Tuesday, July 11, 2017

How to Use Inquiry Based Group Research Projects- Step 2

This is the second in a series of posts on how to implement an inquiry based group research project. In the first post, I explained the power of the project and the first step in the plan.  Today I am going to share how to...

2. Gather information by asking and answering questions.

Once you have your topics and resources, you'll want to get the students motivated and excited about the project.  They will be eager to get started and you will want to capitalize on that.  You will want to provide an area for each group to meet and have access to their resources.  I had a basket of books for each different animal the students were researching. (wolves, sharks, snakes, and frogs)

Although each group is gathered together, they will still be working independently on the next part. However, by sitting with their group, they can support one another and model for one another. By having the students sit with each other in my class and share the resources, the students were able to share interesting discoveries and questions.  It became a team effort to find the answer to some of the questions.

I suggest just giving them time to explore the resources that you have gathered.  I wanted to get the kids thinking about what they knew and what they wanted to know.  Rather than starting off with a KWL, I just gave them time to look at the books in their tubs and talk with their team members.  This was my way of getting their brains focused on the topic and generating excitement.  I hadn't asked them to do any real "work" yet.  This got them naturally thinking, talking, and questioning.

Next, you will want to gather the class as a whole group.   One of the biggest factors that impacts the success of this project is the gradual release of responsibility.  You can't just turn the kids loose and expect they will know what to do. (Yep, I tried that before too.  It flopped.)  So the next thing I did is model for the whole class "asking questions."  I didn't want to model using one of the animals the kids had selected, so I decided to model using turtles.

I had 2 sheets of paper with post-it note sized boxes on it.  In these boxes, I wrote questions about turtles.  Of course, I modeled the process through a think aloud as the students observed.  I explained that these question sheets would be used to guide my research.  You may want to determine a certain number of questions that each student must have or just set aside a certain amount of time for asking questions and recording them on post-its.  In my class, we set aside 2 days for thinking and recording questions.

At this point in the group project, students are working independently.  Each student is held accountable because he or she is expected to be thinking about questions they have about the topic. In my classroom, each student was expected to write a minimum of 6 questions.   This way, not one person in a group is doing all of the work or asking all of the questions.

Once students have recorded several questions, they are ready to read and gather information. This part of the process should take 2-3 days as well. That all depends on how much class time you devote to the project and if you allow students to work on it during other times of the day. Although we typically worked for about 45 minutes each day as a whole class, many students chose to continue questioning, reading, and gathering information during Daily 5.  They were working on this project by choice!

You will need to think about what mini-lessons need to be modeled during this project.  For my students, I modeled several things including: how to use non-fiction text features to locate information, how to read and summarize a passage or text, how to determine the most important information, and what to do when you read conflicting information. ( more on that later)

As students read, they will write down on post-it notes the answers to questions that they find. Then cover up the question with the post-it note.  This helps students to see what questions still need to be answered.  One lesson my students learned during this part of the process is that sometimes we can't find the answers to all of our questions.  As researchers, that is bound to happen.  We have to decide whether or not we want to spend more time trying to locate the answer to a certain question or just let it go.

Another thing to prepare for is that students will find interesting facts that do not necessarily relate to their questions.  This is a time for a lesson on determining importance.  Students will have to decide if that information is worth recording and using in their project.

After giving your students a few days to gather information by asking and answering questions, you will be ready for the next step in the process.  My next post will give details about the responsibility of each person in the group and how that group comes together.

Thanks for stopping by!

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