"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Teaching with Thick and Thin Questions

Our elementary library department student and professional learning goals are focused on inquiry, specifically helping students understand how to craft researchable questions. We tied our goal to the fifth grade Colonial America unit. In order to craft researchable questions, the students need to build their understanding of the qualities of questions. We decided to adopt the thick and thin analogy. We also embedded the use of eBooks into the goal. The students have ample experience using the print materials and databases, but have not had the opportunity to use our recently-acquired eBooks for research. At the start of the unit, I told the fifth graders that they would help me hone the language and clarity around thick and thin questions and that I would need their feedback on the process and lessons. It has been fun to learn along side them.
We starting by exploring the eBooks that support the Colonial America Unit. The next week, they navigated through and accessed content from an eBook to complete a scavenger hunt. Part of this scavenger hunt involved reading a passage on the Salem Witch Trials, after which they posed wondering questions. This lesson was followed by See Think Wonder, a Making Thinking Visible routine, for which the students used an image from an eBook. We slipped in a refresher lesson on Thick and Thin Questions and practiced as analyzing sample questions. 

I created these posters:

I decided to go with the thick sandwich and thin sandwich visuals. 

Thick = think
~harder to answer
~can be more than one answer
~helps analyze 
~draw upon background knowledge
~create hypothesis
~longer answers
~deepens understanding of topic

Think = look 
~easier to answer
~answers are in the text
~usually only one answer
~shorter answers
~helps clarify understanding of topic

With this understanding, we practiced on a few questions. The next week, we began by exploring some of their questions from lessons one and two.

Salem Witch Trial Questions
Why were people accused of practicing witchcraft in the 1690s?
Why did they think people were witches?

What were the names of the people who stopped the trials?
Who came up with Witch Trials?

Too Broad (not specific enough)
Why did they do it?
How did they work?

Too Narrow
Why was Mary accused of being a "witch"?
Why did the Salem Witch Trials start in Salem?

Questions that Should be Reworded
How fair were the trials for the accused?
Why would you want to hang people just because of assumption?

See.Think.Wonder Questions
Why did these people come to this land?
Why are these people building walls?

What are the houses made out of?
What year it is?

Too Broad (not specific enough)
What’s happening?
What are they doing?

Too Narrow
How long will the fence take to build?
Why are some people wearing pointy hats and some just wearing ragged clothes?

Questions that Need to be Reworded
Where are all the women?
For what specific reasons are they building a fence around the group of tents. Protection? Privacy? Safety?
After this activity, the students and I revisited the qualities of thick and thin questions. 

The students feel that it helps to differentiate between the types of questions by thinking about the answer.

I am going to make a poster with these questions to see if it helps:

Does the answer bring clarity or deepen my understanding?

Is there only one possible answer to the question?

Could there be more than one answer to the question?

Will background information help me?

Can I find the answer in the text or will I need to think?

This part of the unit culminated in a small group activity where the students analyzed additional questions posed during the first two inquiry lessons. 

Each student group was handed a number of questions and after they analyzed and discussed them, they put them in the appropriate bins.

I kept the questions from the first and second lessons separate for a reason; I noticed going through them that the types of questions the students generated in each lesson were very different. I didn't say anything to the students because I wanted to see if they observed the same trend and came to the same conclusions. They did. We counted the number of questions sorted into each of the baskets. The results were the same across the four classrooms and the students came to the same conclusions:

1. The students produced thicker questions after reading the passage on the Salem Witch Trials.

2. The students produced many more, but thinner, questions after the See Think Wonder exercise using the image from the eBook.

All good information as we move forward!

Here are some of their questions.

Salem Witch Trial Questions
Why is witchcraft outlawed?  
Why would people suddenly accuse someone else of being a witch?
Why did the accusations of witches start in Salem?
Why did they think people were witches?
Why did they accuse people of being witches if they didn't have any evidence.
What evidence did the Salem people have that the people were using witchcraft?
What tests would they do to people to see if they were witches or not?
How did the group in Massachusetts  put a stop to the trials?
How did they choose which people where witches?
What happened to the 24 guilty people?

See Think Wonder Questions

Where are the people on the ships from?
What is the name of the fort?
What are the names of the ships?
How many people are there?
How many houses are they going to build?
Do they have any other spots of land?
Why do they need a fence around their settlement?
What season are they in?
Is this Plimouth rock?
I wonder if the people (Native Americans) know the new men are there and if they do know, are they friends.
Is this Christopher Columbus' journey because there are three ships and I know that Columbus came with three ships: The Niña, The Pinta, and The Santa María.
Why is this village near the water?
Are these people the pilgrims? 
Are they discovering America? If so, where are the Native Americans?

The students will be using these questions to help them dive into the unit. They will have the next two weeks to explore all the Colonial America resources (books, databases, and eBooks) after which they will be crafting researchable questions on Colonial America topics of their choice.

No comments:

Post a Comment