Reflecting on the I WONDER Sessions

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The inquiry approach gives our students the freedom to follow their curiosity and it is the teacher’s role to guide them on this exciting journey. At the beginning of the unit after the natural curiosity of our students is stimulated by provocation activities, they are often eager to take the inquiry in a different direction. The teachers, on the other hand, have to follow their lesson plans and make sure the curriculum is being followed. It’s important for teachers to nurture the students’ curiosity and find a balance and make connections between what the students need to learn and what they want to learn. It may not always be possible, however, choosing the right questions can solve this puzzle.

While taking part in the I WONDER sessions, my Grade3 ELLs often need a piece of advice and some guidance in their choice of inquiry direction. To support our students’ motivation and interests we have to carefully listen to their wonderings and help them formulate their questions. The teacher should become a thought partner and assist their discoveries. It’s a great opportunity to teach the students how to ask effective questions.

Subsequently, the outcome of the I WONDER sessions is made more fruitful, for which it is also essential to create criteria for the students, gaging what was the wondering in focus and how valuable are the findings. Students should be provided with opportunities to prove that they learned something and to share their discoveries with others.

Using ideas from the book “Scaffolding for English Language Learners” Anne Goudvis, Stephanie Harvey, Brad Buhrow, Anne Upczak-Garcia, I have created a set of scaffolding cards for my students. This tool supports my students in their attempts to share their discoveries with the rest of the class. When the time comes for my students to put some notes together and get ready for sharing, they can choose a card with sentence starters that they like and write down their thoughts and discoveries and make more connections. Thinking routines like “I used to think…., but now I think…” can be employed as well.

Being guided through the I WONDER sessions, the students come out with a more profound and meaningful understanding of the topic that had initially sparked their curiosity and ultimately they become stronger independent learners.

Discussion as a Common Teaching Strategy.

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Yes, we all know that discussions are one of the most common teaching strategies. A focused and purposeful discussion creates authentic opportunities for the learners to increase perspective-taking, understanding, empathy, and higher-order thinking. All these skills are essential for an IB student.

It is widely used as a natural form of conversation and because it is so common, it seems, often teachers just expect students to be able to discuss.

As an EAL specialist, I often find that discussion (as a teaching strategy) should be taught and facilitated, and not only for ELLs.

“A quality discussion…”, according to the University of Washington’s Center for Instructional Development and Research, “involves purposeful questions prepared in advance, assessment, and starting points for further conversations.” T. Finley.

It might be really beneficial for students, if we, at ISPP elementary, agree upon some discussion standards and consistently teach the students what it means to be an effective discussion group member. It is the same approach that we are using for reading and writing instruction and it makes perfect sense to apply it to speaking and listening.

In order to develop our students discussion skills and engagement in language activities, as well as receive an academic outcome from these activities, we, as teachers, need to carefully prepare and guide our students. This needs to be done through establishing a culture of speaking and discussion practice routines, as well as by supporting our students with language scaffolds and sentence/question starters.

WE have to:

  • Teach our students how to ask various kinds of questions (model it)
  • Choose highly interesting topics for discussion
  • Put thinking before knowing
  • Discuss rules of a discussion and assign roles
  • Explain what a skillful discussion group member does (has ideas, explains idea, puts ideas together, asks other people’s opinion, asks quiet group members what they think, listens actively, praises good ideas and suggestions, is willing to compromise) and practice these behaviors with the students
  • Prepare your scaffolds for a particular topic and language ability group

Here is the original task designed by Epstein (1972) to improve discussion skills. http://web.stanford.edu/class/ed284/csb/4Stage/4Stage.pdf

The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/speaking-listening-techniques/