Colorado Technical University Levels of Inquiry in an ELA Class Discussion Questions


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You will respond to the reading using the following questions: Answer these 2 questions only after reading

1. What are the big takeaways from the readings this week?

2. How can I use this information to help guide my own practice? 

Note: The above questions should be   answered thoroughly for each Reader Response.  


Chapter 4 Inquiry Within the DisciplinesStudents in Mr. Dykema’s economics class became frustrated when he repeatedly responded to their questions with more questions and refused to neither confirm nor deny their theories about a bull market. “Why do you think that event would create such a market?” “How does your theory differ from Garrett’s?” “Can you point to a time in history when economists agreed with you?” he asked.Finally, one student, not quite under her breath, said, “Why don’t you just tell us what you want us to know?” Ben Dykema looked up from where he was working with a small group and said, equally softly, “Because I want you to learn.”Inquiry and Disciplinary LiteracyInquiry is at the core of learning in all disciplines. The complex attributes used to make sense of information, such as strategic thinking, creativity, and insightfulness, are all based in inquiry. Curiosity and persistence, effects of inquiry, then sustain understandings in ways that strengthen content learning. What’s more, we know that students who engage in robust, intricate thinking acquire knowledge in ways that allow them to make connections, use knowledge for intrinsic purposes and expand learning through talk, writing, and multiple texts.One remarkable characteristic of inquiry is that it is done by the individual, not to the individual, and this active form of learning (advocated by both 21st Century Learning Initiatives and the Common Core) is what makes knowledge stick. As proof, a recent study found that the students of teachers who focus heavily on inquiry-based instruction significantly outperformed students who had received traditional instruction (Roth, Marshall, Taylor, Wilson, & Hvidsten, 2014).Solving challenging problems, asking questions, and thinking about what and why we know invite a deep internalization that goes far beyond memorizing information for tests or learning for purposes set by the teacher. When students become habitual inquirers, they develop intrinsic motivation and learn to think strategically about core academic concepts, much as the students at the beginning of the chapter were doing in their economics class.Shifts for Implementing Inquiry Within the DisciplinesMoving from a transmission model to an inquiry-based classroom does have its challenges, no doubt about that. Teachers often feel overwhelmed with classroom management issues as well as with the logistical underpinnings required for organization and sustainability. Perhaps most challenging of all, students must have sufficient content knowledge in order to engage in inquiry. As some critics of inquiry-based learning have pointed out, students can’t construct meaningful questions if they lack background knowledge or basic information regarding a topic. That means that teachers must know what information their students need and then provide just enough to ignite inquiry without giving so much that students’ curiosity is doused.The Next Generation Science Standards address this conundrum brilliantly in one of the three dimensions that they believe are needed to provide students with a high quality science education. We would do well to incorporate this dimension into other standards: “It is impossible to teach all the ideas related to a given discipline in exhaustive detail during the K–12 years. But given the cornucopia of information available today virtually at a touch—people live, after all, in an information age—an important role of science education is not to teach all the facts but rather to prepare students with sufficient core knowledge so that they can later acquire additional information on their own” (National Academy of Sciences, 2013, p. 2).Take a look at the shifts in the shaded box on page 106 that help facilitate such a change, and identify those that are doable as you begin to move toward a more inquiry-based, student-centered classroom.Just as with reading and writing, it is counterproductive to impose strategies for generic inquiry because the processes for inquiry are different in each discipline. Let’s look at how those differences might manifest themselves in the four major disciplines.Inquiry Within ScienceThe well-known scientific method begins with a scientific question, uses appropriate systems to gather data, and then seeks evidence to form explanations and arguments. Since the method is prompted by inquiry, it may also be recursive, depending upon the outcomes. The Next Generation Science Standards put teeth into this process through performance expectations, which move teachers far beyond checklists of material to cover. The standards are clear in this regard: “As in all inquiry-based approaches to science teaching, our expectation is that students will themselves engage in the practices and not merely learn about them secondhand. Students cannot comprehend scientific practices, nor fully appreciate the nature of scientific knowledge itself, without directly experiencing those practices for themselves” (National Academy of Sciences, 2013, p. 2).Jeff Marshall, author of Succeeding with Inquiry in Science and Math Classrooms (2013), argues that the reason for the inclusion of inquiry in the new standards is obvious when looking at the significant advantages in inquiry instruction: It provides opportunities to more easily differentiate instruction, fosters mastery of higher-order thinking, and reduces student apathy (p. 19).In explaining the process of inquiry, consider how a geologist might engage in the scientific method when he discovers a grove of dead cedar trees on a shoreline. He will probablyMake observationsUse curiosity and background knowledge to define questionsGather evidence using technology and mathematicsUtilize previous researchPropose a possible explanationPublish an explanation based on evidenceConsider new evidenceAdd to his explanationUse his explanation to inform public policy (Olson & Loucks-Horsley, 2000).While I may repeat myself on this point, it is a point worth repeating: Inquiry in science means that students learn to do science in place of learning about science.Science teachers who know their content spend less time having students read information from textbooks and more time employing powerful forms of inquiry to build deep and lasting understanding.Shifts for Implementing Inquiry Within the DisciplinesMove from working alone to collaborating with one or more colleagues, either in the same discipline or across disciplines. Middle school social studies teacher Tim Kramer and English language arts (ELA) teacher Michele Kandl co-teach; together they created the activity in Chapter 2, page 48, something they believe would not have happened had they been teaching alone. Many teachers cite the synergistic effect of co-teaching as a factor in successful inquiry learning as well as creating a more enjoyable and productive environment. Put “coverage” on the back burner and don’t expect to teach all the facts. Focus instead on pure learning and how students will best retain that learning: by doing.Allow the inquiry process to move through its stages. Posing an interesting problem and providing lots of resources, for example, may not be enough for students to engage in deep understanding of a problem. It is critical to provide sufficient background information, allow students to investigate thoroughly, give opportunities for peer feedback, and encourage students to learn from their mistakes, all of which requires time—and often patience.Don’t underestimate the importance of reflection. For example, have students keep a log during the process where they write not only what is happening but how and why. Teach them that reflecting on their learning is an important step in problem solving.Utilize formative assessment every step of the way and don’t be afraid to change horses in the middle of the stream if something is not working.Teach mini-lessons to the entire class so you can talk to everyone at once about common issues and then allow students to return to work individually or in small groups.Think in terms of having students engage in practices rather than in learning discrete skills.See yourself as a coach as students learn and practice the moves. The apprenticeship model really works—and supports inquiry.Use examples and models from previous classes or have students in other classes (or schools) discuss their experiences or provide feedback. Consider using tools such as Skype to put students in touch with experts and others who may have something to offer.Inquiry in science means that students learn to do science in place of learning about science.Inquiry Within History and Social StudiesHistorical inquiry is based on the examination of primary documents with questions as the guiding force in the reading. As Anita Ravi (2010) notes, “The job of the historian is to sift through the fragments that history leaves behind to create a narrative of what happened” (p. 35). Historians typically approach texts with a specific purpose for reading, almost always based in inquiry as they seek an explanation or interpretation of a significant historical incident, analyze cause and effect, or reconstruct an event. They work to ask the right questions, find reliable sources, and accurately comprehend texts, while comparing and contrasting perspectives, making inferences, and grappling with multifaceted inquiries such as the following:What really happened at the Boston Massacre?How did Martin Luther King create a movement and what might have happened had he not been assassinated?What part did Rasputin play in the death of the Romanovs during the Russian Revolution?Is torture ever justified?How does the US policy regarding ISIS differ from that of other countries?Compare this active approach to the traditional one of reading a chapter and memorizing details of a historical event, and it’s clear that all learning is not the same. If we want students to know how to interrogate texts rather than simply read them, we have to teach them to act as historians who can effectively uncover answers and draw conclusions as they learn to engage fully in the process of historical study.Inquiry is actually a perfect fit for all social studies courses, especially since controversial issues are often discussed in this discipline. (See Chapter 2, pages 33–37, for activities related to current events.) Debates, mock trials, forums, social justice projects, and argumentative essays all begin with inquiry. Help students’ inquisitive juices begin flowing by sending them to sites such as, New York Times Learning Network blog Room for Debate column, and want students to know how to interrogate texts rather than simply read them—to act as historians who can effectively uncover answers and draw conclusions.Inquiry Within MathJust as with the other disciplines, inquiry in math calls for a specific mindset based on habits of thinking that support the reasoning required to do math.Math instruction in earlier years relied on a very limited type of inquiry, often called prescriptive inquiry, where students were led through problems with a clear and definitive answer, more of a “follow the rules” to “find the right answer” approach.Today, mathematical inquiry is based on process as well as proficiency and may require broader skills such as the following:Questioning and investigating patternsApplying previously learned mathematical skills to new problems or real-world eventsFinding connections between graphs, charts, and other texts through mathematical principles and applicationsEngaging in estimation and conjecture while tackling complex ideas, even if the answer is “wrong”Discovering generalizations and exceptionsRecognizing the value in metacognitive activities, such as understanding and explaining thinkingWorking beside someone with advanced skillsIn an article titled “Uncovering the Math Curriculum,” Marilyn Burns (2014) says, “I’ve come to realize that our challenge as teachers is not to find better ways to explain to our students what we want them to learn, but rather to find better ways to ask our students to make sense of what they’re learning for themselves” (p. 64). She goes on to say that we should be encouraging students to ask “Why do we do this?” or “Why does this make sense?” For example, students might ask, “Why does canceling zeros produce an equivalent fraction in the fraction 10/20 but not in the fraction 101/201?” (p. 67). Such questions ground inquiry into the mathematical discipline.Even in this discipline, one that has in the past been textbook heavy, we know that students must go beyond the abundant math problems in textbooks to develop an inquiry mindset.Inquiry in math calls for a specific mindset based on habits of thinking that support the reasoning required to do math.Inquiry Within ELAMany teachers of English were, themselves, taught in the transmission style. They completed study guides, often answering hundreds of low-level questions for one novel as they returned to highlighted passages in an effort to comprehend what the author said. For her part, the teacher explained what the author meant, as students took notes from lectures and engaged in whole-class discussions designed to promote “correct” thinking about the text. Inquiry was defined by the ubiquitous research paper, which was more about learning how to create a proper outline, cite sources correctly, and adhere to a certain organizational style than about genuine inquiry.With a deeper learning emphasis comes a new meaning to ELA inquiry: Learners must explore multiple texts and compare perspectives, analyze and expand on concepts presented by authors, and learn to question ideas through various critical lenses. Inquiry in ELA, as opposed to other disciplines, may produce few concrete answers. The process of wondering, formulating questions, and thinking through concepts while respecting multiple viewpoints is as much the goal as certitude about a concept.Speaking and listening are also components of inquiry in ELA classrooms as students engage in book clubs, seminars, and debates. They use both informational text and fiction to develop deep understanding of texts, elaborate on their own ideas, often initially through writing and, as a significant bonus, come to find enjoyment in multiple literacies.What might inquiry in an ELA classroom look like?Students read widely from multiple sources to gain varied perspectives and learn to question the motivation behind those perspectives.Dialogue may take the form of seminars, inquiry circles, or debates rather than a whole-class discussion led by the teacher.Essential questions drive reading, writing, and discussion in place of preset text choices or a textbook’s table of contents.Autonomy is afforded students in research, reading, writing, and performance as a way of sparking engagement and sustaining inquiry.Webquests for authentic audiences based on relevant questions supplant research papers for teachers’ eyes only.Students learn to ask questions of the author and each other as they seek to uncover meaning in fiction or bias in nonfiction.The ELA curriculum is quickly changing as teachers incorporate social and digital literacies into what was once a fixed, print-centric curriculum. Such engaging mediums, however, still require inquiry-based practices to help students become discerning, independent readers, writers, and thinkers.The process of wondering, formulating questions, and thinking through concepts while respecting multiple viewpoints is as much the goal as certitude about a concept.Questions (and Answers) About Inquiry Within the DisciplinesHow can students engage in inquiry if they have little knowledge about the subject? Isn’t it the teachers’ job to provide the type of learning that may be considered “passive” in order to give students the information they need to begin the process of inquiry?Students do need background information or at least some knowledge on which to build their inquiry. Inquiry-based teaching doesn’t mean that kids are sent out as explorers to find the New World; it means, rather, that the teacher’s role moves from one who parcels out information to one who guides learning based on her own expertise and ability to mentor students in their “doing.”Heather Banchi and Randy Bell discuss four levels of inquiry that may help teachers as they struggle with the “too little” or “too much” teaching dilemma. While their work (see the box on the facing page) is targeted toward science, the model of inquiry that they propose is useful for teachers of all disciplines as they think about their specific goals for instruction.See the shaded box on page 114 for an example of how the levels of inquiry might look in an ELA class studying a poet such as T. S. Eliot.What if students spend a long time engaged in inquiry and then come up with incorrect conclusions? How can I justify the time spent?A quick Google search reveals hundreds of initial “incorrect conclusions” that eventually led to life-changing advances in all sorts of fields. The discovery of penicillin may be the most valuable “failure” followed, some would contend, by the Post-it Note. Thomas Edison’s many failed attempts to create a light bulb filament before he became successful is also high on the list. And Albert Einstein was fond of failure as well, saying, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”Admittedly, most of our students are not going to become future Einsteins or Edisons. The principle, nevertheless, holds true. When we view learning as a messy, recursive process, not a packaged product to be unwrapped and consumed, we know that “incorrect conclusions” can be used by good teachers to help students develop transformative understandings in their discipline.It can be very difficult for us to embrace failure, especially when it seems as though our students are making mistakes that we can correct. Diana Laufenberg in her Ted Talk discusses the importance of allowing students to learn from failure. It’s worth viewing and discussing within your PLC (, a final point. How many students have written incorrect information on a test after weeks of instruction, accepted their grade without question, and never had a chance to use their efforts at learning to find a correct solution or develop understanding? Learning through inquiry may take longer than learning through transmission, but if we want deep learning instead of superficial coverage, it’s worth the investment.I find several models for inquiry-based learning in professional materials. How do I know which one works best?There is no one way to engage in inquiry-based learning. It takes the professional judgment of the teacher, preferably in collaboration with colleagues, perhaps through lesson study or dialogue, to come up with the best way to use inquiry for your discipline, topic, and students. In Common Core CPR: What About Adolescents Who Struggle . . . or Just Don’t Care? (2013), my coauthor Barry Gilmore and I developed a model for problem-based learning. The important thing to remember is that problem- or project-based learning has its roots in inquiry, usually focused on a specific problem. Our model, similar to others, follows these steps:Provide an anchor that offers background to generate interest.Give students choice in some aspect of the project.Generate a problem statement or driving questions.Provide opportunities for students to raise questions, become familiar with the problem, and explore multiple facets of the issue.Teach students to conduct rigorous investigation.Help students analyze findings and draw conclusions.Provide ongoing feedback and revision from teachers and peers.Engage in reflection.Assess in authentic ways (Lent & Gilmore, 2013, pp. 168–169).Figure 4.1 shows how a science class and an ELA class approached project-based learning with an action component.Figure 4.1 Project-Based Learning Activities in ELA and ScienceThere is a lot of talk about “habits of mind.” What, exactly, are these habits and why are they important? Is this one more thing I will be required to incorporate into my content area?Habits of mind, or the term I prefer, habits of thinking, are integral to inquiry and to each discipline because thoughtful, intelligent, successful people exhibit certain dispositions when they address complex problems, and we want students to practice and develop these dispositions as well. One of the advantages of inquiry-based learning is that students don’t just learn how to solve one problem or think through one complex situation; instead, as they engage in inquiry, they develop habits (skills, attitudes, past experiences) that will transfer to other disciplines and other problems.In other words, students learn how to think about their own thinking as they engage in something concrete that focuses their learning. That’s why it’s worth the time to invest in inquiry; students learn more than we can possibly teach them in a traditional sit-and-get environment.While there are several approaches to habits of mind, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick’s (2009) work in habits of mind is comprehensive and applicable to the inquiry method used by most educators. In Chapter 2 from the excellent book Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills (Bellanca, 2015), the authors emphasize the importance of dispositions of learning.Authoritative futurists, neuroscientists, educators, and sociologists cite the need for problem solving, creating, innovating, and communicating to sustain the democratic and capitalistic society in which we live. The authors use different terms, but they all reference dispositions that are necessary to lend oneself to learning. In the absence of these dispositions, students will be unable to become productive, innovative, problem solvers for our economy and for our democracy. (pp. 56–57)One of the best way to help students recognize and develop such dispositions is to ask them to come up with their own lists of habits for your discipline and add them to the chart’s first column in Figure 4.2, an adaptation of Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind. Figure 4.2 also offers an active way to help kids make a connection from their own learning to habits of thinking exhibited by experts in the field. Be sure and explain to students what each of the characteristics might look like in your discipline. You might also ask students to write about their learning experiences in order to gain a conceptual understanding of the terms before they begin an inquiry project and certainly before completing the survey. Notice that not all habits are appropriate for all projects or tasks, so use this template as model to design your own.Figure 4.2 Self-Reflection Survey: Habits of Mind Adapted From Costa and KallickConsider asking students to devote a page in their learning logs to “Habits of Mind” or use another phrase such as “What do I think I’m doing?” to monitor their own thinking processes as they become involved in the work of your discipline.One of the messiest parts of inquiry learning to me is the assessment. How do I assess inquiry so that my evaluation isn’t so subjective?The best assessment for inquiry learning is formative since inquiry is a process that does not always lead to a quantifiable product.And when a product, demonstration, or presentation (such as a newscast, video, infographic, or essay) is the final outcome, you have an opportunity to use a summative assessment that isn’t pen and paper.But here’s the most exciting point. When intrinsic motivation, one of the most important goals of inquiry, is developed, there is little need to continually assess because students will generally go beyond your expectations. Often, giving students participation grades during the process is enough to make sure they are involved in the activity, especially when they engage in discussion or questioning. You may also utilize the quickjots described in Chapter 3 (page 92) to monitor learning.Consider individual conferences as checkpoints, as well, where you monitor students’ electronic or paper portfolios as they place or record work in progress as well as their reflections of learning. In the spirit of independent inquiry, provide check-in sheets (see Figure 4.3) that students must complete prior to meeting with you for the conference. As always, place the responsibility for inquiry directly on students and ask that they demonstrate to you what and how they are learning.Figure 4.3 Conference Check-in Planning Sheet (to be completed by student)I always have a couple of students—sometimes more than a couple—who simply won’t participate in inquiry-based learning. They do as little as possible, often wasting their own time and the time of anyone else they are working with. In fact, they don’t seem to be curious about much of anything school related. How do I get such students to care?For some reason, some students are turned off to school, perhaps because of negative experiences in the past, a cultural bias against succeeding in school, or because they believe they are incapable of accomplishing the tasks we ask of them. In Common Core CPR: What About Adolescents Who Struggle . . . or Just Don’t Care? (2013), my coauthor and I provide “standards” for motivation and engagement that you might find helpful. We found that relevance and autonomy often make a huge difference.Science teacher Caroline Milne confers with a student about his project.Caroline MilneAnother conceptual change approach to learning that involves relevance as a factor in motivation was developed by Marcia Linn, Elizabeth Davis, and Philip Bell (2004), referred to as the scaffolded knowledge integration framework, and may have a positive impact on students with low motivation—on all learners, actually. It was designed specifically for science, but its application fits right in with our disciplinary discussion on engagement and inquiry.Make science accessible: Build on student ideas, provide personally relevant examplesMake thinking visible: Model scientific thinking, scaffold students to make their thinking visible, provide multiple representationsHelp students learn from others: Encourage listening to others, design discussions, highlight cultural normsPromote autonomy and lifelong learning: Encourage monitoring, provide complex projects, revisit and generalize inquiry processes, scaffold critiqueInstead of beginning with the topic of the inquiry itself, use the components of the scaffolded integrated framework to set the stage for motivation by asking yourself the following:Do students have some input into the topic?In what way is the topic relevant to students’ lives or interests?Have I provided enough scaffolding and modeling to hook students?Are there sufficient opportunities for students to be heard, even those who are resistant?Do students feel they have autonomy in the inquiry?My bet is that the students who refuse to participate aren’t getting much from a traditional lecture-read-fill-in-the-blanks approach either. Sometimes the best we can do is provide opportunities for rich learning for everyone and hope that those who aren’t interested will eventually be drawn in—despite themselves.Banchi and Bell’s Four Levels of InquiryConfirmation Inquiry: Students are provided with the question and method, but the teacher expects that students will determine a result (or answer) that is known in advance. This type of inquiry may be beneficial if teachers want to review or reinforce learning—or introduce students to the inquiry process.Structured Inquiry: Students are provided with the question and method, but in this case, students generate the explanation for the evidence they have uncovered. This process may be useful for scaffolding more independent inquiry as students build new understandings in content areas.Guided Inquiry: Students are provided with the research question, but they must design the method and resulting explanations. An advantage of this type of inquiry is that it allows the teacher to engage in differentiated instruction and targeted assessment.Note that students should have numerous opportunities for participating in inquiry-based learning before they engage in guided inquiry.Open Inquiry: Students have opportunities to act as experts in the field. They derive questions, design and conduct investigations, and communicate their results. Clearly, this is the most cognitively challenging stage of inquiry, but it also derives the most benefits in terms of independent learning and deep understanding.Source: Adapted from Banchi & Bell, 2008.Banchi and Bell’s Levels of Inquiry in an ELA ClassConfirmation Inquiry: After introducing students to a few poems by T. S. Eliot, an ELA teacher may want students to uncover the meaning in one of his more challenging poems, say “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” She might ask the question, “In what way, if any, is this poem autobiographical?” and then provide students with a short biography of Eliot’s life, expecting that students would be able to point out areas in which the poem is autobiographical based on their new reading.Structured Inquiry: Using the same T. S. Eliot poem, students might be asked, “Why is the poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ a ‘love song’?” Students might then be provided with a text about Eliot’s relationship to Rudyard Kipling as well as Kipling’s poem “The Love Song of Har Dyal,” which influenced Eliot’s work. After reading both texts, students would be expected to provide an answer (or explanation) to the question, using their reading as evidence.Guided Inquiry: In using the same Eliot poem referenced above, the teacher will now provide a research question such as “In what way is the poem ‘The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock’ an example of stream of consciousness style of writing?” Students will find resources that help them answer the question beginning with research on the stream of consciousness technique and then formulate an answer, citing examples from the poem.Open Inquiry: For this type of inquiry, students would read our Eliot poem several times with a teacher as well as independently or with a learning partner. They would be asked to come up with questions related to the poem that would help other readers gain understanding of his complex ideas. Students would investigate possible answers to the questions, and then share their findings with a small group or the whole class.Spotlight on ELA and TechnologyContributed by Bill Seidel, digital-age-learning coach; Carrie Raia and Robin Padal, sixth-grade ELA teachers; and Jeanne Norgan, sixth-grade English language learner (ELL) teacherThe iPad makes the process of using inquiry to spark creative ideas simpler for most students. At our middle school, teachers combined their talents in English, ELL, and technology to produce a project that challenged students to uncover the concept of successful failure from their own experience or through the lens of a famous person. Students read and analyzed multiple articles of resilient famous people from Albert Einstein to Taylor Swift in order to frame their perspective on the topic. Then, students wrote about how failure can be an important experience through an online class discussion forum where they could provide each other feedback on how they interpreted the reading.

Students engage in an online class discussion forum about successful failures.FacebookFrom there, students were challenged to produce an inspirational video allowing them to choose someone that embodied the value of overcoming failure in life. Their product had to be either a commercial, public service announcement, minidocumentary, or interview telling their subject’s story while artfully pulling in terminology learned in class. To begin the creative process, students were first asked to recognize the differences in the various media types. Next, students planned out their concept in a research organizer and storyboard as they picked their subject and teased out the direction

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