I would love to learn how to swim. I know a little bit about swimming. I’ve seen people swim at the pool and on television when I’ve watched the Olympics. I’ve paddled about in the water and so I know what it feels like to try to swim. I just don’t yet know the technicalities of swimming and I don’t have the confidence to try it on my own. But, if I decide to take lessons, I would hope that the teacher would first assess what I already know before ‘diving’ into the instruction.
In our classrooms, when we want to explore a topic with a group of children, we also want to start with what they know – with their prior knowledge. Of course, we want to be sure that everyone in the group already has some experience with the topic. If we are going to embark on a project exploring bridges, we might want to first give the children some experience looking at a bridge, either on a field trip or at least in reproductions. We might want children to first draw a bridge after visiting or seeing one. Then we want to start asking them what they know about bridges.
(Kindergarten/first grade student in a 12:1:1 Special Education class after the first visit to see a bridge)
When I work with teachers on developing classroom inquiry projects, I encourage them to use post-its (some times referred to as ‘stickies’) when they begin collecting bits of children’s prior knowledge. This often takes place after the first field trip. With young children, teachers might consider doing a sketch along with the words so that the children can ‘read’ the chart too.
By using post-its for recording children’s ideas, rather than writing directly on to chart paper, students can then take an active role in organizing the post its into categories. This is certainly not an easy activity. There’s often disagreement about which ‘facts’ belong together, but this type of discussion really gets children thinking about their ideas and the ideas of their classmates. After observing teachers doing this activity (categorizing the post its) as a whole class lesson and also with a small group, I’m leaning towards working with a small group to get the chart ‘going’ and then sharing the results with the class. Then it can be completed with the entire group participating. Teachers agree that this approach seems to be working best.
After the categories are formed, children can then think of labels for each different grouping. A more sophisticated approach, but possibly too abstract for many young children, could be to think of a question that all of the information in one category answers. For example, “Who uses bridges?” or “what are bridges made of?”
As you can see from the chart “Bridge Ideas”, not all of the children have a true understanding of how bridges are constructed. (“Bridges have strings”). However, it’s important to include this in the initial chart because that gives the teacher an understanding of what needs to be explored to clarify this concept. It seems that this child doesn’t know about cables and the materials that are used to construct bridges and this is something to be explored on field trips and in readings.
This chart will become a living document throughout the study. New understandings will be added, misunderstandings crossed out. It’s ‘messy’ like the study is messy, turning and twisting along the exploration road. It’s not a document to be laminated because that would say, “we are finished with our investigation.’
Because of the ongoing changes that are made to this document, I shy away from the more traditional KWL chart which puts all information into a neatly tied up package. Basically, using a separate chart follows the same idea of gathering prior knowledge and using what children know as a foundation for an investigation. However it sends a stronger message that this is an exploration, which is forever growing.
What a great post! It really is amazing thinking that kids are doing while embarking on a project such as the one that you described! I especially love the doing away with the neat KWL chart since it is actually so much messier than that! I believe the way that you explained this inquiry project leads kids to think in harder and more interesting ways. Just creating questions or categories for the information discovered is so powerful!! Also, I believe putting up their misinformation and then discovering together that it is will lead to a much deeper understanding than just saying that’s not right! Thanks for sharing.
I teach in a Head Start/School district collaboration with 3-5’s and use the Creative Curriculum (Gold as of the 2011-2012 school year). We had been introduced to the idea of using studies vs. themes a few years ago. A few of us have had some training in regards to studies, but not many. This post gives a wonderfully clear example of how to start a study/choose a study and get the ideas flowing! For me this validates the ever-growing “messy” chart that hangs in our room-we refer to it several times throughout the day, thoughout the study as new ideas or questions arise! After slowly incorporating studies over the past 3 years, we started using sticky notes at the end of this school year-why had we not thought of this before?! Thanks for the great information! Will be sharing with my supervisors!