as this continues. MY Access is listed as one of the best because of the many features that other online programs do not have. Among the most important asset is the number of essays submitted for analysis which increases the accuracy of the scores.
    Because of your comments, the language arts departments plans the following:
    • generally share these student comments about MY Access with all teachers who use MY Access
    • train or re-train teachers as to how they could and should be using the program in their classroom
    • include specific lessons on how to help students revise their work in such a way that scores will improve
    • remind teachers that they need to read and grade required submitted papers
    Although you would like to have students vote on whether or not our district should use the MY Access program, we cannot do that at this time. There are several reasons for this decision; some of which include the necessity of testing student writing, the increased rigor of the writing curriculum our state and district is adopting, and the writing demands of careers and colleges that require schools do all they can to help students improve their writing.

    I hope this rather lengthy message addresses your concerns. If I have not, please email me, and I'll try again.

    Best wishes,
    Renae B. Salisbury

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    wRITING REASONS 3b: Writing has Power

    I cannot believe it's been over two months since I last posted on this blog. While I can think of dozens more writing reasons, I recently discovered that Kelly Gallagher DID list his own wRITING REASONS  - but NOT  book's worth. A future post will share those, but in the meantime, here are some thoughts I wrote several weeks - yes, WEEKS - ago. 

    I was trying to recall writing that communicated despair, and all I could think of was President Reagan's speech to the nation after the Challenger tragedy. Upon reading it, however, I realized that hope did shine through as well.
    • Words can reveal despair
    Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss. 
    Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we've never lost an astronaut in flight. We've never had a tragedy like this. 
    And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair,Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. 
    We mourn their loss as a nation together. ~ President Ronald Reagan, January 28, 1986
    President Reagan had prepared to share a different message that day about the State of the Union, but an unfathomable tragedy occurred that not only altered the scheduled event, it altered the way Americans viewed the space program. Since its inception, not one astronaut had been lost in flight, but this disaster not only took the lives of 7 brave individuals, it also occurred while thousands of  school children watched. Christa McAuliffe was on board, and she was the first teacher in space. Up until the explosion, it had been a momentous occasion!
    While President Reagan spoke to a nation in despair, he also buoyed us up as he expressed his continued belief and support of the space shuttle program. He told the children of the nation ... 
    I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them. 
    • Words give form to our deepest desires
      I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'
    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
    I have a dream today! ~ Martin Luther King, August 28, 1964
    How can a discussion about the power of writing fail to include the words of the great Civil Rights leader that we honor during the month of his birth? While Dr. King's desires and dreams did not come to fruition during his lifetime, the people of the United States have witnessed strides towards what he envisioned. His words bring us to a remembrance of history's heartbreaks, present's progress, and future's hopes. 

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    wRITING REASON 2: Writing Has Power (part 1)

    "But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
    Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
    That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."

    ~ George Gordon Byron
    Using Byron's quotation, I want to introduce "wRITING REASON 2," but I worked on this post for so long that the length GREW so large that I am dividing into two parts. AND before continuing, I want to add to Byron's thoughts with one of my own: Putting thoughts to words and words to paper increases their power. This idea is closely linked to wRITING REASON 1"Writing is an incredible tool that reaches farther than other forms of conversation do."

    While researching ideas for this series of wRITING REASONS, I recently found a site that discussed how "words have the power to change things for good or ill." To make her point, the QUOTE LADY shared text samples to support the examples. With that inspiration, I decided to do the same. 

    In teaching students about reasons for writing, I decided the power of the written word is an important inclusion for a couple of reasons. 1) There is historical evidence of changes for good and ill that were stimulated by powerful words. 2) These examples can function as "mentor texts" to help students improve their own writing. (Of course, we would NOT choose those texts that bring about "changes for ill!" ;)

    Because written words usually have a "longer 'shelf  life,'" the chances to influence contemporary and future audiences increase, thus adding to their power. Plus these works serve as examples worthy of imitation. With that in mind, here are just a few samples of the millions of powerful words, spoken and written that live on.
    • Words can express a nation's [or a people's or an individual's] desire for freedom.  
    Swing low, sweet chariot,
    Comin' for to carry me home
    I looked over Jordan and what did I see,
    Comin' for to carry me home! 
    A band of angels comin' after me
    Comin' for to carry me home!

    Swing low, sweet chariot,
    Comin' for to carry me home
    If you get there before I do,
    Comin' for to carry me home.
    Jes tell my friends that I'm acomin' too.
    Comin' for to carry me home. .
    Swing low, sweet chariot,
    Comin' for to carry me home
    I'm sometimes and up and sometimes down,
    Comin' for to carry me home,
    But still my soul feels heavenly bound. 
    Comin' for to carry me home!  
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
    But wait a minute, you say. That's not a song about freedom. That's a "spiritual!"
    Yes, it is. BUT within those lyrics about souls and heaven are words of warning and instruction to help slaves make their way north to freedom. While plantation owners and overseers listened to the surface message, Harriet Tubman and those who helped her along the Underground Railroad sang spirituals to communicate a more immediate message. That "chariot" was a carriage or wagon that carried run-away slaves from their enslavement to "home," a place of freedom like Canada!
    The singer might switch to another spiritual or "coded slave song" like "Wade in the Water" to direct escapees to head towards the river or stream to throw off search parties with their hounds hunting them down. POWERFUL WORDS that rendered hope and help! 
    • Words can offer forgiveness.
    "My heart went out to whoever was driving that car — not knowing the circumstances, not really caring about the circumstances, just knowing that this was going to affect that individual."  ~ Chris Williams.
    Chris is NOT the only person to forgive the source of personal pain and grief, but his words and story are symbolic of the power of words that forgive. Because of his willingness to reach out to Cameron White, the 17-year-old drunk driver who crashed into the Williams' car, killing Chris' pregnant wife, 11-year-old Ben, and 9-year-old daughter, Chris was able to positively impact Cameron's life. The two work together to educate youths and adults about the dangers of driving drunk.
    Cameron's parents stated, "We are so grateful for Chris Williams' forgiveness of our son. That meant so much to us, and it has taught us a huge lesson." The record of this moving story continues to touch lives four years after that fateful night in February. POWER for GOOD.
    • Words seek to inspire.
      Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old. ~ Winston Churchill
      It was June, 1940. Hitler had broken the French defenses, and the United States, though sympathetic, had not entered the war. Britain was on her own. In what many historians consider the most inspirational speech of all time, Winston Churchill prepared his countrymen for a possible Nazi invasion while assuring them that victory would be the outcome. And it was. 
      The tiny but proud country fought on alone, against extreme odds. While the Luftwaffe mercilessly bombed the island home of our British cousins, German soldiers never invaded there. Churchill's powerful words convinced members of Parliament and his fellow citizens that Britain could and should fight on!