My 6th grade classroom is very diverse when it comes to how they learn. I have some students who need step by step directions and others want more flexibility. Some students are ready for that flexibility, while I worry that others are not there yet developmentally. As a newbie with inquiry learning, I want to start out on something that I know will work and that my students and I will be successful at. This is why I think doing a wonder write for my informational writing unit would work so well. Last year, let my students choose a person that they wanted to study and the did biographies; however, I think they would feel much more connected to the project if I left it to the wider question: "Research a topic that you wonder about. Become an expert on it, and then teach me about it."
Although I worry that this might be too broad for some students, this would be an end of the year writing unit. I am hoping that in the time between now and trimester 3, I can build them up to where they will feel comfortable doing a unit like this. With the writing skills that they come into my classroom with, I wouldn't think of starting with a unit like this, because they haven't really been exposed to writing essays, nor have they been exposed to doing research on their own. By having this be their last writing unit, I am going to be able to build up their research skills and their writing skills.
1) The first step on our route to completing an inquiry project is to learn how to do research. To do this, I have started to use some of the lessons from Common Sense Media. When my students come into my classroom, a lot of them think research is using Google Images. By using the Common Sense Media lessons on research, I am helping my students gain the research skills that they will need in order to complete a Wonder Writing Project. These include learning what a keyword is, and the best ways to find the information that you want.
2) The next step that I would take in order to prepare myself and my students for this project is to brush up more on Genius Hour. As a teacher, sometimes it can be very hard to step back and let the students work through a process on their own. In order for the Wonder Writing Project to work how I would want it to, this is something that I would have to do. One thing that I would probably do is run a mini trial where I give students a limited amount of time to work on a Wonder Project. This can help them as well as me get used to the project and can even give them a kick start for their writing project. This would help to differentiate for my students who need more time in making decisions. At the end of the mini project, they can write, create a presentation, or create a poster in which they pitch their idea to me.
3) Loading up you Pinterest Board! Pinterest is one of my favorite sites for finding different ideas. Lots of teachers post anchor charts to help students with the different forms of writing, and it is a great place to also locate organizers to help the students with their thoughts. Teachers Pay Teachers is another great site if you are looking for different types of organizers. Both of these sites can help you prep for for a Wonder Write Project. If you want to check out some of my teaching ideas, you can check out my Pinterest board here!
4) The last step is probably the hardest, but the simplest in theory: let the students free. Let them do the work on their own; step back and watch the magic. This blog article gives some insight into how we can start to develop our students into independent learners. I agree that it is very hard to not answer a student's question right away. I do think that I can start to encourage deeper thinking and learning by asking students to first try to think of the answer themselves, or come up with a way you could solve it. It would be a big shift, but beneficial to everyone. I also agree that strong formative feedback will help.
Essential Question: What is something that you are passionate/wonder about?
ELA.07.WTI.01.04 (Gr. 6-8) 3. Is skilled at using relevant, precise information and vocabulary for a selected topic in an organized format, while using and maintaining a formal style. (analysis/ retrieval)
ELA.06.WTI.01.04 (Gr. 6-8) 3. Is skilled at using relevant, precise information and vocabulary for a selected topic in an organized format (subheadings, figures, chart, table, bulleted items, multimedia) to aid audience comprehension. (analysis/retrieval)
During this project, students will be digging in deeply to a question that they have on something that they are passionate about, or something that they wonder about. Not all students will choose the same questions, nor will they need to complete the same project. No where in the targets that I have to reach does it say that the students need to write an essay, even though it is a writing standard. This means that students can finish their project by writing an essay, creating a multimedia poster, creating a presentation, or creating an informational video. As long as students are using relevant and precise information, organizing their material, using a formal tone, and adding in text features, they are meeting their targets.
1) Google Slides/Screencastify
Two tools that students will have to produce their projects are Google Slides and Screencastify. Students can use these two tools to create a video of their project. Students would first build their video on Google Slides, and then audio over it using Screencastify. In the SAMR model, I would say that this is redefinition as they would be able to safely put the videos out to the world where their faces and names are not involved. It is also a big step up from just writing a paper.
Another tool that students can use when creating their products is Piktochart. This site allows students to combine text, images, and video all in one easily locatable and visible area; a multimedia poster may you. Students can upload all these differnet types of media and explain how they interconnect to their project. I also would consider this redefinition on the SAMR model, as I would never be able to have them put video on a sheet of paper, it just isn't possible.
The last resource that I would give my students to use during this project would be Bubbl.us. This is a sight to help students brainstorm what they want to research about and what their next steps are. They can make different mind maps to help them visualize where their project is going and what they have to do next. Students can also email me their maps so that I can view them and know where they are going. I would say this site is on augmentation on the SAMR model because I could have them just as easily draw a map. However, not only is this neater, but students can add in links to their research.
Right now, this project is unlike anything I have done with my students. I have completed some projects similar to this before, but on different topics in my college education. One problem that I foresee is that the students may get overwhelmed. Just today I had a student ask me to pick what he should write about, and he had three options! I can only imagine how bad that could be when I give them such freedom. I do think that by having it at the last trimester, I am helping them. If I gave this as a first project, I think that my 6th graders would be so overwhelmed, thus making me overwhelmed also. As the last "writing" unit, however, students will all ready know what I expect. I will have also given them many research tools and let them explore the online mediums. That way they won't be getting all the tech at the same time they are trying to figure out how they want to organize what they would like to do. Oh, and also end of 6th grade means more like a 6th/7th grader than a 5th grader; right?
My name is Jessica Meservey and I am a 6th grade teacher. There is no level that I would rather be teaching and learning with. I currently teach in rural Maine. I love to integrate technology into my classroom as we are 1:1. Find me on Twitter at @MsMeservey.