This post is the fourth in a series about research and writing in Heather Bitka’s kindergarten classroom.
- To learn more about this project’s purpose and outcomes, you might want to read the first post.
- If you are interested in understanding how this project enabled the teachers and coaches involved to position themselves as learners, you can click through to the second post.
- This post demonstrates the beginning of instruction, where researchers applied strategies that helped them gather facts.
When students were finished taking visual notes from their research on the iPad, Heather printed each researcher’s visual notes. We used this work to assess each researcher’s needs.
We weren’t surprised by what we saw. As we predicted, three striking trends emerged:
- Some researchers gathered far too many facts about one specific topic
- Other researchers gathered very few facts about far too many topics
- A small number of researchers needed more time to gather more facts
We planned to differentiate the support that they were provided moving forward, but we began with a full group mini-lesson intended to help writers
- Develop a strategy for determining which topics were most important and which facts and details connected to them
- Understand and engage in revision
I began by sharing my own visual notes about all of the facts that I gathered relevant to several different topics. These were intentionally drawn on pieces of tag board, because I wanted to students to be able to lift these facts up and physically reposition them. I had a hunch that doing so would help them develop a physical sense of what it meant to determine importance, connect related facts together, and revise.
“Yesterday, I found a whole bunch of facts about a whole bunch of different topics. I need you to help me determine which ones I should use.”
“How many different animals have I found facts for? Which one should I focus on?”
Brianna said, “You have facts for two different animals: ducks and spiders. If it were MY choice though, I would focus on the duck. There are more facts for the duck than there are for the spider. Plus, I don’t like spiders.”
“If your TOPIC is the duck, which of my notes connect to them, Brianna?”
Brianna physically connected the appropriate notes together, and as as she did so, another child intuitively created a cue for this activity: he held his hands apart and then drew them together to demonstrate the act of connecting. This became a cue that all of us practiced.
“Whenever someone shares this cue with you, remember this lesson and use the strategy we just demonstrated to help you,” I suggested. “It will help you revise your thinking and your work. Revision happens when we think again and change our work as a result.”
Each writer was invited to continue the research and writing processes by thinking again and changing their work. They used the strategies taught to determine important topics and connect the appropriate facts to each:
At this point, some researchers discovered that they would need to gather additional facts in order to write something meaningful. Others learned that they would have to abandon one or more topics in order to investigate a single animal with greater depth. This work was enabled by a variety of experiences, including opportunities to connect and learn with their friends via Skype.
- One of the pre-planned objectives of this unit was to ensure that all researchers could identify three facts about a single animal. Rather than setting them up to investigate only ONE topic by providing them specific prompts, directions, or the rigid frame of a graphic organizer, we intentionally invited them to dive into their work and begin gathering facts about animals they were most interested in. This enabled us to study these learners and their unique processes.
- Some of them did research one animal with depth. Others were really excited to study a whole bunch of different animals at first, and they found doing so engaging and informative. This didn’t derail the process or allow learners to deviate from our objective in any way. In fact, it expanded our opportunities to learn tremendously.
- For instance, we were able to study how researchers and writers use different processes. As teachers, we were also able to provide targeted instruction that was truly aligned with what we noticed about these specific learners as they worked. Had we provided a rigid process and set of directions or prompts from the outset, these discoveries may not have been made. Each student’s process would have remained hidden as they obediently adopted our own.
- This left me with the realization that in as much as choice attends to interest, there are times when it can enable a more genuine assessment of students. When we let these kids go and took a step back to simply capture what we were seeing, it allowed their varied strengths and needs to emerge. We couldn’t have planned ahead for this. We needed to pay attention during instruction, capture what we were noticing, and respond to that data.
- Those responses weren’t merely about intervening in order to address areas of need, surprisingly. We also found ourselves responding by leveraging the strategies and realizations students shared with US. Much more on that to come, but one quick example: when one of the students in the room used his hands to physically demonstrate what a connection looked like, it became a powerful cue that seemed to resonate with the rest of the class. We continued to use it throughout the writing process whenever writers struggled to connect facts and align them to appropriate topics.