In the last post I wrote about the first week or so of our PYPx process, where the students chose a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal and the part of the transdisciplinary theme, Sharing the planet, to focus on. They had written me an email with their chosen area of focus and then been put into groups around their interests.
Thinking back to the mini-exhibition process I was a part of with Ryan and how I was going to get the students to the next stage I asked them to brainstorm as many questions as they could come up with around their chosen area of inquiry. Some of them wanted to do some research to see what they could ask and how they could develop their questions and some also started to organise their questions by key concept, although I hadn’t yet asked them to.
We talked about the sorts of questions to ask, the wide questions and how to ask really good questions to get to the crux of the issues they were looking at. We have been practising this all year, with every unit. I read an article on TED ideas, about questioning, recently: “Critical thinking is a 21st-century essential — here’s how to help kids learn it”, it talks about going beyond the what to the how, and why. My students were trying to organise their questions into key concept questions and every group had form and function questions. Were these questions less important? More shallow? Less worthy of inquiry? I don’t think so.
For my students understanding the form and function of the issue had to come first before they were able to inquire more deeply into the connections and perspectives. One group inquiring into food security had to really understand what that means and what it is before they could move on with anything else, including the action piece. They needed those conceptual understandings to start to access the concepts of what they were learning about. Without that first layer of inquiry further depth would be impossible in most cases.
The students organised their questions against the key concepts and tweaked, combined and honed their thinking. They chose the ones they were passionate about finding out about and importantly the ones they couldn’t answer already. We talked about having to do more than a quick internet search to get to the depth. Using sites like this one to summarise and access texts and online dictionaries to access language they started to unpack their questions and examine them for value. You need to bear in mind that none of my learners are first language English. From this process we wrote the questions into lines of inquiry: “an inquiry into…”.
I was all ready to pause now – let them start inquiring and thinking more about the concepts and learning before we tackled the writing of the central idea but the students had other ideas. They were on a roll and this was their exhibition and their process so I had to go with them, right? So, we started on the crafting of the central idea. I wanted to use the concept – verb – concept approach to writing it but before we could do that I really needed to know that they knew what a concept actually is.
As a school we had had a PYP assembly around concepts, I had made a video for parents about what concepts are by interviewing students. We had written lines of inquiry in class before and worked on creating and improving central ideas. The students could rattle off the key concepts and name some of the related ones they had come across, and some could even identify some of the concepts in the questions they had written. But, what is a concept?
We worked on the Frayer model pictured above. After the examples and non-examples they were stuck and needed a lot of help with the characteristics, possibly because they found it hard to articulate in English. Once we had come up with that list though they found the next steps so much more accessible and were more confident in their attempts to craft their central ideas.
I learned two important things in this stage of the exhibition process:
- The form and function questions are more important to attain real depth of understanding than I had previously thought and were essential to most of my groups.
- Although we can name concepts and understand them at some level they are really hard to define as a concept in themselves. This is something I think we should do more with the students, earlier and when they are younger.
Maybe other PYP teachers already do all of this as second nature I am sure. As I said in the first post a lot of this is new to me both as PYP coordinator and as a first time exhibition teacher. The really thinking about what makes a concept a concept, and what makes you say that, made this process so much more meaningful to my students and their understandings deeper. Lots of aha moments for us all, which is, I guess, what we are all striving for isn’t it?