I have to admit through the course of observing this ILA, I felt a certain déjà vu with my initial post. I was living the inquiry nightmare where inquiry is the teacher asking the question (hence the inquiry) and children answering the question as a matter of fact.
Instead of teaching an inquiry unit, I was witnessing what Lance and Loertscher (in Robins, Fagan, Kin, Ingram & Pierce, 2005) refer to as the ‘bird unit’. The ‘bird unit’ involves a unit of work where students search for information in order to fill in worksheets, which are then transferred into presentations or essays. Although the above authors acknowledge there might be times where this type of instruction is appropriate, enough evidence from studies undertaken by researchers such as Kuhlthau, Heinstrom and Todd (2008) and Todd (2006) suggest it is an inadequate method for teaching and preparing children for the challenges of the 21st century (Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari, 2007).
This model or ‘bird unit’ must be considered problematic. As found by Robins et al (2005), students are not adequately challenged or engaged, are often dis-interested in the topic and can find the work difficult due to a lack of scaffolding. The problem with this type of teaching and learning is that the teacher has done the work which the students otherwise might have found interesting and beneficial. Frustration and exasperation are therefore feelings often expressed by these students in their journey through the unit.
Data analysed from questionnaires 1 and 2 implicated these types of problems existed within this unit of work. The type of action I felt was necessary to ‘correct’ the issues found in the data, I also found difficult to address with the class teacher. Afterall she was doing me a favour by letting me survey her class and observe her teaching. Plus I didn’t want to be seen as the ‘upstart’ from uni coming in with all these fancy ideas, when she has been teaching successfully for umpteen years. Needless to say I was somewhat apprehensive.
I did have a chat with her in week 4. One of my findings is comprehension of historical text was difficult for 75% of the class. While they could locate the information, highlight information from the text, copy and paste to a word document, interpreting that information into their own words was difficult. Through chatting with the students, I discovered interesting ways this information was being ‘interpreted’ into their own words. For example, right clicking on the mouse and then selecting and inserting from the synonym choices. Comprehension of the text was clearly absent.
In a quiet time I brought up in conversation, with the teacher that I was reading an interesting article prescribed in one of the other courses I was doing and that I felt it was relevant to one of the findings I had made. Having explained my finding with regards to comprehension of the text, I then talked about the article by Leigh A. Hall (2012) called “How popular culture texts inform and shape student’s discussions of social studies texts”. In brief, Hall found students able to use the same comprehension strategies they learned by reading pop culture texts and apply these same strategies successfully to interpret social studies texts. As to how this might be concretely applied in this context, I didn’t get any further in this conversation as it was explained how note taking had already been covered and explained and that she reinforces with the children the simple approach of highlight, cut, paste and interpret.
I have added this example because it defined for me, at that point in week 4, a river which this teacher wasn’t going to cross. In my essay for module one, I examine the mind shift which needs to occur if a teacher is going to move from a position of transmission teaching to a model of guided or learned inquiry.
At the end of the unit I did debrief with the class teacher and discuss with her my findings. I however felt it inappropriate to recommend to her those actions I felt needed to be changed. Further, the class all successfully completed the task which I believe in the teacher’s mind indicates the units success. Where I question the success of the process and whether a process was learned, the evidence of a completed poster and presentation was the benchmark set by this teacher.
Hall, L. A. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students’ discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(4), 296-305. DOI: 10.1002/JAAL.00036
Kuhlthau, C. C., Caspari, A. K., & Maniotes, L. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.
Kuhlthau, C., Heinstrom, J, & Todd, R. J. (2008). The “Information search process’ revisited: is the model still useful? IR Information Research 13(4). Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/13-4/paper355.html
Robins, J., Fagan, P., King, C., Ingram, K., & Pierce, L. (2005). Beyond the bird unit. Teacher Librarian, 33(2), 8-19. Retrieved from http://www.teacherlibrarian.com/
Todd, R. J. (2006). From information to knowledge: Charting and Measuring Changes in Students’ Knowledge of a Curriculum Topic. IR Information Research, 11 (4). Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/11-4/paper264.html.