Brogan and Keenan started their session by describing what they call their Triple A students: apathetic alliterate adolescents, and the first point Brogan made was that these students needed an environment of trust. I immediately connected to our presentation that was planned for later in the day. Part of what we had planned to deliver focused on this idea of connection, which feeds right into the student's need for a trusting environment. I liked what I heard immediately, and I relaxed in my chair as I geared up to hear more.
The session was split into several large topics, each one designed to give the attendees a general idea to take back to their schools and implement. Unlike most of the other sessions I attended in the two days, this one focused on big picture ideas rather than individual strategies, and I liked that because when you focus on the big picture, you usually have to make major pedagogical and philosophical decisions that impact a large number of people. I'm all about making big changes and changing my philosophies based upon my clientele, so I maintained alertness as they presented.
One of the most interesting and useful ideas described during this session was Inquiry Circles. Common Core Standards require students to seek information from multiple sources (ie - research), and the inquiry circle is a highly motivating way to introduce this. Here's how I see it working.
- Start with an essential question (there it is again!).
- As an entire class, view a variety of graphics all related to the same general topic or big question. Ask students to observe (or notice) details in the graphics. Brogan suggested using upwards of forty photographs (if you use photos) and just allow students to write down what they see.
- As students are noticing or observing each picture, also have them write down some questions. This activity is similar to the Observe, Infer, Question activity, if you're interested in reading about it. The beauty of this is that students can't be wrong when they write their observations, and their questions will hopefully stir up some natural curiosity, which will keep them engaged. You can always add the infer column in there if you want, as well.
- Gather student questions, and group students according to the things about which they were most curious.
- Include the LMC director and other support staff (reading specialist, for example) and begin the research process, using the initial questions to guide the research.
- During the research process, include mini-lessons on the content and research process.
- After the initial information gathering, meet with groups and have them evaluate what information they still need to successfully move toward answering and supporting the essential question.
- Once the groups are satisfied that they have gathered enough information and put it together, they "go public" with it. I loved this term. Its a fresh way to have kids present, and who says they all have to present? Maybe they go public a different way.
Why will this work? The Triple A students are the ones who would be considered the least motivated. We know from Dr. Ross Green's 2007 article, "Kids Do Well if they Can," that the reason these kids do not perform is because they lack something. Many of them lack the academic self esteem or curiosity to become engaged, and our job is to create a safe environment where they feel comfortable enough to be curious and take some risks. What a beautiful way to allow this to happen! If we can just let go of the reins a little bit and allow our striving (love this word, by the way!) kiddos to explore topics and produce information the way they want (with guidance, of course), we might find these same students to be highly achieving. You just never know!
Brogan and Keenan had a wealth of information to share with their audience, but this idea of inquiry circles was, by far, one of my favorite of the eight sessions I attended at this conference. Although I went into their session worried that they would bring the same information we had planned to share, I left wishing we could have teamed up with them for a half-day session! I felt like so much of what they had to say complimented what we brought, and I left feeling a little wiser on the topic of fighting adolescent apathy.