Sunday, October 26, 2014

Document Based Questions – using multiple medias to inquire

I know I’ve mentioned my favorite book on non-fiction strategy guides before – Guiding Readers through Text: Strategy Guides for New Times by Karen D. Wood, and today I’m going to mention it, yet again.  While attending the IRC Conference in Springfield, one of the presentations (again, a Mundelein HS presentation) mentioned the use of Document Based Questions (DBQ’s – of course there’s an acronym!).  With Common Core expecting our students to pull evidence from multiple medias and with all of the rage in the expanded definitions of what “text” is, I figured it would be a good time to bring this book up again and demonstrate how this type of activity could be used effectively in the classroom.  

Because the teaching of history lends itself well to this strategy, I’m going to use a history example.
  • Decide on a goal or objective for the lesson.  Consider an essential question such as How did conflict contribute to the fall of the Roman Empire?
  • Demonstrate how to create questions from the essential question.  For example, What conflicts occurred during the Roman Empire?  What caused the conflict?  What happened because of the conflict? Did the Roman Empire become weaker because of the conflict? If so, how/why? Etc. 
  • Choose three (or more) different medias (text, video, web, audio, electronic media, etc) that present information answering the essential question.  Using medias of different perspectives or that have different purposes could be an interesting twist to this assignment.  Part of the Standards for the 21st Century Learner require us to teach students how to peel relevant and reliable sources out of the vast pool of information available.  For multiple leveled students, provide more than three, and allow students to choose (or guide some to choices that might meet their needs more effectively).   Text books could be used in this step, but don’t leave them to be the sole information provider!
  • Teach students how to organize their information for reading – you can start with providing an organizer, but remember that our ultimate goal is to create independent information seekers.  Modeling how to create your own organizer may be more effective.  Above is an example of what a handwritten organizer might look like.
  • Demonstrate how to highlight text and jot down notes in the organizer so that they can be reviewed later on. 
  •  Allow students to work independently (or with a group of 2-3) to complete their reading.  Meet with groups while they’re working, clarifying where needed.
One question you may ask is whether you can have one student work on pulling information from each media and then share the answers with each other.  This will obviously be a shortcut they'll consider immediately as well.  My answer is always the same - Consider your objective.  The shortcut would mean a different objective.  It's absolutely one possible way of getting this assignment done in a shorter amount of time.  It's also a way to ensure that your kiddos are all accountable for something.  But if your objective is to truly have your students work together while practicing speaking and listening and to glean important information from multiple sources, then my answer would be a solid NO.  

Once all information has been gathered, ask students to go back to the essential question and discuss the answer before putting together a final answer, complete with documented information from the three (or more) medias.  It's obviously your choice how you expect students to report, but you could have them submit a final answer on notebook paper, have them write it on poster paper and hang it up in the room for discussion.  You could also have them construct something to report out to the class without a "formal" piece of written work.  Or each student could be responsible for documenting the information and submitting it.  Again, consider your goal and your learners.  

Obviously, not every strategy lends itself to work beautifully to every content area, but if you step back, there are places in many areas where it could really be effective and engaging for your learners.  Science, health.  Even music, PE, and art might be good places to use an activity like this to support the standard of using multiple medias to draw conclusions.  How can you use this activity in your classroom?  Share your ideas in the comments below.

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